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What An Interviewer Really Wants to Learn

You've prepped for your big interview by lining up impressive answers about what you've done and can do, what's new in your field and in the company you're meeting with. But if you aren't tuned in to the three most common interview decision factors and their relative importance, then all your painstaking research, strategizing and rehearsing could easily come to naught.

The three factors are: Fit, passion and ability to do the job. Although that list is widely known, candidates often go wrong by emphasizing their ability to do the job. In an interview, that tends to be the least important of the three criteria. It makes up only 10 percent of the decision, says IT consultant Todd Zebert. The other two, fit and passion, together make up 90 percent, Zebert says on his blog.

"Fit" means how well a candidate is seen melding with the culture of the company, division and work group, as well as with the individual hiring manager (who in most cases will be the prospective employee's direct supervisor).

"Passion" is the degree of enthusiasm a candidate demonstrates (convincingly, of course) for the industry, company, and specific job.

"As a manager I interview for those first two," says Zebert, who has managed IT teams within a number of financial institutions, most recently ING.

What's Wrong With Ability? Nothing, But....

I remember hearing career coach Win Sheffield discuss the three interview decision factors in a lecture a few years ago. His formulation was: "Can he do the job? Does he want the job? Is he a fit?"

At that time, I was unemployed and in an active job search. Even though Sheffield mentioned "ability" first, his enumeration made me realize I'd been all but ignoring the other two factors in my interview presentations - thus hurting my own cause.

Whoa, you're thinking. Doesn't ability count? Sure it does. But hiring managers have several good reasons to de-emphasize it during interviews:

- To get even an initial interview, a candidate will already have submitted evidence of ability to do the job. Many who get as far as meeting a hiring manager will have done the very same job before, in a company similar to the one they're interviewing at.

- A candidate's ability to do the work can be gauged from a resume, work samples, pre-employment assignments or written tests. That lets interviewers concentrate on more subjective factors.

- A hiring manager might leave asking nuts-and-bolts questions about a candidate's qualifications or job-related knowledge to underlings or HR staff.

- Finally, all jobs require some adaptation, regardless of a new employee's past experience or knowledge base. "Given the constant changing nature of skills needed, and that we have 'our way,' the candidate will have a learning curve ahead of them anyway," notes Zebert.

The bottom line: When you meet the hiring manager, focus on demonstrating your alignment with the culture and your passion for the company and the role. Those are the issues most likely to make or break your candidacy.

AUTHORJon Jacobs Insider Comment
  • To
    Todd Zebert
    2 November 2009

    @abcd Without knowing anything about you, it's hard to imagine that all the skill you've developed amounts to a "life wasted." This is about the Interview; prior to that your resume was reviewed for skill and experience, and as @Deborah pointed out, you were probably phone interviewed for the same. I find it difficult to imagine someone with an overall lack of fit, short of having personality defects.

    @amauriced the interview is more like a "date" than most would like to admit - it's not about the company "falling[ing[ in love", but realizing that you and the team, department, division, and company can successfully work together. True, the pre-interview situation now is difficult and more than a bit random, but if you get the chance for an interview, you'd better be prepared. Ever had a job where you didn't "fit" - it's tough for both the employee, and the manager.

    @Deborah well said, thanks!

    @Shy_talk true, as @amauriced said, it's a "buyer's market." True, interviews aren't perfect, and while they vary widely, they're the best we have. Right, this is no time to give up.

  • sh
    29 October 2009

    I fear the explanation is somewhat simpler. 1) The work is not around now, 2) there are too many takers, 3) interviews, like elections are and always have been useless for finding the good guys or forecasting how they will act and perform sometime future. It's a numbers game. Keep going.

  • De
    Deborah Graybosch
    29 October 2009

    I agree with the article as well. In this job market if you are in front of the hiring manager then you have already been pre-qualified typically via a phone interview. This is the time to demonstrate that you understand their mission, vision and a bit about their culture. It is important that you observe the interaction between people as you walk in, be polite and friendly to everyone you come in contact with, and know what you are worth! Let your confidence and your energy shine through. And be yourself! Interviewers will sense your uncomfortableness so be sincere in your passion!

  • am
    29 October 2009

    I agree as well, but the question I have as an African-American, is how does one demonstrate fit in an interview? Be yourself? How can you know what the culture is until you start meeting various people in various areas? We're talking about a job, not a date. If you have the ability, you and the company can fall in love later. I understand the concept of being in the 'right' place, but in this economy, it's a buyers market. Fit is the last thing I'm concerned about. I'd just like the chance to do what I've spent 30 becoming an expert at. I can enjoy myself during the other 18 hours of my day.

  • ab
    23 October 2009

    I agree totally with this article. I apparently have significant ability and no-one I have worked with , for or around would deny that. However, I now recognise (too late) that my background demonstrates lack of fit> I spent many years wondering why after a stellar first 10 years in my career, I found it hard to progrees - or even as now to secure a job at all. I now appreciate that my career is over (in my late 40's and without enough behind me financially to survive this). I realise that my ability is completely irrelevant - and it has taken a wasted life to understand this. So I am keen others do not fall into the same trap.
    I am not autistic, a social pariah or ugly - I am simply female, bright and not sycophantic.

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