There is no shortage of interview tip articles online. There is vast information and some of it conflicting. As a 20-year executive recruiting professional, I get asked weekly about my advice for the big interview. I usually provide a checklist of many things to consider and actions to take.
However, I will say, if there is only 1 piece of advice you listen to, it would be the game changer that separates the great from the good. It lies in the questions you ask in an interview process.
The Pendulum is what I have grown to call this approach. It centers around the questions you ask and when you ask them. The prerequisite to implementing this approach is to first understand it, why it is important and agree with it. This is easier said than done. I do get pushback on occasion when explaining this concept.
The Pendulum is symbolic tool to understand where the balance of control lies throughout the cycle of the interviewing process. In simple terms, the candidate should be more focused on solving the problems of the company and the hiring manager in the beginning of the process and less focused on the WIFM (What’s in it for me) questions. As the company begins to see your full value, there is a slow swing in control, and it becomes more appropriate to focus these questions.
This is an easy concept for some but difficult for others. Especially when the candidate was directly headhunted/recruited for a job. Their human instincts tell them that the company needs to wow them and wine and dine them, so they will just sit back and see what they come up with. This may be accepted in sports and high-profile industries where the candidate is a known commodity. Example: a free agent in MLB or the NBA. The team is already sold on them in most cases.
Unless you are coming from one of these types of industries, your attitude needs to be a little different. Even if your attitude is not this extreme, you may be fairly content in your current job so when you go into the phone interview or first interview with the prospective new employer, you may have a strong belief that you should not need to sell yourself.
“You guys recruited me. I wasn’t looking. They are going to have to sell me on them.”
This is a phrase we hear often. The statement is true and accurate, we cannot deny. However, there is a time and a place for the company to sell themselves to you.
If you can show that you are a problem solver and are able to obtain this valuable insight and sell back to them how you can help them, then the pendulum will start to swing. They will start to “fall in love” so to speak. Again, this is a metaphor! This is not Match.com
Let’s say you have 2 extensive phone interviews and then you are invited to a formal interview, the pendulum is moving toward the middle. You still need to be a problem solver, but they see you may be something special. You are now worthy of them selling themselves a bit. The Pendulum is not all the way on your side yet, you still need to keep selling yourself, but you will notice a slow but steady shift. You should continue to ask great questions to uncover what is going to make them want to hire you, then continue to sell this back to them. At the end of the formal/final interview, the pendulum should be somewhere in the middle, maybe slightly on your side, depending if they showed their buying signs and how well you impressed them.
Once you know you have nailed the interview and they commit to offering you the job. The pendulum is on your side and you should feel more comfortable to ask the detailed questions about money and benefits etc. This is where you should go into every fine detail. These questions are important and now is the time to break it all down.
But I Don’t Want to Waste My Time!
A valid concern is that candidates want to ask the WIFM questions early so if the salary is too low or travel is too high, they are not wasting time. This is valid, if you are working through a recruiter or screener, this person should be able to give you some insight into this. You may have to read the situation and see if getting this information early in the process is possible. If you are recruited, the recruiter most definitely should offer a general range. If you cannot get it early, you must weigh the risk and reward of the time you will spend diagnosing the situation before prescribing a solution.
Treat it like the first touch of a sales call with a top prospect, ask, listen, understand.