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Small Margins

Small Margins

April 21 2017

This week I had to break the bad news to a candidate that they weren’t going to be offered the role that they were really keen on. Definitely one of the worst parts of the recruitment remit!

They had attended two comprehensive interview stages and performed well at both. Likewise the overall feedback from the prospective hiring manager was positive. So why didn’t they get the job?

When I passed on the outcome to the candidate he was clearly very disappointed and after digesting the initial bad news we chatted about why it hadn’t gone his way.

One of his first comments to me was “I thought I answered their questions very well” – and he had. He also said “they commented on how relevant my experience was” – which it was.

So if he interviewed well and had relevant and suitable experience, why no offer?

At the risk of stating the obvious, an interview process is a selection process and candidates will be compared against the criteria of the role. Importantly, however, candidates are also compared to the other candidates in the process (again obvious). Sometimes I feel this last point isn’t at the forefront of the mind as much as it should be.

Part of the hiring managers decision will of course be ‘can this person do the job’ and ‘will they do it well’. However the overriding factor is ‘are they the best person for the job and our business’.

I accept this last bit can be very subjective and a whole range of elements will be taken into account, with each and every job and company having unique demands and requirements.

However, I believe that candidates should go into an interview process with the mind-set of looking to positively standout and, crucially, taking ownership of that.  Not solely leaving it to the interviewer to reach that conclusion.

We have candidates on our database who have a 100% interview success record, many of which are several moves into their career – so it is possible to consistently be the best in any process (worth noting that I am of course talking about interview processes / roles that are suitable and relevant to your skills and experience).

One of the most frustrating pieces of feedback a recruiter can hear when debriefing a candidate after interview is “I didn’t get the chance to say….” or “they didn’t ask me about…..”. I’m sure it’s equally frustrating for the candidate too as they’ve researched and prepared to discuss certain things. I do appreciate that applicants can’t completely dominate or commandeer an interview without demonstrating negative behaviours but in the vast majority of interviews there will be instances and cues for you to ‘take the floor’.

Turning up on time, presenting well and giving good answers to the interviews questions isn’t enough! Clearly it’s a good start but to make sure you’re in with the best chance of getting that offer you need to go the extra mile (cheesy cliché but true).

The ‘extra mile’ could be any number of things – in the past I’ve had candidates recite a company’s share price performance over the preceding 6 months, take a case study financial profitability model to an interview, had analysed the company accounts and came up with a theory on said company’s margin erosion and a range of other things of a similar ilk. Each and every one of these candidates did these things unprompted and was able to engineer the conversation within the interview to allow them to present these things.

It doesn’t necessarily need to be very practical things like the examples used above – it can be softer skill related like how enthusiastic you are or you’re highlighting your interest in a specific way. Potentially you know you have some gaps in experience when compared to the role profile, so you go the extra mile to build rapport and highlight your other strengths. It can come down to asking that extra question or presenting a differing opinion to the interviewers.

This is where confidence comes into play – not just confidence in how you’re presenting yourself but confidence to take the conversation in a certain direction or confidence that you believe in the questions you’re asking and why you’re asking them. Always remember - to even have reached interview stage the hiring manager must have seen something in your CV that suggested you were good for the job.

I don’t follow or partake in cycling as a sport (I did do a spin class once if that counts…..) but I read an article that interviewed British Cycling’s Performance Director and the focus of the piece was ‘marginal gains’. I won’t go into the full detail of it here (for those of you that are interested please see - http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/magazine-34247629 but in essence it’s about making very small improvements, that all add up to a significant difference. By improving EVERY aspect of the team (preparation, training, diet, travel, recovery, equipment etc - trust me the list is endless…) by just 1% they’ve been able to more or less dominate cycling over the last few years.

Think about that in an interview context and all the different elements you could seek to better.

The example used at the start of this piece - the candidate didn’t do anything wrong and in actual fact did a lot that was right but did they do everything they could?

Try and improve each aspect of your interview performance by 1% and hopefully “I’m not sure what more I could have done” will become a thing of the past.


Ross McQuarrie, Senior Consultant

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