Hiring managers may never be 100% spot on when selecting a candidate. But based on a number of factors, they are definitely more equipped to make a sound judgement. They do have the expertise. They have studied, worked, recruited and learnt from experience, how to evaluate candidates and make hiring decisions. To understand how hiring managers hire people we need to understand :
How Humans Evaluate Each Other
Even the most experienced CEO is just a human being. He/she does not actually care how many tennis balls could fit in an A320 (when such a question is asked)
Instead, the main focus is getting to know you for a few minutes and then making a snap judgment.
It is like meeting someone briefly at a party and having a conversation for a 15-20 minutes. You can either feel, "I like him/her...tell me more" or "...excuse me, I need to use the washroom. It was nice meeting you" (I am not going to see you again at this or another party)
This gut feeling and judgement is really based on two "C" factors:
1. Comfortability: Do I like you?
2. Competence: Are you good at what you do? or Can you become good at what is required to be done?
In other words, we ultimately reduce everyone we meet into four buckets:
1. Comfortability + Competence
2. Comfortability + Incompetence
3. Un-comfortable + Competent
4. Un-comfortable + Incompetent
How to Get Picked
Your goal is clearly: Comfortability + Competence. But how do you do that?
Comfortability + Competence judgments are mere perceptions. And while you can’t change who you are, you absolutely can change people’s perceptions of you.
As an example, let’s take an interview question: “Tell me about a time you influenced a team.”
A standard answer might go like this:
“OK, so there was this time that I had to work with a group of people on a project. Some of them weren’t that easy to work with, so I really had to influence them to do a better job. Which was super tough because they weren’t that motivated. But after I talked with them, they started doing way better. So that’s how I influenced my team.”
The person listening would most likely think the following: This person is both cold (it feels like he/she’s throwing her teammates under the bus) and incompetent ( what has he/she done—does he even know how to work with other people?).
This snap judgment from a hiring managers makes it clear just how quickly interviewers can rush to evaluate a candidate. But it also highlights the importance of how we tell our stories. Because now consider this same story told a second way:
“OK, so there was this time that I got to work with a group of people on a big project—the launch of a new website. I was nervous about it because we all came from different departments—sales, marketing, and engineering. So the first thing I did is I got to know my engineering colleagues better by setting up coffees with each person and learning about their backgrounds and goals. And then, when we ran into a situation where the engineers weren’t making as much progress as we had planned, I was able to reframe the new website around their own goals. Seeing the connection between their personal ambitions and our team mission really seemed to set the pace. And the result was that we not only hit our deadline, but we actually launched one week early.”
Again, same exact high-level story. But notice how the telling of it changes the candidate from Un-comfortability to Comfortability (“Nice—I’d want to grab coffee with her too!”) and incompetent to competent (“Wow—she knew exactly what to do and got the results to prove it”).
All through subtle techniques like:
Use specifics: Instead of focusing on the boring abstract, the candidate brings a story to life through details: a new website, falling behind, coffee chats, a clear result.
Be self-aware: Instead of needing to stroke his/her own ego, the candidate shows the human and likable side by admitting to his/her nerves.
Go step-by-step: Instead of glossing over the meat of the story, the candidate draws a clear connection from the challenge to the response to the specific outcome.
The most important lesson is this: You have the power to shape your hiring manager’s perceptions of you. And by doing so, you can control your career destiny, rather than wait around for someone to invent an app that lets you read an interviewer’s mind.