Zen and the Art of Interviewing

I had an interesting realization about one of the key determining factors in being successful in an interview. And it is one that not everyone considers.

Let’s look at the example of a position we worked on for a very demanding and well respected investment bank. I will forego the specifics but the position was for a very particular skill set. We had a couple of candidates in our database but I knew my friend Katherine would be absolutely perfect for the position. Her experience is ideal for the requirements, her attitude and demeanor are an exact match for the culture (and I mean an exact match). Plus, it was her dream job. I have been working with this client for the past 15 years and I was absolutely confident that Katherine would be a slam dunk. We sent her resume as well as our next best candidate who had the required experience, but it was not quite the caliber of Katherine’s. The other candidate was also not a perfect cultural fit. Our client interviewed both candidates

I gave them both identical interview preparations, they interviewed for two rounds and they chose the other candidate over Katherine for the job. Now, let me be clear – I have been doing this for 15 years and I was clear that this was Katherine’s job.

So, why didn’t she get it?

The truth of the matter is that Katherine didn’t believe that she was ready for the job. She is a friend so I was aware of the fact that she has a lot going on in her personal life. Throughout the preparation for both interviews Katherine would say things to me like “I hope I can do the job” or “Wow, this is a REALLY big opportunity,” despite the fact that she was much more qualified and suited than the candidate who was selected. I strongly suspect that Katherine’s uncertainty came across in the interview and that it was the principal reason for her not getting the job.

So, what’s the secret sauce when interviewing? Confidence.

The outcomes of interviews, like so many other things in life, are deeply affected by our intentionality. I know this sounds airy-fairy, but in my experience it has been a critical factor for hundreds of cases. Think about it – you are in an interview for a job, you already think you are in over your head, and you get a question you don’t know how to deal–you start to panic. That is going to come across to the interviewer and it is going to have a profound effect on your answer. Now think of an interview for a job you know you are perfect for and you get a question don’t know how to deal with – it is just another problem you need to work out – no panic or insecurity necessary, just a moment to think.

Confidence affects not only your answers, but your general demeanor as well. It is an essential ingredient, and in the case of Katherine the only thing that held her back from her dream job. She just wasn’t ready to take it.

I know there are those of you who are reading this post who have been really rattled by the economy and are just beaten down. Knowing that confidence plays a major role is interesting but not all that useful if you are having a spell of low self-assurance. Fear not, there are things you can do to improve this. I think it is too big of an issue for this post, but the first step is being aware of your inner dialogue and noticing when you are having negative thoughts about yourself.

More on that in the next post.

Until then,

Peter Laughter
Wall Street Services