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Interviewing Tips To Land Your Dream Job

Thursday, April 1st, 2010

This week I have been interviewing communicators for an internal communications role. I wanted to jot down my impressions from talking to a set of talented people, share do’s and don’ts and what I look for when it comes to hiring someone for a communications job. These ideas and recommendations I believe can apply to any profile and role.

At the time of publishing this post the position is still open and the selection process is underway.

Although the role has a mix of recruitment marketing communication and internal communication duties, it will require the individual to work closely with internal stakeholders to develop, synchronize, disseminate and measure messages.

Here is what I did before conducting the interviews.

First, I did my due diligence by reading the CVs carefully to understand how the individual structured his or her profile and highlighted the key words. I made notes of the elements of experience, learning opportunities and array of roles played within the communication portfolio.

I sought writing samples from the candidates ahead of the interview since I firmly believe creating content and key messages are essentials for any communication position. I sifted through the samples to gauge the maturity of the writing and the ability to express ideas succinctly.

Surprisingly, none of the profiles I reviewed included any element of social media to a) reference their background and, b) showcase their work. When I called each of the candidates I ensured I provided the context, explained my role in the selection process and checked if they had clarity on the job description.

Strangely, only one of them had taken the trouble to find out more about the role and how it correlated to the candidate’s experience. Interestingly, one asked me for feedback at the end of the interview – which to me demonstrated interest in growing and improving. I was asked what I look for when I interview a candidate for such a profile. I mulled it over and here is what came to my mind:

It boils down to what I call the ‘3Ds’ – Is the individual driven, direct and distinguished?

Driven – is the candidate showing enough evidence of initiative and commitment?

Direct – is the candidate talking to the point? If you can’t explain your point crisply, how can you communicate widely with your internal and external stakeholders?

Distinguished – has the candidate proved his or her worth in the domain?

If you have just started your career, you may argue that you don’t have enough reasons and opportunities to make a mark. I disagree. If you are keen to make a mark and be recognized in your field of work, you should have begun early. Nothing stops you from building your portfolio of work even as a freelancer, enrolling in courses, joining a communication body, gaining experience with say, an NGO (without pay), penning articles for your local newspaper, writing a blog, hosting a photo feature, showcasing your video skills, demonstrating your leadership skills at a college event or building your personal brand online.

Now, to the questions I prefer to ask during an interview. I try to holistically gauge the candidate at the following levels:

  • personal (education, interests, hobbies, etc.)
  • team (how they fit into the current scheme of things, how they engage with their team, whom they look to for insights and learning, whom they report to, how they manage work)
  • organization (how they are making an impact on their organization, how they know if they are doing so)
  • career (expectations, understanding and awareness of opportunities available, industry trends, focus areas, impact)
  • learning (what investment have they taken to grow, what they are doing to continuously learn more, who are their mentors)
  • personal attributes (confidence, clarity of thought, ethics)
  • community (what they are doing to improve things around them in everyday life, what steps they have taken to make a difference)

At this point, let me share some pointers on what one should avoid when applying and interviewing for a position.

  1. Stating an incorrect designation and role: I noticed one CV that changed the current designation and role to suit the profile applied for. I only discovered this when I probed further and found that the candidate didn’t have the relevant experience.
  2. Never bad mouth your current firm: When I asked one prospective employee what would make them want to switch companies, the answers I got shocked me. The candidate used phrases like ‘lax attitude,’ ‘not going anywhere here no matter how long I stay,’ and ‘nothing will change.’ Which organization would want to hire someone who has such an attitude? Even if you are getting a raw deal in your current workplace, be thankful for the opportunities you get everyday to influence people and do the work you do.
  3. Unclear about what the industry wants: If you are keen on making a mark in your area of work, you should positively know what is going on in your industry and the impact of regulations and governmental interventions. I made it a point to ask every candidate about recent trends they observed and I never got any convincing answers. If you don’t know of recent shifts in the way communication is evolving, how do you plan to value-add to how communication is done in your role?
  4. Lack of clarity on career progression: It is the candidate’s responsibility to find career paths and opportunities that exist in different organizations from literature that is available. There are tons of materials that one can refer to.
  5. Beating around the bush: If you don’t know an answer, say so. No one is expected to know everything, but the least I would expect is that the candidate tells me that he or she would find out, get my contact information and let me know. When the expectation is to give simple, direct answers, nothing can be more frustrating than listening to a candidate beat around the bush.
  6. Wanting to do other jobs within the company: While candor is appreciated, if you know the role does not suit you, explain it and drop off. I came across a candidate who wanted to play to her strengths in PR when the job clearly didn’t expect her to do so. You first need to prove your worth with what you are asked to do and then move to other domains if you get the opportunity.
  7. Lack of interest in learning more: I was taken aback when candidates told me that they had absolutely no idea where to seek information on corporate communication or internal communication. It may have been excusable 10-15 years ago when the understanding of communication was nascent. Today with a wide spectrum of options to source information from it is foolish to mention that one has no context. Even a simple Google search will get you all the content you need for a lifetime.
  8. Do not place content in your CV that you can’t explain: If you mention ‘objectives’ or ‘strengths’ in your CV, be prepared for questions related to them. For example, one candidate included ‘networking skills’ and I probed further for an example. Unfortunately, the candidate wasn’t able to give me a good example of a networking skill she leveraged to improve her standing. My recommendation is to drop these elements, which bloat your CV length. Strengths will be discovered during the course of a conversation.
  9. Don’t miss out on your manners: If you are in a place with a lot of background noise, excuse yourself and buy more time or do the call later. Also, ensure you thank the interviewer for his or her time before signing off. Find out if you can continue keeping the relationship going in the future or if the interviewer would be willing to mentor you if you are convinced about his or her credentials.

By understanding the mindset of interviewers you can approach interviews differently and prepare better. Taking a lot more interest in the organization and role you are applying for can go a long way in improving your chances of landing that job.

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