What Hiring Managers Really Look For

Last Updated Sep 10, 2011 6:10 PM EDT

What Hiring Managers Really Look ForInterviewing for a job is a lot like giving a presentation. It's hard to imagine your career going anywhere unless you learn how to do it effectively. Unfortunately, you probably weren't born with the interview gene. For most people, interviewing is a real struggle.

So what do you do? Get online and search for tips. Unfortunately, the vast majority of that stuff is written by self-proclaimed experts who've never been hiring managers and didn't learn how to do it right from a Fortune 500 company that depends on hiring young up-and-comers and promoting from within.

In other words, they really have no idea what they're talking about.

The truth is that, when you're on a job hunt, the absolute worst thing you can do is get yourself all worked up by reading laundry lists of interview questions and horror stories, worrying about stuff you can't do anything about, and filling your head with useless advice.

All that does is keep you from being yourself and doing what matters most in a job interview: demonstrating you're the right person for the job.

The best way to do that is the first lesson in interviewing for a job, which just so happens to be the same first lesson in giving an effective presentation: find out what matters most to the audience. More specifically, find out what matters most to hiring managers.

Fortunately, I happen to know all about that sort of thing. You see, as a young manager at Texas Instruments, I volunteered to lead the recruiting effort for my entire department. And since TI is very big on hiring up-and-comers and grooming them for senior management, they train their managers on how to find the right people for the right job.

Since then, I've interviewed and hired countless people at every organizational level, from individual contributors to VPs, from engineers to marketers. I've worked with some very successful HR executives and recruiters. Not only that, I've interviewed with more than a few successful CEOs and tough VCs myself.

I guess you can say I'm battle-tested on both sides of the equation. So, not only is this What Hiring Managers Really Look For, but if you're a hiring manager and this isn't what you look for in a job interview, you might want to reconsider that strategy:
  • Initial gut feeling. What can I tell you; it's not scientific but it is the truth. Good managers and executives learn to trust their gut instincts and, sure enough, that's pretty darn subjective. The best thing to do is be yourself, be genuine, be nice, be open, and relax. Look him right in the eye, smile, and remember, he's just a flesh and blood person, just like you. Chemistry is all about making a connection and it starts with first impressions.
  • Do you meet the job spec? If gut feeling is highly subjective, this is the opposite. Right or wrong, there's a written job spec and the hiring manager wants to find out if you meet it or not. That includes everything from functional capability and previous experience to communication skills and personal characteristics. Since you've presumably read the spec, this is your window into what they're looking for.
  • Are you who you represent yourself to be? They bring you in based on a virtual piece of paper - your resume - and maybe a phone screen, so they want to see if that's really you or a bunch of BS. Hopefully, you're better in person than on paper. My favorite analogy is this: you want to look at least as good naked as you do in clothes. It's the same thing when you're interviewing. You don't want to be a letdown in the flesh. Think about that when you're embellishing your resume.
  • Your experience. This is huge, but not in the way you think. Get this. What they're really looking for are specific anecdotes that resonate with their current situation, concerns, and priorities for the position. If you can find out what that is and satisfy that criteria, I doubt if the number of years you've been doing something matters much. Example: if they're trying to grow a new business, they want to hear exactly how you've done that in the past.
  • Are you smart? You can gain wisdom, get experience, and learn skills, but by the time you interview for a professional job, the smarts are pretty much baked in. The hiring manager wants to know how you think and problem solve. That's what all those weird questions you always hear about are for. But the thing is, reading laundry lists of weird questions won't change how you handle them because it doesn't change how you think or problem solve? Make sense?
  • What's your personality like? What kind of person are you? What are your strengths and weaknesses: positive characteristics and attributes that you need to work on, and are you aware of the latter? Do you have a can-do attitude and a strong work ethic or a sense of entitlement? How do you carry yourself? Are you confident and self-assured or overconfident and full of yourself? Are you grounded, self-driven? Can you handle responsibility and will you hold yourself accountable?
  • Do you get along with others? Are you better on your own or as a team player? Are you so thin-skinned that everything rubs you the wrong way or so insular that you're completely oblivious to the needs and wants of others? How well do you actually listen? Are you aggressive and set in your ways or calm and flexible? Reference checks are also part of this, but they'll still want to get a read of you in person.
  • Are you like-minded? I know, I know. We shouldn't, and it's not logical, but we do. We look for ourselves, or at least people who have some of the same characteristics we value in ourselves. It's human nature. That's why, when you - the candidate - ask a question, it might resonate and it might not. It's highly subjective. If it's the same sort of question she would have asked, she'll like that. If she thinks it's dopey, not so much. My advice here: listen hard for clues and otherwise be very open-minded, neutral, non-controversial, and non-confrontational.
Bottom line. Look, if you find it entertaining to read about weird interview questions or horror stories, knock yourself out. But if you want to get hired for a good job, now you know the inside scoop on what good hiring managers look for.

If I had to offer just one piece of advice to improve your chance of getting hired, it's this. Find out as much as you can about what they're looking for, think about your knowledge and experience, find the intersection points, and deliver a couple of hard-hitting anecdotes that demonstrate you're the one who can do what they need done. Otherwise, relax and be yourself.

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