I hire people or advise clients on hiring people every day. One of my businesses is a recruiting and hiring agency where we are contracted to find the best possible candidates for various jobs.
For over 12 years, I’ve interviewed over 1,000 job candidates for startups, small businesses, Fortune 500 companies, government departments and non profits.
I’ve learned what types of core attributes employers are constantly looking for – and I’ve learned first hand how you can change these small thought processes to nail your next job interview.
In the end, like most things in business, it’s a lot more simple than you would think.
When it comes down to it, employers tend to seek a few core qualities in any interview – some are so obvious they go unaddressed often. Worse, some articles talk about doing the opposite.
Here’s what I learned during my decade plus of interviewing and hiring job candidates.
Most employers decide not to hire you in the first 5 minutes of the interview
You probably already know that most employers have 2 stacks of resumes. One stack gets shredded or deleted and the other doesn’t.
The person doing the interviews needs to summarize every candidate to their boss so they usually set aside a minimum amount of time for every interview – but if you don’t stand out in the first few minutes, they’ll let the clock run and just tune you out.
Don’t be one of those candidates that gets tuned out.
Job interviewers are the best actors in the world. You might think the interview went great because he was hanging on your every word. Once you finish blabbering on and walk out, you’re already forgotten.
Just because the guy interveiwing you looked like he was listening to you – don’t think your interview went great. Interviewers are amazingly talented at tuning out bad applicants – refuse to be tuned out. Stand out instead.
No matter what your resume says, the moment you sit down and conduct your interview, you can either leave a mediocre, thoughtless impression that puts your name into the stack of “probably not worthy” pile of applicants – on the flip side, a few simple changes in your thought process can move you to the top of the stack above everyone else. That’s where you want to be. In the pile of applicants that doesn’t go to the shredder.
I’ve seen the entire spectrum over the last 12 years of hiring all sorts of employees for companies in virtually every industry and size – and I noticed a trend of what makes a job interviewee a rock star versus a nobody.
Don’t ever forget the person interveiwing you have probably been sitting with dozens of people all day long – so if you don’t do something or say something to stand out in the first few minutes, they’ll tune you out and wait for the next chump to walk in.
You might love hearing yourself talk. Your mom or wife might think your resume is the most interesting thing in the world. But to the hiring interviewer, you’re one of a hundred other guys they need to interview for at least 15 minutes – so find a way to get their attention.
I personally like it when applicants say that they know I’ve been sitting through a bunch of these interviews so they’ll cut to the chase and do away with the fluff and small talk.
It’s only the fool that thinks I’m interested in every word he has to say. I notice this is common among millennial a who love love love to hear themselves talk.
Get my attention fast so I don’t tune you out and get to the point.
It’s a lot simpler than you think
There are lots of reason people say are the cause of their unemployment. Be it the bad economy, their qualification or even race or gender profiling.
The truth is much simpler and if you’re in your twenties and want to land your dream job, you’ll need to make some changes that are not what you think.
Forget about your qualifications
From my experience, the primary reason many applicants don’t get hired has little to do with their qualifications or any number of things they suspect. It’s much simpler. It’s the mindset of the applicant.
Think for them, not for yourself
When employees go into interviews, I often see a very one-sided approach to their way of thinking.
The typical candidate for a job is most interested in what their employer can do for them. How much they’ll earn. How much vacation time they’ll have. Bonuses. Whatever.
But if you shift your way of thinking, you can think more like your employer and what they want in an employee. By thinking only about what you can get from the employer, you’re not relating to their goals and they probably tune you out.
When going into an interview, forget what you know or think the employer wants to hear.
Think about why your position exists in the first place.
Ask “why” your job exists
Companies don’t hire employees to fill a position. They hire people to add value to their company and to accomplish goals.
I’m surprised how many candidates pursue a job without truly understanding why the employer wants to fill that position in the first place. What do they want that job? What purpose does it serve? You won’t be on the same page as your employer if you don’t know why they want your position and what it’s purpose is.
Why does your job exist? What does your employer want as the outcome of your job? If you ask these questions, you’ll have a much better shot.
Ask questions – forget about giving answers
It seems simple but potential candidates are so worried about giving the right answers that they often forget that what employers really want is for your to ask questions and show genuine interest in the position and how they can make an impact.
