Headhunters are odd, solitary beasts. We spend years polishing an aura and, above all, not being employment agencies.
Amongst the things that help lift us above the herd, the language we use sets the scene. For instance, candidates are always candidates, never applicants and we never do interviews, we carry out discussions.
Eventually however, our carefully honed candidates and carefully selected clients must face each other. At this point, I can call it a discussion as much as I want but you are all attending interviews.
Diagnostics is a small world. You probably know some, or all, of your interviewers because you’ve worked with them in the past, or by reputation and encounters at trade shows.
So, there you sit. You’ve dry cleaned your best (these days probably only) business suit, read my briefing notes on the company and you’re ten minutes into your interview when you experience that familiar, warm feeling of guarded satisfaction as the thought passes through your mind, ‘this is actually going quite well’.
You may not know it at the time but you’re now at your most vulnerable and just moments from blowing the whole thing.
So confident are you that you’re delivering the performance of a lifetime, you start to freewheel.
Having already convinced your interlocutors you’re the best-qualified and most experienced candidate for the post, you move to rid them of any notion that you’re an all-work-no-play stiff.
In fact, you’re an erudite raconteur who would bring a bit of pizzazz to their dull, working environment.
You’re midway through an anecdote about how, last November you’d all met up in Dusseldorf on the Tuesday after a day at Medica, and went to that place that sells pork, goose, lager and nothing else.
And right there you remember that the punchline of the story involves the Sales Director of this company having his trousers ‘stolen’ in circumstances that were unclear, and them claimed for a new pair on company expenses under ‘entertainment’ with that Brazilian lateral flow company that you all made-up meetings with for the benefit of accounts.
Your attempt to edit the story on the fly has made the CEO turn an interesting shade of grey and the Sales Director is having breathing difficulties.
The People Potential Director (formerly VP Talent Acquisition) suddenly looks different and you realise it is because they’ve stopped smiling. Then they hit you with the question you thought was too obvious to cover.
“So, is there anything you’d like to ask us?”
Maintaining your discipline during an interview is a key challenge. It is rarely spoken about but in the small world we inhabit, we’re often putting candidates into interview situations where they know of everyone in the room. How do you keep on point, avoid making assumptions (because you all know each other, right?) and make sure that they recall and are impressed by all the positive stuff.
Sure, everyone is relaxed and friendly, but these are senior roles. If the interviewing team gets this wrong, it is not just you who is going to get rightsized when $20m and three years produces a device that the FDA laughs at. That frisson of nerves you have? The guys on the other side of the table have that too.
No matter how welcoming the atmosphere, always remember everyone has an agenda and difficult challenges to solve – if this was an easy job to fill and the stakes were low, they wouldn’t have hired Snedden Campbell to put you in front of them, would they?
Sure, we are all professionals here, but there’s more to it than that. Your tone the detail of how you present yourself (nobody cares these days if you are in suit but they do care if there are gravy stains on your jumper even if you are the world’s best electrochemist), and the considered content of your answers should always reflect that you have an informed grasp of the issues the interview team is facing.
Just because they are in this with you, does not mean that your interviewers are not fellow professionals who you must convince of your credentials and suitability for the job no matter how well you all think you know each other.
You have researched where you’re going. Remember that your interviewers will have viewed your social media channels beforehand and they may even have set some questions based on what they have seen (Do get involved with your local Rotary Club. Don’t write about axe wielding and the promotion of racial purity.)
Even that final, seemingly innocuous question – while appearing to be an afterthought or a means of winding-up the meeting,can often be anything but.
For your future employer, how you wrap things up is an important stage in their assessment of you. They want to understand what your priorities are and if the top one appears to be “get out of this building as soon as possible” well, they might begin to have negative thoughts.
You’ve come this far so dodging that final question with something lame like ‘how long is the probation period?’ can make it seem to the interviewer like your interest in the job and the organization itself is not everything they’d like.
That said, the interview is a two-way street. It’s not good form for you as a candidate to fixate early in the process on the terms of the contract and, particularly, the benefits such as bonuses, holiday entitlement or pension contributions. But equally it’s not good form for the company you’re meeting with not to make such points clear without having to be asked. You have to offer something to them, but it is understood they need to offer something in return and free dry cleaning might not be that killer benefit that it used to be.
Better questions to ask are those that show you have given some thought to how you can add value, why the fit is right for everyone concerned.
How did the role come about? How long it has existed? How it has evolved.
That might then lead the conversation onto wider issues that allow you to demonstrate your knowledge of industry trends, letting the team know you’re au fait with the latest developments. This will also help you understand if I’ve got the brief right and the job is going to take you where you want to go.
Did someone do this job before? Were they any good at it? What happened to them?
It will also give you a much better idea, from your interviewer’s response, what their expectations are and how they think you might improve the things.
Fitting into the team is an important element of most jobs and using an interview to understand the hierarchy in an organisation will help you develop a harmonious working relationship from the start.
Asking about the structure of the company and where you fit in may tell you what departments you’ll be liaising with and give you a better understanding of your position in the team.
Asking how your performance will be reviewed and what training opportunities are available (even if you’re their next CEO) is a good indicator of company commitment to the growth and development of staff.
It also shows that you are open to constructive feedback. An understanding of future opportunity and availability of resources is crucial for your professional growth irrespective of which stage of your career you are at.
Fundamentally, taking an interest in the company’s history and growth gives the chance for the interviewers to explain something that they should be passionate about. Worry if they are not. Just because it’s on the website doesn’t make it true or tell you what the troops really thing.
TLDR? Get those final questions in!