If you enter a good old-fashioned search on google on what not to do in interviews, you get a number of similar themes that arise – dress code, arriving early or late, being distracted, talking too much and so on. However, these are not, in my experience the most common reasons for failing an interview.
To give context, I am a Recruiter who works in the mid-senior level in the technology domain. I always carry out a debrief of the interview with both candidate and client. Although there are commonalities, the feedback frequently differs.
The client ultimately makes the call and I have compiled a list of the reasons they most commonly provide for a candidate not progressing through to the next stage or being offered the role:
Communication & Stakeholder Management skills
Articulating what you do is a difficult skill for many people. They are often subconscious experts, they do what they do (and very well) but find it hard to talk about it fluently and with depth. Communication skills are highly sought after and essential in leadership positions.
In close alignment with this is the ability to manage stakeholders. Another oft-used interview question is: “Talk me through an example where you have had to influence and win over a resistant stakeholder?”. This is a question that many people fail to answer satisfactorily and places doubts in the interviewer’s mind.
It links closely with a candidate’s gravitas and presence, they need to be able to succeed in their role and an interview is an excellent environment to show case this.
Gravitas & Leadership
This is akin to the over-used “x” factor rating. Clients are looking to hire people that are differentiators, who can and will inspire, who will people will want to work with and for. They run the fine line of being confident without being arrogant, of being decision makers but with an inclusive approach and being likeable but able to make tough decisions.
It also reflects the interviewee-interviewer dynamic on the day. There has to be a rapport built and a confidence in the hiring manager that the candidate is going to be able to perform and succeed in their role and enhance the business unit they are going into.
The feedback for an unsuccessful candidate can often take the form of:
“I don’t think she/he is going to inspire the team they will lead”
“People are not going to want to follow this individual, they will be divisive”
“There will not be enough buy-in for this individual from their peer group”
Clients often become very irritated and have little patience for interviewees who do not have a detailed grasp of what they consider the basics. These basics could be budgetary numbers, Net Promoter Scores, performance metric improvements for their own business area or knowledge of a tech stack, a recent tech development or a regulatory ruling in their own marketplace.
Alternatively, a lack of depth of research of the company you are interviewing with can quickly become apparent – surface level knowledge is exactly that – and it is exposed by an astute interviewer. Clients often cite a lack of preparation from the candidate as a key factor in them not being progressed.
Energy & Passion
Many roles will demand a high level of energy and passion – new services led project & programme management, operational transformation and any leadership position are natural examples of this. Clients will stress the need for these type of roles to have candidates in place that will drive projects forward, improve performance and either lead or enable a collaborative working environment.
Common feedback given here is that the candidate was flat in interview, didn’t demonstrate any passion for the role they do now or the one they were interviewing for. No confidence was built that they could make a difference in role or inspire others to do so. Other feedback will cite that they didn’t demonstrate any innovative thinking, new ideas or approaches to enabling better performance.
Evidence of Transformation & Achievements
Most Hiring Managers assume you can do your role because you are in it. Therefore, they are less interested in your responsibilities and more interested in your achievements. A frequently asked question from a long-term client (mobile operator) of mine: “Describe a world class achievement that you have driven and led”. As a candidate you need to be able to evidence the differences and improvements you have made to the roles and business units. Again, a fine line is required with the emphasis on “I” and “We”, you must relay your leadership on an individual and project level.
A lack of tangible achievements or improved performance is soon apparent when a candidate is asked a direct question. Increasingly, clients are not seeking handle-turners, they want to hire agents of change in all layers of their business.