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The Interview: Are You a Passionate Candidate?

“We hire people with passion.” I was in a room filled with over a dozen HR leaders from a number of the largest employers in Minnesota, and this was a comment made by a senior talent acquisition leader. The rest of the leaders nodded their heads in agreement to his statement.

So what does it mean to hire people with passion? Jack Welch recently published an article entitled, “How I Hire: The Must-Haves, the Definitely-Should-Haves and the Game-Changer.” The article defines “must-haves” as having high integrity and high IQ, and discusses the “definitely should-haves” in the following way:

The four E’s (Energy, Energize, Edge, and Execution) are great individually, but they’re even better when a candidate has them all wrapped up in burning ball of passion – there’s the P (Passion) – for both work and life. Passionate people sweat the details, they’re curious, they care.

OK, we get it! Employers are looking for passionate people. Now the question is, short of pounding a few Red Bulls just before an interview, how can you as a candidate, convey the characteristic of passion during an interview? The primary goal of an interview is to differentiate you from other candidates pursuing the same opportunity. Differentiating yourself and communicating your potential value as an employee are most effectively accomplished by the questions you ask.

Whether you’re a student looking at entry-level roles, a middle manager with many years of experience, or a passive CFO interviewing for a compelling career opportunity, below are 10 tips that will bring value when preparing for an interview.

1. Identify the goal of your interview. The primary goal of an interview is to differentiate yourself from the other candidates pursuing the same opportunity, and make it to the short-list.

2. Prepare great questions. Questions to ask that you prepare in advance can be classified into the following buckets:

  • The company and industry (culture, mission, strategy, competition, differentiators, etc.)
  • The department and the position itself (culture, organizational changes, interdepartmental collaboration, peer profiles, training availability, expectations, performance measurement criteria, etc.)
  • The FINAL QUESTION (strategic in nature to leave lasting impression; example to come later in the article…)

3. Make a good first impression.
You only get one chance to make a first impression, and it’s typically formed within the first 30 seconds during a job interview, or 45 seconds during a phone interview.

4. Make mental notes about your interviewer. Focus on the positivity of others during the interview and find out something noteworthy about the interviewer, which you can use later when writing the Thank You note/email.

5. Listen more than you speak. Shoot for a 50/50 split between listening and talking, erring on the side of listening. In preparation for the interviewer’s possible questions regarding strengths and shortcomings, use the job description to prepare an outline of your specifically relevant skills from your work history.

6. Balance shortcomings with solutions. If responding to a question from the interviewer about shortcomings, briefly include corrective measures being taken.

7. Don’t “wing” behavioral questions. Most employers have identified behavioral-based interview questions as the best predictor of future job performance. You cannot and should not “wing-it” when responding to these types of questions.

8. Keep answers concise and to the point. Employ the STAR technique (situation, task at hand, action taken, and results) when responding to behavioral-based questions, especially if you have a tendency to ramble.

9. Ask smart final questions. At the end of the interview, chances are that you’ll be asked if you have any additional questions. Frequently misinterpreted by the interviewee that the interview is over, you never want to be without questions. This is time to ask your prepared-in-advance FINAL QUESTION(S) that is strategic in nature with the intent of leaving a lasting impression. An example of this is, “What will the candidate you hire have accomplished within the first six months that will validate that you’ve made the right hiring decision?”

10. Send a timely thank you note. Always send a timely Thank You note/email. Be brief, summarize your level of interest and the strengths you bring to the position, and mention the noteworthy item you picked-up during the interview about the interviewer.

Differentiating yourself from other candidates by the questions you ask is the most effective way to communicate your character and personality profile to a prospective employer. Whether or not “passion” is conveyed in what they see is a subjective assessment, and is up to the interviewer. Though out of your control, you have substantial influence over the assessment by advanced preparation and having well thought-out questions to ask during the interview. Good luck!