We talk to our Talent Development Manager Erin about her approach to interviews in a three-part series.
I've worked in Talent Development & recruitment for over 9 years now and during that period I've conducted a good number of interviews. With many of the positions at ZeroLight, my role in the interview process is to establish whether the candidate is a good fit personality wise for us. They've usually had their technical skills tested and dissected, and I'm there to have a chat about their CV, talk through their interests and tell them a little bit more about the culture here at ZeroLight.
I always frame this part of the interview as a chat and people tend to relax more as a result. The best advice I can give in these situations is not to fall into the trap of forgetting that you're still being interviewed. Yes, I want candidates to feel at ease, but not to treat the discussion like a chinwag with an old friend. Remember that the interviewer still has an aim. Even if the questions feel less formal - the end goal is still to establish whether you are the right person for the job.
Finding a balance in these informal interviews is tricky. What I'm personally looking for is genuine answers to my questions and in turn frank questions about the role and culture. All too often it seems that candidates have practised potential answers word for word beforehand. I always recommend that candidates prepare for an interview, considering scenarios that demonstrate their work ethic that they can use as examples, but sometimes individuals are so rehearsed, it's hard to get to the core of who they are as people and whether they'll fit into the company.
I always ask the same questions during my interview, though I often swap them around to match the pace of the discussion, so it feels like a conversation rather than an interrogation. One big piece of advice is to take the time to listen to the question and understand what is being asked. If you have rehearsed a lot you'll want to get all of the information that you've memorised out during the interview (you've put the prep time in and you want it to pay off!) but what often happens is you'll end up trying to shoehorn what you've committed to memory into every answer - regardless of whether that information answers the question that you're asked. You could talk confidently for an hour giving examples on how well you manage a team but if the question is about how you deliver difficult news to a client, all you've proved to me is that you don't have good listening skills.
When you are prepping for an interview it's a good idea to revisit the job description and application you submitted as a starting point. Looking through the description will give you a good indication of the more formal questions that might come. I always start an interview by asking every candidate to talk me through their CV - so having an idea of how you will introduce each of your previous roles, your main achievements and why you moved on will get you ready for this. It's also great practice to have some key examples in mind that link to statements in the job description - if this is a leadership role consider times when you have resolved conflicts between team members or developed junior members of staff - but then go one step further to think about what these examples suggest about your leadership style and how that fits with the ethos of the company you are applying for. This is all standard interview prep that will stand you in good stead for formal lines of questioning.
When you are dealing with a more informal chat, you may need to think more about your personal values than the specifics of your previous employment. In fact, this aspect of the interview, though labelled as ‘informal' may require some in-depth analysis of your own working style that is much tougher than the standard prep you've done before. Asking yourself what you've enjoyed about previous roles, what drove you to your achievements, what frustrated you in other jobs will help you determine what you value in the workplace. It's a good exercise to complete throughout your career regardless of whether you are moving jobs. Understanding what is important to you in work, what motivates you and gets you excited, and on the flipside what you don't enjoy, put off to the last minute and leaves you feeling drained, is all information that you can use to good effect to craft your ideal role and career.
Remember in these informal interviews that you are as much interviewing the company to determine whether it's the right place for you, as you are being interviewed. From my perspective as the interviewer I would prefer to talk with someone who is engaged and asking me questions throughout the conversation. We're both trying to establish whether our values are aligned so a two-way discussion is a must. You'll spend a big portion of your life at work so taking the time to establish whether this is the right place for you and asking questions based around your personal values is just good sense. Think about what you want to know before you go into the interview - asking questions like ‘what do you enjoy about working at ZeroLight?' ‘how would you describe the culture here?' ‘what do ZeroLight employees have in common?' will give you food for thought on whether this is the right place for you.
To sum up - the most important advice in these informal situations is to be yourself, but put the work in behind the scenes to establish what you're really looking for from a role beforehand. You've got through a tough selection process to this point, so you know that you have the right skills for the job. Treat this next stage as an investigation on both sides to determine whether your values are aligned and it's the right move for both parties.