The only questions worth asking during an interview are the ones no one wants to ask.
Think of the last interview you gave and the last interview you had. Did you walk away with questions? Sure you did.
What was more important for that interview? Getting questions answered or being liked. The right answer, is both.
Being liked in the wrong companies is more important than intelligence.
Being intelligent and knowing your stuff in the right companies causes everyone that matters to like you.
See how that works?
An interview should not feel like you are talking to a friend.
If it does, it’s too informal and if it’s too informal you run the risk of your ‘like’ for the person sitting across from you getting in the way of finding out what you need to find out from this person.
The most important indicators of success are: passion; the size of their ambition and their commitment to continual learning and improvement. The best way I have found to flesh out if someone loves the business or if they are un grand poseur is to ask them what piece of work they wish they had done.
They will probably mention a piece of work that did well in the shows.
How long ago? I ask them. They don’t know. Who did it? They don’t know. Why do you like it? They don’t know. Is there anything you would do to change it? They don’t know. What’s your favorite part of it? They don’t know.
Here’s what I know.
I have before me, someone who just pulled an answer out of their arse.
And really, at this point, wishes they hadn’t ever said they were passionate about the business.
No one teaches us how to interview. We figure it out as we go. That’s why most people aren’t very good at it. We are often more interested in being liked than we are in getting the information we need.
If you’re passionate about something you think about it all day every day. You read everything you possibly can on it, time flies by, it’s not work. It’s a passion.
The other thing I want to know is how big they think. When their ambition is to work for the guy down the road, that’s not the size of ambition that is required to ‘turn a place into a creative hot shop’. When they want to eventually work for the Creative Director that everyone is dying to work for regardless of how far away it is and how impossible it may seem – that’s a career goal I’m excited by.
The interviewer’s job is to find weakness not to focus on strengths. That is your responsibility to your company. To find out what’s wrong. It’s okay. Everyone has something wrong. The key is to avoid surprises and know who you are hiring before the offers go out.
A great question to ask is, “What do you suck at?” And then, “What are you doing to fix it?” And then, “Why do you think it’s important to fix it?”
You’d be surprised how few people know the answer to the first question, never mind what they are doing to manage and ultimately fix it. That question threw me for a loop when I was myself being interviewed once. I remembered it, I used it often, it gives you an immediate understanding of that person’s self-awareness and commitment to continuous and ongoing improvement.
My intent in an interview was to focus less on their experience but to really get a feel for their level of:
1) engagement in the industry / passion for their craft
2) the size of their ambition
3) commitment to own’s own professional self
If you don’t have a sense for that person’s attributes, you don’t really know if that person is a great hire. You’re not done, keep going.
Get distracted by enthusiasm.
Be afraid to ask “The Next Question”. That’s the one that REALLY matters. If it makes you uncomfortable to ask it, then it’s a question worth asking.
Settle for vague
Hire smarter. Hire faster. Hire people that will stick. Over ten years of recruiting, only two hires that I executed did not last for a minimum of two years. If you’d like me to consult and teach your executive team how to interview better through theory, practise, and role playing, please be in touch via firstname.lastname@example.org.
“I wasn’t expecting you to ask me that.”
It was a question I heard often during my time as a recruiter. My response was always the same. “What did you think we were going to talk about? The weather?!!”
I know why they were surprised. Because no one had ever asked them that in an interview before. Most of the time it’s all friendly, and non-confrontational, and non-threatening.
Is asking someone what they hope to accomplish in their career in the next five years threatening? Not if they know the answer. If they don’t, it’s a squirm factory.
Small talk. It fills the room, but it wastes everyone’s time.
“So this is going to be great, we need to do more, and win some business, and really up the creative product, and beef up the creative department. Ya I love this piece. When did you do it? It’s great, it’s great. We need more of this kind of work at this agency.”
And then, you ask the person who might be your future boss,“What’s stopping you from doing work like this now?”
What you want now, is specifics. A problem, and then the solution.
Don’t fall for fluff.
“What’s the goal of the agency?” I ask someone who has just interviewed for an Executive Creative Director position with a digital agency. He talks for about a minute but he doesn’t answer the question I just asked him. I know he doesn’t know and he doesn’t want me to know that he doesn’t know. I interrupt his non-speak. So unbecoming of someone who hopes to command a senior salary and an important position. “How can you possibly be considering working there if you don’t know what they’re up to and what they want you to accomplish for them in the next five years?!”
I have that conversation a lot.
With all levels of creative people.
Sometimes they think they have an answer, and they give me the “take it to the next level” spiel. When someone tells me they want to take anything to the next level, the next question I ask is, “What is the next level?” and then I watch them blow up. No one that says “take it to the next level” has ever taken it to the “next level” because they haven’t defined it.
Never mind written a plan. You know the saying. Those who fail to plan, plan to fail.
Do not put your future into the hands of ‘leaders’ who talk in vague generalities. Leaders (real ones) define the future into microscopic detail. After that, they figure out what steps need to be taken and in what order and by what date to make that future happen.
If you are on an interview, ask the questions of the agency leader that you are meeting with that will help you to get a clear understanding of what that agency’s intention is over the next couple of years. What are they up to and how are you going to help that agency achieve its ambitions.
Asking questions is not impolite, it’s vitally important. Don’t leave confused. Don’t fall for gushing and enthusiasm in the absence of real data.
Never ever walk away from an interview without knowing the answers to these questions:
1) A quantifiable goal with a time. Not “take it to the next level.”
2) Your role in the achievement of that goal.
3) What is stopping the agency from the achievement of that goal?
4) What needs to change in order for that to happen?
5) What is right with this place and what is wrong with it?
And…never take the job if the guy you will be reporting to can’t answer those questions, concisely and clearly, and specifically. No matter what the title they are throwing at you, and how much money.
During a recent conversation with my friend Isaac Silverglate, ECD of The & Partnership in New York on this topic, he offered this take. “It reminds me of that Chris Rock joke –that when a woman goes on a date with a guy she finds physically attractive, all she’s thinking is: ‘Oh please, please I hope he doesn’t say anything stupid to f*ck this up’.
That’s the kind of attitude you want to avoid in an interview – hoping beyond hope it will all work out and not saying anything to potentially screw anything up. ”
Isaac nailed it. He’s right. Sadly, it happens all the time. The only thing that you can potentially screw up by avoiding tough questions when interviewing – is your career.
The more senior you are, the harder it is to recover from a bad move, so take your blinders off and wait for the right gig.
It will come.
* This applies to all interviews for all positions except your very first job out of school. Then you just want a job. And experience. But after that job? This all applies. So bookmark this page, or commit it to memory.
If you’d like to get more confident at interviewing and sharpen your interviewing skills, please inquire at email@example.com about my two hour coaching clinic that includes theory, rehearsal and role playing. Different levels of seniority require different interview conversations. Don’t walk in unprepared.