I always tell my clients that the best way to successfully navigate the job search process is to put themselves in the shoes of employers — to try to imagine what they are thinking and expecting from a successful candidate.
To gain insight into the point of view of employers, I follow blogs and websites read by employers about human resources. One of my favourite sources is Inc., which is generally aimed at employers (though it offers very good advice for job seekers as well). I recently came across an interesting article titled “4 Mean Interview Tricks That Actually Work”, which offers interviewers some “dirty tactics to uncover a candidate’s real story during an interview.”
These interview tricks are aimed at shaking a candidate’s confidence enough to figure out whether they are genuine and not giving a false impression of themselves. The article focuses on hiring sales professionals, which is a job that typically demands unshakable confidence. However, soft skills such as confidence, self-awareness, conviction, and cultural fit are important no matter what job you’re applying for.
I have to admit that I was a bit surprised by how mean some of the tricks are, though, luckily for most job seekers, they are rarely used. However, job seekers could benefit from knowing and understanding these interview tactics, so they can protect themselves from being tricked into doing or saying something that might be held against them.
Trick 1: The “another job” — are you really committed to this job?
One typical concern by employers is that candidates might not be fully committed to their career path and that they might be hoping to secure a better or different job while working at this one. Charlton suggests to interviewers that at the end of interviews, they ask:
What if I told you I think we may have another position on the Support team that I believe you might be perfect for, would you want us to consider you for that position, too?
If candidates agree to be considered for a different role, then employers might consider that they are not fully committed to this position and therefore might not be best suited for the job.
From my experience, employers are right to assume that many candidates are keeping their options open and therefore might not be as committed as employers want. From the job seekers’ perspective, I think that trying to keep your options open is understandable, considering how insecure and poorly paid jobs often are in the present economy. However, it is important to remember that employers will be interviewing many candidates and they will prefer candidates who are highly motivated and committed, rather than those who seem opportunistic and vague.
Trick 2: The “Woefully Unqualified” Bomb — are you “a fighter”?
To challenge candidates’ confidence levels and assess how well they can handle rejection, Charlton suggests that employers pause half way through the interview, and say:
I gotta tell you Mark, up to this point I’m feeling that you’re just woefully unqualified for this position–to be candid. I held back, but I just don’t want to waste our time.
The candidate’s immediate response is important — if the candidate seems to give in and to accept that he is unqualified, then he may not be as confident as he should for the job. However, if he is able to face the criticism and even disagree and challenge the employer (politely, of course), he would show himself as substantially confident.
To prepare for this scenario in an interview, think through what your strengths are and how they match the qualifications listed by the employer on the job posting. Prepare examples from your work history that demonstrate your strengths and be willing to share those with employers in the interview.
Trick 3. Getting the Real “Breakup” Story — how much conflict have you really had with employers?
Charlton suggests that employers challenge candidates about past conflict with a boss, and make a special effort to get candidates to be honest:
We’ve all been there where our boss just doesn’t get it. I have horror stories myself. Let’s have a real conversation, what was your relationship with your last manager really like?
He suggests that employers encourage candidates to be honest, and then watch out for those who are too critical and angry.
From my experience, the most impressive candidates are those who are able to be honest about conflict with their boss, are not emotional and are able to take some responsibility for the relationship breakdown. Make sure not to sound too angry or to say anything negative about your former employer. If you have to discuss conflict in an interview, it is best to describe the situation in simple unemotional terms, take some responsibility for what you could have done differently and what you might have learned from the situation and make sure to try to reassure the interviewer that this is atypical — you generally get along well with employers.
Trick 4: The Zappos “Airport Driver.” — Are you able to maintain your professionalism at all times?
Zappos are well-known for an interview technique that they use to try to catch candidates when they are not paying attention. Charlton recommends to employers to catch the candidate off guard:
Have someone inconspicuous from your company pick up an out-of-town candidate from the airport. We all know that talkative driver who seems to keep asking questions–find someone in your company who can play this role. During the ride from the airport, have the driver politely probe the candidate with questions about the company and interview. On the way back, “How’d it go?” is a great start to the conversation, with more unapologetic probing.
The idea here is to see if candidates are discrete (will they share too much or say something negative?) and to assess how they treat others in the company.
This is a common concern for employers — you should expect your interviewer to ask the secretary/receptionist about your behaviour when they spoke to you — so make sure to leave the most professional and courteous impression possible on everyone you deal with in the company.
Bottom line: employers will try to challenge you to reveal your real self in an interview. Don’t let down your guard: expect them to try take you out of your comfort zone and be ready to handle their challenges in a calm, confident and professional manner.