Art of the Interview
And what a 2,000-year-old military strategist has to say about the job hunt.
Charlie Scott ’77, P’09, ’12 cites a 2,000-year-old text when he talks about how to interview successfully in today’s competitive job market.
Every battle is won before it’s ever fought.
The quote is from The Art of War by Sun Tzu, and the Chinese military treatise has been applied to business, law, public relations, and other contemporary fields. For Scott, the book speaks to the job search—specifically the interview.
To know your enemy, you must become your enemy.
The number one requirement for a good interview is preparation, Scott said. “If you prepare well, you are going to distinguish yourself.” Scott worked for Mercer Human Resources Consulting for more than thirty years and now runs his own consulting group in Philadelphia.
“If you happen to have a good interview without preparing, you are lucky, but more than likely, the company does not have a strong selection process,” Scott said.
William Heyman ’74, P’13 is president and CEO of Heyman Associates, an executive search firm in New York. He said confidence comes from preparation.
“A good interview is an honest dialogue where people are comfortable with the conversation and there isn’t this feeling of trepidation. You alleviate nervousness by being prepared,” Heyman said.
Interviewees need to know everything they can about a company or organization and digital communications have increased both the timeliness and the efficiency of collecting that information.
“Businesses and organizations do not exist in static situations—current events affect them. You can get information on any business or organization in real time—check your smart phone five minutes before walking into an interview and you may learn something new, something really valuable, that could be beneficial in your conversation,” Heyman said.
Scott agrees. Say your interview comes on the heels of a company announcement of global expansion. This would be critical information to help you stand out from the pack.
“It’s an opportunity to weave in your international experiences more directly: I completed some of my academic work at the London School of Economics focusing on business policy and I was able to spend time in eight European countries, or highlight your work experiences and interests that have global connections. Now next to your name, it said ‘global opportunities.’”
If you know the enemy and know yourself, you need not fear the result of a hundred battles.
Candidates need to make sure the company or organization gets what it needs from the interview by focusing on answering two key questions:
Can you do the job?
Are you a good fit?
Preparation should focus on what the company or organization needs out of someone in this position and how your strengths and technical abilities are a match. Moreover, an interview is relationship building. People want to work with people they like—a point that is consistent throughout subsequent jobs and career stages. The underlying question of fit is “Do I want to work with this person?”
Heyman thinks there are very few questions that you will be asked in an interview that you shouldn’t be able to anticipate.
“Why are you interested in this position? What is it about the company that interests you? If you answer, Wow, I hadn’t thought about that, that’s a problem. You should have a plan of how you are going to approach this interview with substantive answers to those questions,” Heyman said.
Appear weak when you are strong, and strong when you are weak.
Kathy Williams P’07, director of the College’s Center for Career Development, said evaluating a candidate’s fit within a company or organization is the primary purpose of a job interview.
“Behavioral-based questions are commonplace today for companies and organizations during interviews,” Williams said. “How you handled something in the past is a good indication of how you will handle it in the future. Employers want to know what these things were and how you arrived at that conclusion.”
At Gettysburg, Williams and her team engage students in one-on-one mock interviews, answering behavioral-based questions that fall into nine categories: adaptability, building relationships, integrity, communication, initiative, innovation, self assessment, sound judgment, and teamwork.
One question that hits many of these categories and that can be expected in nearly every interview: Tell me about a time in your experience where something went wrong and it was your fault. What did you do about it and what do you do now to ensure it doesn’t happen in the future?
“It puts you back on your heels. If you haven’t thought about this question, and now you are trying to come up with something, there’s a chance that you will say something that you wouldn’t want anyone to know about,” Scott said.
The disingenuous answer is Oh, nothing has ever gone wrong. Scott advises to have an answer that is truthful, bite-size, and won’t be embarrassing. Explain how it led to a teachable moment.
Williams said that question comes under fire as a trick question, but it isn’t. It is a prime example of why she encourages anyone being interviewed to plan responses in the STAR format (below).
Scott said not to fear another common “fit” question: Where do you see yourself in five or ten years?
“It is a very relevant question to ask. It gets to the point: Will they love the job?”
If you want the job, Scott advises to answer the question something like this:
I’m qualified and interested in this position, both my education and experience make me a good fit. The position you have available will allow me to explore new possibilities for the organization and it would be a great opportunity. In five or ten years, I’m hopeful that I’ve learned enough that your company would want to find new ways to deploy my skills.
The question gives the interviewee a chance to clearly communicate their intentions if hired while keeping a hopeful eye on the future. Scott said that a question and an answer like that can be one of the defining moments of an interview.