At your interview, ask what the company is looking for. Not in a candidate but for that position. Why does this job opening exist? What do they want as the result? If they found the perfect candidate, what would they want to have happen as a result?
This will give you insight into the questions and concerns the employer – or your interviewer – is looking for. While others ask what the company can do for them, or telling them what they can do for the company, choose neither.
Instead, find out what the company wants to achieve through your position.
Ask about the bigger picture
Too many employees look at their job as simply going to work, doing the work and getting paid.
Rarely do they dig deeper to find out what the future plans of their job or department are or the company.
Chances are, your employer already has a 5-10 year plan or mission statement drafted up, which outlines their plans for expansion, compression, growth or whatever their goals are.
If you’re seeking a position in an IT department, find out what they want to do with this department in 5 years. If they say they want to eliminate paperwork and streamline the company into digital-only formats ultimately, you now know exactly why they’re hiring you and building the IT department up. Then, you can tell them how you fit into that picture and what you can offer to take them there faster and smoother.
No one cares about your experience – only your results
Too often candidates go into an interview looking to pad their resume up with as much stuff as possible.
They want a long, convoluted resume with as many bullet points as possible.
Employers have to sift through hundreds of resumes just like yours every day. Even though you and your mom might want to read your resume cover to cover and analyze every phrase, chances are your employer will simply skin your resume and set it aside into the “done” pile – or if you impress them, into the “maybe” pile.
Try and write your resume in a way that lists out results of successful accomplishments you were a part of. An employer would much rather see one sentence on how you saved or made money for your last employer by doing A and B – much more than see 10 bullet points about things you’ve done.
To an employer, one positive result is more impressive than a long list of tasks you’ve done.
While experience is important in schools, the real world only cares about results. If you don’t have results or accomplishments to list on your resume, go out and make the happen by any means necessary. Even if you have to work for free.
If you’ve worked on a dozen projects and none of them amounted to anything substantial, that just means you were able to do those jobs.
Employees only care if you were able to do those jobs well – and they want to know what the result was of you doing that task. The task itself is meaningless because employers aren’t hiring you to perform tasks. They’re hiring you to get results.
Follow the money
Unless you’re applying to a non profit or a government job, most companies are in business to earn profit.
Make sure that everything you talk about always leads back to the same goals as your employer.
They’re paying you $50k a year beside they’ll expect to earn $100k off of your work. Never forget that.
Remember that you’re an investment – not a job candidate
You’re an investment and you need to constantly remember that this is how they see you.
Every answer you give and every line in your resume needs to all come back to answer this same question; how will you help them profit?
That is the sole purpose of your job. It’s not being a network administrator. That may be your job description. But employers don’t hire people based on their job descriptions.
They hire based on results and how their investment in you – your salary – will profit for them in some way.
Make sure you are crystal clear about this.
It’s not “you” versus “them”
A lot of candidates seem to have a not-so-loyal attitude when it comes to their employers. Remember that your employer is needs you less than you need them. Unless you’re at an executive level position, always keep in mind that your employer is the one doing you a favor and not the other way around.
Of course you should know your worth in the marketplace based on your skills and competition – but having an attitude of job-hopping and always looking for a better offer won’t get you far.
Loyalty is still extremely important despite what some will tell you. Being loyal and making sure your employer understands this goes a long way.
Have an attitude of gratitude – mixed with confidence in your abilities and you’ll get far.
Don’t overestimate your worth
I’ve interviewed a lot of people of all ages and backgrounds. Typically with the younger crowd, I notice recently there is a strong sense of entitlement among new graduates.
Unless you have amazing history and proven successes, don’t overestimate your value in the marketplace.
Employers don’t want to hire someone who thinks they bring more to the organization than they really do.
Be conservative about your worth
I recently fired an employee who constantly wanted more control and say in management decisions, looking to give advice in areas she had no experience in.
She went as far as to demand being called a partner and co-founder, and said she would quit if she didn’t get a huge stock share of the company and a “seat at the table.”
When I asked her why she deserves such power, she had a lot of canned responses and rhetoric. She truly believed the company could not run without her involvement and despite having been working in the company for less than a year, she had an overinflated and dillusional sense of entitlement.
