Interview Tips For Professionals

Every year I go through hundreds of resumes and interview more than 25 candidates for consulting positions. Most of the interviews I conducts are via the phone, but occasionally I follow-up with a face to face interview/dinner. A face to face interview is ideal to assess the interviewee and the interviewer, the company and the position, but this is not practical in many cases due to geographical differences and due to lack of time. I mostly interview professionals with significant industry experience and those that are subject matter experts in their own area, but even then, very often I notice a certain lack of professionalism or lack of preparedness when it comes to interviewing.

Based on that experience, here are my tips for conducting a better interview:

1. Answer the question asked – it’s amazing how many people don’t answer the question and start to ramble (particularly for a phone interview). I sometimes ask a very general question like “what is your vision for machine to machine communications” and many candidates start talking about what they did rather than what their vision is……

Think of it this way – If I ask “Tell me about yourself” during a phone interview and you take 5 minutes to answer that question, and I’m on the other side of a phone line, I will be asleep after the 1st minute. Your background is not all that interesting.

If I ask “What was your role as Director of Biz Dev at”, talking about how you met your quota every year for the last 3 years is not helpful. I simply want to know what you did….whether your role in “Business Development” included sales pitches, presentations, tradeshows, or did you also manage a team, or did you actually develop a product prototype, did you manage customer trials, etc. If I cared about your quota (keeping in mind the job that you applied for doesn’t have anything with quota), I’d ask.

2. Don’t Ramble – Better to provide a short simple coherent answer than to ramble on an on. Always KEEP IT SIMPLE.

3. Don’t bother with a cover letter – This is very counter-intuitive, but cover letters are so yesterday and hiring managers and interviewers don’t have time to read cover letters. It is a real bother to have to look at two separate documents (cover letter and resume) when I don’t even have time to review a resume. Many times I don’t even receive the cover letter from the recruiters and the only reason I know is that sometimes candidates say they included something in the cover letter (but not in the resume) and I never even knew there was a cover letter. Exception is if a cover letter is required.

4. Customize your resume – Many people submit a generic resume and customize on the cover letter. Probably come away thinking that they sent a very targeted application because the cover letter is targeted. As I mentioned before, I don’t always receive the cover letter from the recruiters. While it is difficult to customize a resume for each of the 100 positions you may be applying for, but I focus on candidates whose resumes fit the job description rather than have general (but great) resume. If your resume is very generic and covers all the different things you’ve done in the last 15 years in 2 pages, chances are you haven’t included the keywords that are appropriate for the job description. For example, for a recent posting on “Utilities strategy consultant”, I’ve seen a few good candidates, but some among them didn’t even bother to includes keywords such as “Smart Grid”, “Distribution Automation”, “Smart Metering”, “AMI”, “AMR”…..these keywords are exactly what I look for in my first cut.

You won’t believe how many times I’ve asked candidates “If you’ve done such relevant work, why isn’t is in your resume!!!!

Also, whether the resume is in PDF format, MS Word format or other format (.RTF), make sure the filename has your name. The format I like is “Resume_Firstname_Lastname.docx” or “Firstname_Lastname_Resume.pdf”. Or use something similar that makes sensee. When I see a resume with a name like “Braemac Sales Resume.doc” [which I actually received] and the candidates name is not “Braemac”, I have to open up the resume to know who you are….for some job postings, I receive more than 25 responses, so it is very important to file resumes for later lookup and be able to sort, categorize, and rank candidates easily.

5. Research the job, the company, the interviewer and be prepared. ‘Nuf said.

6. Ask questions and make the interview interactive and adjust your questions to the context/scenario – I want to have a conversation rather than an interrogation, and asking questions makes it more interesting. It also shows curiosity and the ability to think on one’s feet. Disclaimer: many times I start being ‘interrogative’ when I sense that a candidate is bull-shitting.

7. Don’t get frustrated and don’t refuse to answer reasonable questions. Creating stress/frustration may be part of the behavioral/fit assessment. I recently interviewed a candidate for a strategy consulting position. The candidate was from a wireless/telecom consulting company [that is known to do product/business strategy work] who apparently managed a ‘practice’. Upon further questioning, it became clear that the candidate lead a team that developed a piece of software and is selling that to customers along with a maintenance package. Now, this is not what I consider a consulting ‘practice’ – this is pureplay software development. So I caught on and asked a basic guesstimate question like “How many gas stations are there in the United States“. Guess what, the so called ‘strategy consultant’ didn’t know what to do

8. Stop bullshitting – it comes through very easily. If the interviewer catches on and asks a probing question, and you cannot answer it or try to weasel out of it, your interview is good as over. In my very first interview for a ‘real job’, I unintentionally bullshitted and got caught during the follow-on question so bady that I vowed to practice in detail what I had done in my previous job.

Here are some generic questions I ask for Product Management or Product Strategy positions

“How many gas stations are there in the United States” (basic guesstimate question)
“How would you go about building a better mouse-trap” (basic product development/management question designed to elicit knowledge of the product innovation/product launch/product development process)
“What is your vision for strategy” (basic question for a strategy role).

Good luck with your interview