Inside Your Interviewer's Head

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Nurhuda Syed
Editor, gradsingapore
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There is tremendous pressure upon interviewers to get it right. You’re worried they’re analysing you; they’re worried they can’t read your mind. The key is to know their unspoken questions and to answer them. These typical questions in recruiters’ heads will affect their behaviour – and your response.

Is the candidate really interested in this job?

The last thing recruiters want is to hire someone who doesn't really want the job and may leave a few months after starting or pull out at the last minute before starting work. They also do not want to employ someone who will be unhappy in their role and add little to the organisation.

How to reassure the interviewer:
Show your interviewers that you have a realistic grasp of what the day-to-day job entails by:

  1. Asking what would be expected of you day-to-day as an employee.
  2. Clarifying anything the interviewer says in response to your questions.
  3. Paraphrasing what the interviewer says to you to show you understand what they mean.

Doing these three things cynically – or as a mere technique – won't work. You must be genuinely enthusiastic about this job prospect and what it has to offer. Don't be afraid to be upbeat and talk about how this job role matches your aspirations, career plans, and relevant interests.

Accentuate the positive and make it clear from your reactions that you'll be getting a lot out of this job for some time to come.

Does the candidate have the basic skills to get the job done?

It costs time and money to market a job opening and assess applicants, and even more to train a fresh graduate to a stage where he or she can finally start paving their way. The greater your skills, the greater the chance that you can hit the ground running.

This scenario is no doubt much more appealing to managers and recruiters than the prospect of grooming you from scratch.

How to reassure the interviewer:
Divide your answers into two categories. First, demonstrate specific examples of the skills required for the job role.

Second, discuss good transferable skills (communication, commercial awareness, leadership skills, etc.) and basic knowledge from any previous experiences or vocational exposure you may have had.

Interviewers won't necessarily expect you to start work as a fully-developed employee, not even if you're some kind of genius. What they do want to see, however, is potential and willingness to learn... and learn quickly. So talk about a time when you learned something that would be useful on the job.

Can the candidate bring anything new to my organisation?

Recruiters typically have an overall competencies plan (or "skills matrix") that they need to fill. They must consider the skills, interests, and knowledge that their current employees possess and decide whether or not you can bring in something to fill a skills gap.

They're anxious to demonstrate to their bosses that they've "added value" to the company by hiring the right person.

How to reassure the interviewer:

Make sure you show that you can bring the skills and qualities that the job description states – this is what the interviewer is looking for.

Even if you're not asked straight out about your skills, find some way to bring it up at one point during the interview. A good time for this is near the end of the session, when interviewers will typically offer you a chance to share additional information.

How well will this candidate get along with colleagues and clients?

No recruiter wants to hire someone whom they suspect may disrupt, upset, or ruin relationships between colleagues or clients. Interviewees who come across as rude, cynical, difficult, or arrogant will likely be avoided.

How to reassure the interviewer:

Stay polite and positive. But most importantly, listen. Take an interest in what other job roles or people there are in the organisation. Ask questions about the people you might end up working with, or what you might end up doing in your role to support them in their respective tasks.

If the position you're applying for requires direct interaction with clients, it may be a good idea to enquire in more detail about the kinds of services or support you will be expected to render to clients.

While your interviewers may not always answer such questions – some of this may be confidential information – this does show initiative and a dedication to maintaining the company's relationships with its clients.

Does the candidate have other interviews or job offers lined up?

Recruiters aren't just trying to meet their bosses' expectations – they're competing with other companies for talent as well. Interviewers want to know whether you're being courted by any other organisation so they can timetable their final decision if they like you, and extend you an offer before someone else does.

How to reassure the interviewer:

There's no point in lying or pretending you don't (or do) have other opportunities lined up. Don't be shy about talking about other jobs that you've applied for. If they're similar to the one you're interviewing for, it also shows that you've really thought through your job search, which is certainly a good thing.

However,  if you've already accepted a job offer, don't keep shopping around for more prospects! This is a highly unethical practice.

As we mentioned earlier, interviewers want to know that you are sincerely interested in a job before they hire you – if recruiters even suspect that you're "shopping around", they may just write you off on the spot.

How do I feel about this candidate? Is he or she lying or behaving strangely?

Experienced recruiters often use their instincts, and can be concerned if something doesn't feel quite "right" during an interview. They may be worried that you are lying or hiding something from them.

How to reassure the interviewer:

Be honest. Admit if you don't know an answer to a question instead of trying to ballpark your way through. If you aren't sure about what you're being asked, or feel you haven't yet developed a particular skill that this job requires, be open with your interviewer and admit as much.

Being honest about your shortcomings is better than having recruiters discover that you lied during the interview even if it's only a small bluff.

Also, if you happen to have any mitigating circumstances on the day itself or suddenly fall ill, it's wise to flag this up to the interviewer right at the start. That way the interviewer will understand and make allowances if you are looking uncomfortable, upset, fidgeting or not appearing as enthusiastic as they might expect.

Pro-tip: Take note of recruiter lingo

Interviews can be awash with verbal and non-verbal clues from your interviewers. Learn to catch on to them and stay ahead of the curve!

Talk with your interviewers and glean useful scraps on their feelings, dealings, ideas and mental pictures surrounding ambitious projects in the organisation. Find out how the team tackles tasks – what’s their working style?

Learning about stuff like this will help you to get a sense of whether you would fit in, and would also give you a headstart if you’re offered the job.