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What Do Hiring Managers Want to Hear?

One of the other Hiring Managers at my company recently asked me to be on the interview panel for one of his open positions. Specifically, for a Senior Project Manager.

The screening process was done and five candidates were selected for the interview. This was a high-level professional position with a starting annual salary of over $100,000. Seeing as these were the five best out of dozens of qualified applicants, I expected very strong interview performances.

Boy, was I wrong!

Of these five candidates, only one performed well enough to pass on to a second interview. And even that one candidate was weak. What happened? All five looked great on paper.

The answer is very simple and was the same for all five candidates: they didn’t properly prepare for the interview. Consequently, they were not able to tell the Hiring Manager and the interview panel what they wanted to hear.

In many of my posts on this website, I repeatedly hammer home the importance of interview preparation. No matter how experienced and qualified you are, if you can’t articulate and relate those qualifications to the job for which you’re interviewing you won’t do well.

These five applicants were a perfect example of this. They seemed to assume that their resume would land them the job.

“Tell Us About Your Background”

While their lack of preparation was evident throughout the interview, two specific questions were fumbled rather badly. The first one was a common question asked in most interviews: “Tell us about your background”.

Sure, we’ve read your resume and know your qualifications and prior job history. The easy – and lazy – way to answer is to merely recap your prior employers and jobs you’re held. This was the approach used by these five candidates.

Here’s the thing – this is NOT what I, and every other Hiring Manager, wants to hear. We can read this in your resume.

What we really want to know is how all of that expertise and experience specifically relates to our position. This is your opportunity to impress us with your homework and tell us why we should hire you instead of someone else for this position.

You can only do this if you’ve done your research and can take the job qualifications and explain how your unique experience and accomplishments directly relate to them. I estimate that less than five percent of all the people I’ve interviewed can do this well. Those that can are the ones I want to hire.

“Give Us An Example of a Challenge You Faced…”

The second question that threw these candidates off was when we asked them: “Tell us about a specific example of a challenge you faced, the solution you developed, and the results of that solution.”

Basically, we were asking for examples of their accomplishments and all five seemed baffled by this question. 

They all could tell us in great detail about their experience and responsibilities. But they had difficulty giving specific examples of accomplishments and results achieved as a result of that experience.

They were interviewing for a Project Manager position, which pretty much is the definition of a results-oriented job. We expected to hear about increases in efficiency, reductions in expenses, revenue increases, and so on. Four of the candidates were unable to state any specific figures that demonstrated they could achieve the same results for us.

The fifth candidate was finally able to quote some good examples once she finally realized that what we wanted to know was her accomplishments, not her responsibilities. As the last person standing, she will probably get the job, provided she doesn’t fumble her second and final interviews.

In several other posts, I’ve covered in detail the importance of these two areas. It turns out I was right. These were the exact areas that were handled poorly by candidates who were otherwise very experienced and qualified

The bottom line here is to be sure your interview preparation includes having excellent answers to these two questions and that those answers are specific to the job you’re seeking.

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