She acted as if she had doubled profits and helped propel the company in every area she was involved in. In reality, she was dead weight. But instead of finding ways to perform, she just demanded more and spoke louder than everyone else. She was worthless.
She couldn’t give specifics and continued to justify her “importance” to the company by pointing out lots of organizational widgets she had added to the company hierarchy.
She had set up a new calendar and meeting planning system that helped other employees share calendar events and upcoming meetings. It was a nice feature but at best, it added a tiny bit of value to the operation.
Often times, these types of people accomplish small tasks that don’t do much to add value, growth or contribute to the profits – yet they use these small “accomplishments” to justify ridiculous raises and benefits they simply haven’t earned.
An employer does not and should not have to bend over backwards to make an employee feel extra special when he or she hasn’t earned it. It doesn’t matter how long you’ve worked there or how great you think you are. If you haven’t helped add real value to the organization, you’re dead weight.
If she had come to me and said “in the last year, I worked on so and so projects which have helped increase company profits and made us better” I would absolutely told her boss to consider a raise.
If she helped the company prosper she should be entitled to share in those successes.
Instead, the only value she added to the company was perceived value that didn’t do much to grow or increase the value of our firm. What’s worse, her endless list of masters degrees and so-called “successes” didn’t amount to anything at all when asked to perform. This is exactly the kind of things employers want to avoid in a candidate.
They want results – in the form of profits or growth. Something that’s black and white. Something that can be measured.
If a result can’t be measured, it’s not a result at all.
If you want your dream job and become someone important in your organization, you need to earn it. You need to prove time and time again that your value to your company is absolute – and you better be able to back it up.
In a time where everyone gets treated like rock stars and are given trophies for just showing up – employers have a lot of bullshit to sift through. But it’s not hard to distinguish the worthwhile and important employees from the “taking up space and doing mediocre work” folks. Employers can tell the difference.
Be humble and go into an interview with an eagerness to learn and grow. Tell your employer you’re in it for the long haul and you want to hell realize the organizations visions and be there to benefit from the added value you plan to create.
Employers don’t want to talk to et another self-important know-it-all who thinks they deserve more than they’re worth. Do things to make yourself stand out and make sure these things are not just “small wins” because no one remembers small wins. They care about big wins. When you have or will create new value to the company, you can share in those profits.
Make this crystal clear in your interview.
No one starts at the top – neither will you
When I talk to other business owners, they always tell me the same thing. They’re constantly being bombarded with under qualified people who believe they’re going to be the next CEO. Without any evidence to back up their ambitions, they want to start at the top. What’s worse is that some of these people won’t settle for a job because it doesn’t come with the corner office and six figure salary.
If you’re fresh out of school and have nothing but a degree and a mediocre internship, you’re not work a six-figure position with stock options and the corner office. You’re expected to get your foot in the door, work hard and add value to your company. Employers are not endless pots of money and your job isn’t to try and get as much as you can from them because you’re special.
If you’re special, prove it. Then work your way up and earn that six figure career.
Don’t be yet another entitled graduate who thinks they’re at the top of their game. Make it known that you’re not delusional and find ways to get results that are in line with your employers goals.
Don’t rely on being “lucky” or hoping your interviewer likes you enough to give you a shot. Walk on with real world results that they care about – not results only you care about. Don’t think like an employee. If you want a job, think like your employer and make sure they know that too. Don’t be another candidate that sees their company as just a “paycheck printing factory” and figure out how you can add value to that organization so you can share in it.
And if you haven’t had any successes yet, don’t fluff up your resume with useless internships or canned letters of recommendations. Don’t waste your time learning about how to give a great interview or how to get what you think you deserve. If you’re just starting out, you don’t deserve anything and if you get a job at the bottom, be grateful and use that opportunity to prove your worth.
Find a way to make your passions tailor fit your job
Take on projects, hobbies, ambitions that your employer can relate to. Show them you’re not just another one of the hundreds of resumes and interviews they have to put up with every day and show them you’re different.
Everyone shoots for the middle. This makes the middle road – the mediocre road – the most competitive road of them all. Aim higher but don’t pretend you’re a rock star. Think of how you can become a rock star for your employer and how to become someone they absolutely cannot do business without.
Think like the employer and stop thinking of what you want. Think of why they’re looking to hire you. Ask what they want and show them you’re interested in the bigger picture – and I promise you’ll get far.