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Three Philadelphia-area hiring managers have joined me in sharing their invaluable insight and demystifying the interview process. If you are currently applying for jobs—or casually browsing the job boards—you are going to want to read this. We are addressing first impressions, leaving nerves at the door, and so much more!
You may be wondering why I know so much about interviewing. I am presently a hiring manager at a non-profit mental health organization in Philadelphia. I have lead dozens of interviews in this capacity while building the solid team I currently support. I was also previously laid off for a six-month period. During that time, I participated in dozens more interviews as a candidate before I found my next position.
Although I have learned a lot from my experiences, I do not claim to know everything—especially outside of the behavioral health field. Three Philadelphia-area hiring managers working in a variety of industries have agreed to share their proverbial two cents on all things interviewing. I will introduce them momentarily. First, let’s make sure you’re prepared for this intermediate-level discussion.
Are you familiar with the basic interview habits preached by guidance counselors across the world? If any of the following advice is new to you, I would advise you to do a little bit of background research before returning to this article. Arrive early, bring (multiple) copies of your resume and references, practice your handshake, and structure your responses using the STAR method. Do you need some time to refresh your memory of these foundational habits? That’s okay—I’ll still be here when you return!
Thirty minutes later…
Welcome back! As you may now know, any decent candidate is able to set an extra alarm, use a copier, and avoid greeting interviewers with a floppy fish. Mastery of these habits is essential, but it doesn’t set you apart in a pool of candidates. Next, let’s talk about connecting with your interviewer.
Interpersonal Connection Is Key
If interviews are structured conversations, conversations are a form of communication, and connection lays the groundwork for communication, then a successful interviewee must be able to connect with his or her interviewer. Interpersonal connection is the key to fitting in while standing out.
Before the Interview
Whenever possible, familiarize yourself with the LinkedIn profile of your interviewer, other current and former employees in the department for which you’re interviewing, and the company overall. LinkedIn profiles provide concrete information about the desired perception of people and companies. Through this process, I have learned about the structure of a department, the average tenure of employees in the position for which I was interviewing, and shared professional connections.
If you discover a gem like a shared connection, don’t be afraid to reach out to that connection prior to the interview for advice. Also do not be afraid to pass along a “hello” from that connection during the interview. You and your interviewer may be meeting for the first time, but you may more easily gain their trust if they know, like, and trust your shared connection. Alternatively, if the relationship between your shared connection and your interviewer is poor, you should not risk being perceived in that way.
During the Interview
Find a common interest. If you are asked about self-care activities or hobbies, and you discover that you and your interviewer both enjoy goat yoga, spend an extra moment discussing that topic. You may have first mentioned that you like to cook, watch college football, and volunteer at a homeless shelter before peaking your interviewer’s interest with yoga. Once you see a reaction—smiling, head nodding, suddenly looking up from the interview notes—follow that lead!
Allow me to elaborate with a brief neuropsychology lesson. Your interviewer will have a stronger and more positive recollection of your encounter because the memory of your interview is biochemically associated with a positive memory that was already stored in their brain. Your interview will have double the impact because the memory is essentially stored in two places in the brain with two chances to be triggered. The takeaway from this lesson is that you have a chance to stand out among the pool of candidates, all of whom likely said they are organized, trustworthy, and strong communicators but did not disclose their love of goat yoga.
Pro tip: If you’re skeptical about the likelihood of hobbies coming up during your interview, be prepared to discuss other shared experiences, such as attending the same college or working in the same type of position for your “first real job” after graduation.
Find a common frustration. This tactic may seem uncouth, but it allows you to appear knowledgeable about the demands of the position and realistic about the nature of the field. If you’ve used their electronic health record, and it has certain technological quirks that drive everyone in the office crazy from time to time, share a laugh. Continue to share a STAR response about how you were motivated to become the IT liaison for the department to resolve issues and streamline the error-reporting process.
At the very least, make an appropriate amount of eye contact and mimic their body language. Are they upbeat and conversational, casual and relaxed, or conservative and straightforward? Hiring managers are rarely looking to hire clones of themselves. After all, diversity is valuable and some people are best suited for positions like “hiring manager,” not necessarily the position for which you are interviewing. However, they were likely once in that position, and their demeanor was one of the characteristics that allowed them to be successful enough to earn a promotion.
After the Interview
Be responsive. Do NOT ghost your employer like a bad Tinder date. Job offers are conditional upon a number of factors, such as passing background checks, checking references, and providing copies of licenses and transcripts. Encountering a challenge during the onboarding process may not result in your offer being withdrawn by your new employer, but poor communication almost certainly will. Although unplanned, these challenges may become your first opportunity to demonstrate your commitment to the organization, problem-solving and time-management skills, and ability to navigate stressful situations.
Hiring Manager Panel
It’s time to interview the interviewers in a round of Q&A with four Philadelphia-area hiring managers, including myself. Please allow me to introduce Kristin, Stephanie, and John. Kristin works at a technology and media company. Stephanie works at a financial institution. John works at a furniture retailer. My name is Kelly, and I work at a mental health non-profit organization.
General Advice for Interviewees
Don’t approach it as an interview, but rather a conversation. The intentions aren’t to prove yourself to a company; it’s to see if it’s a good fit for both parties.John
Come prepared with at least three open-ended questions. Don’t just be there to answer their questions.Stephanie
Make sure you read the job description and come prepared to casually slip some of the words and descriptions into the conversation. They didn’t put them there for no reason!Kristin
Be calm if you get an in-person interview. This means you’re qualified, but they want to know if you have interpersonal skills and are a good cultural fit. Getting nervous won’t help. Stay calm; be yourself.Kristin
Always send a thank-you email.Kelly
Memorable First Impressions
Make a good first impression by researching the company culture on a website like Glassdoor. Then go to Staples and get your resume printed on actual resume paper. It’s like $1 more, and when the interviewer feels it, they will be impressed.Stephanie
If an interviewee tries to joke too much right away, I think they’re not serious enough about the job.Kristin
Your attire is your first impression before you even have a chance to impress me with a solid handshake, job knowledge, and eloquence. It automatically puts you in a position to have to prove yourself, which is an obstacle you don’t want to have to overcome.Kelly
Favorite Interview Questions to Ask
What qualities make a good team?John
If you were part of a Big Mac, what would you be and why?Kristin
If you were to get an offer, what would you say?Kristin
Where do you see yourself in five years?Kelly
What do you do for self-care?Kelly
Let’s continue to conversation in the comments! Hiring managers, what advice do you wish every interviewee heard before walking through your door? Interviewees, what have you changed about your interview behavior over the years?
Connection is the key to fitting in while standing out.