Don’t Fail The Unspoken Interview Test

About to ramp up a job search in 2017? Be sure to read about what still matters, according to the gatekeepers℠    

Have you ever been completely confident you would get a job—or at the very least, convinced you would be a finalist? The job specifications described you perfectly, but for some reason you weren’t asked back. What unspoken test did you fail in the interview?


It could be that you failed the all-important character test. Make no mistake: throughout the selection process, decision makers aren’t just looking at your qualifications and experience. They’re assessing your character, too.


We recently asked the gatekeepers℠, a consortium of 75 CEOs, board members, C-suite executives, executive search partners, private equity partners, and heads of human resources, if they judge a candidate’s character in an interview setting. They universally confirmed that character was an important factor in their selection process. Here’s how they’re judging you.


How do you handle adversity? 


25 percent of the gatekeepers℠ responded that in interviews they’re looking to get a sense of how you handle missteps and challenges, both personally and professionally. Self-awareness, resilience, and determination—not to mention a willingness to acknowledge shortcomings—are highly desirable character traits.


Gatekeeper Aashish Chandra, chief technology officer at Tata Consultancy Services, says he asks job candidates about challenging times in order to sense the candidate’s “authenticity, honesty, and humility.”


Interviewers note a red flag when it comes to how you talk about difficult times: blaming others. Danielle Monaghan, head of talent acquisition at Amazon, says she’s always looking for a candidate’s “ability to openly admit a mistake and discuss key learnings from making the mistake. This includes taking ownership and accountability for things that went wrong.” Similarly, Rick Routhier, senior director, Spencer Stuart, says that he is careful to “listen and determine if [candidates] are comfortable describing their failures…or if they blame others.”


Everybody makes mistakes. But if you don’t have the strength of character to talk about them, you’re not impressing anyone.


How do you treat other people?


The gatekeepers℠ made it clear they’re not just paying attention to how you treat the selection team, but how you treat every person you encounter. Adam Burrows, senior vice president at Home Advisor, IAC, says he looks at “How do candidates treat everyone they meet, including administrative staff? Do they treat everyone with respect?”


Gatekeeper Bethany George, consultant, CEO and board practice at Caldwell Partners, added, “How a senior executive treats our office staff or waitstaff at a restaurant is particularly revealing. I have had candidates who were well-qualified, but did not recommend them to our clients because they were rude to junior members of our team.”


Likewise, when you talk about your current or former coworkers, are you respectful or dismissive? Hiring managers want to know how you’ll treat your new colleagues—all of them.


Is it all about you? Or about the team, too? 


Saying you’re a “team player” has become something of an interview cliché, but the fact is, employers want to know if you’re the kind of person who will readily collaborate and give credit where it’s due. 31 percent of the gatekeepers℠ mentioned the importance of a team-oriented mentality. They listen for signs that indicate you’re more focused on what’s good for the company than what’s good for your career (and ego).


A number of respondents mentioned they listen for “me” versus “we” language in interviews to get a sense of team orientation. Bob McQuade, vice president, human resources at Notre Dame University, said, “Jack Brennan, CEO of Vanguard and our board chair once told me that he counts the number of times the executive says ‘I’ and if he gets to a certain count he basically thanks the individual and says goodbye. I still use that as an indicator of an individual’s character.”


Giving credit to others is important, too. Paige Harazin-Masi, chief of staff, operations at TPG Capital, said, “The best leaders are equally comfortable giving credit to others as well as themselves for their successes.”


Bottom line—no employer expects you to be a saint. But they do want to know you’ve got the ethics, attitude, and strength of character that will make you a team player and an asset to the company. Give interviewers reason to think otherwise, and even the most impressive CVs can’t compensate.


Drawing on her C-level public and private company experience, Janice Waterman anticipated the job market complexity of the new millennium and the need for high end personal career services. Waterman Hurst is the first advisory-agency which provides confidential career strategy, coaching and marketing services for career-minded high potential executives and leaders. 

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