In the midst of chaos, there is also opportunity.
The experts agree: stuff happens. Expect the unexpected.
“You may be waiting in the lobby and somebody comes out to meet you to take you back to the interview room,” Williams said. “The interview has already started. It’s the first impression.”
Williams suggests to be prepared for small talk by staying current on news and events, and by taking notice of your surroundings—photos or awards hanging on the walls—to give you casual prompts.
Scott said that he likes to spend a lot of time on small talk in an interview because to him, it isn’t small. “I have questions to ask that tell me a lot about someone before we get into the interview.”
He will often start by casually asking a candidate: So, tell me where you grew up? “A candidate once responded by saying that she grew up in rural Maine, but that she will never go back there again—it’s too small and the people are shallow. I learned a lot from that single question and much of it spoke to fit.”
Scott’s advice is to read the cues of the person you are interviewing with. “If the person said, Come in and let’s sit down. I know we had an hour scheduled but I really only have fifty minutes. Don’t say, Oh that’s a lovely picture of you and your family. How old are your children? At that point, they’ve already said they want to get to work.”
Heyman offers a tip that applies to more than just chaotic interview situations.
“Sometimes candidates talk too much in an interview. Use your ears and mouth in proportion to what you have—two ears, one mouth—and it will yield greater success. When you listen well, you will better understand what the organization is looking for,” he said.
The greatest victory is that which requires no battle.
The truth is, the art of the interview really comes down to the art of you. Interviewing for a job shouldn’t create internal strife. Be yourself in an interview, do the preparation, and exude confidence in knowing your strengths, weaknesses, and why you are the best fit. These will set the stage so that the conversation will be remembered long after your interview is over.
Scott said that’s when the power paradigm shifts. “You’re someone they are seeking, too. Don’t forget that.”
—by Kendra Martin
Illustrations by Robbie Porter
Katherine Cornock Terhune ’07 is one of LinkedIn’s users whom the professional social networking giant labels a passive member—not actively looking for a job, but would entertain being contacted about an opportunity.
LinkedIn estimates that’s the case for roughly 60 percent of their more than 225 million users. The remaining users are split between those who are actively pursuing a job and those who are not.
So when LinkedIn contacted Terhune last summer, she had to see what they wanted.
LinkedIn recruited Terhune for a position based on her user profile. Every step of the process was done using the site and a few phone calls— she never sent a copy of her traditional resume or cover letter. She did have an in-person interview and made a presentation to several team members.
Now a customer education specialist for LinkedIn, her job is to work with recruiters and personnel departments to use LinkedIn to locate the best candidates. It’s a bonus that Terhune has experience as a recruiter, working for Prudential Financial and Credit Suisse in her years after Gettysburg.
She shared some tips on how both companies and candidates use this twenty-first century tool.
Find new talent
LinkedIn Recruiter allows access to profiles across LinkedIn’s vast user network. Recruiters set search criteria and use one hundred or more data points to assess candidates. More options are available under Talent Solutions on LinkedIn’s website.
Companies create their own profile pages to post jobs and share their culture, values, and ethos more candidly than on a standard website. And size doesn’t matter—small and large companies use LinkedIn.
Use LinkedIn as a go-to source for industry news or trends and to review the profiles of people who will be interviewing you.
Tell your professional story
Post artwork, presentations, lesson plans, projects, and reports to show what you’ve done. Use LinkedIn to profile your great work.
Look for existing connections you may have and reach out to learn about the company culture or ask for advice. Terhune found a Gettysburg grad who was already working at LinkedIn. She didn’t know that alum, but asked about the culture and what the alum liked about working there. “It’s a great way to get insider information about the company.”
But hold on inviting people to connect with you until after the process is over.
Don’t send invitations to every person you met in the search process. Think of invitations to connect as networking at a reception—focus on the ones that will help advance your career goals.
Looking for a career change? You can follow anything on LinkedIn—your passions, hobbies, or fields that interest you—not only the industry you’re in. Following the industry you want to work in and learning how to apply your skills in new fields will put you one step closer to a transition.
Help employers, recruiters, and other Gettysburgians find you by joining the Gettysburg College Professional Network on LinkedIn.
Founded in 1832, Gettysburg College is a highly selective four-year residential college of liberal arts and sciences with a strong academic tradition. Alumni include Rhodes Scholars, a Nobel laureate, and other distinguished scholars. The college enrolls 2,600 undergraduate students and is located on a 200-acre campus adjacent to the Gettysburg National Military Park in Pennsylvania.
Posted: Tue, 21 Jan 2014
Next on your reading list
Share this story: