What’s in an Interview? Advice on Nailing it from Babson’s Experts
Among Babson’s chest of treasures are five gems: the Interview Coaches at Grad CCD. These interview coaches are seasoned executives with, collectively, hundreds of years of experience in the health care, chemicals, electrical, supply chain, and financial services industries, to name a few. They are also available to meet with graduate students to help fine tune both their behavioral interviewing and networking skills. To say that their professional feedback is valuable is an understatement. Lucky for our readers, all five took some additional time out of their busy schedules to answer some of my questions on the behavioral interview, which I’ve summarized below.
1. Why is the behavioral interview such an important aspect of the hiring process?
According to George Lee, a former director at a chemicals company, “[the employer] need[s] to evaluate not only [the candidate’s] technical fit to the position, but also to the existing employee base.” Through behavioral interviews, the interviewer can determine whether or not the candidate fits culturally with the team. As Nancy Haslip, a former global supply chain executive, notes “[the behavioral interview] provides the opportunity for the interviewer to understand how the candidate has manifested particular characteristics and skills ‘on the job’ in an earlier situation and to then project what might be possible going forward. I think also, it is a chance to see how the candidate thinks, presents, and prioritizes what is the best example of the requested behavior.” Larry Childs, a Ph.D. in social and organizational psychology and former career development executive, posits, “good managers are trained to look for behaviors that are demonstrated by successful employees at their company.” For these reasons, while perhaps not perfect, the behavioral interview remains to be one of the best ways to evaluate a candidate’s fit.
2. From your experience conducting many mock interviews, where do most students get stuck?
All five coaches agreed that the main areas in which students often struggle are with:
- Lack of preparation: “they are so busy with classes that they do not put in the prep work in advance. Often they feel they can do it on the fly,” comments Nancy.
- Being too modest: “not having a compelling story that links to their accomplishments,” says Larry.
- Not being concise: George elaborates, “since [their answers] must be brief and concise, the student needs to highlight their experiences with the two to three main characteristics the company is describing in the job description.”
3. What are some confidence building tips for students who feel shy about promoting their achievements during an interview?
“Practice! Practice! Practice!” exclaims Nancy, “the more you say and hear it, the more natural it feels.” Also, lean on “friends and colleagues [to ask them] what they see as your strengths and how they see your strengths in action” says Larry. Nancy recommends reading the book “Brag! The Art of Tooting your Own Horn Without Blowing it!” by Peggy Klaus.
4. How important is the STAR method and why?
Shane Picciotto, MBA’14 and Senior Director at UnitedHealth Group, say that “[STAR is] one of the easiest methods to tell a story. Your interviewer is human, they will better remember stories and your interview when you use the STAR method. Otherwise it’s a collection of ideas and thoughts that often aren’t well woven together.” Larry adds, “having good STARs allows you to pivot your answers to address unexpected questions about your experience and abilities.”
5. What do you look for when evaluating executive presence?
Simply put, “confidence and communication” states Ron Lemke, a marketing and operations executive as well as a current partner and advisor to a private equity firm. Shane wants to see “how strongly people state their opinions and disagree with me on a topic, many areas of executive presence can be taught.” Nancy elaborates “confidence, pose, presence (be in the moment), strong listening skills, strong presentation skills.”
6. What ‘soft skills’ differentiate candidates from their peers and how can they best incorporate discussion of those strengths during the interview process?
Shane makes a great point by reminding us “you can’t tell someone that you have great soft skills, they form that opinion for themselves. So the question then becomes how do you convey your soft skills while working with and talking with the interviewer.”
Ron adds, “When the interviewer stops feeling like she/he is no longer in an interview, but is instead talking to a colleague, the student has demonstrated confidence, and communication skills, and their fit for the job. Also, one of the soft skills is having the confidence to end the interview on a positive note: ‘Thank you for taking the time to meet with me today. Hopefully you have learned more about my fit for this position and I have learned more about the opportunity. I am very interested in this position, please consider me a serious candidate.’ I call it asking for the order.”
7. If asked about weaknesses, how should a candidate approach this type of question?
Ron says to “acknowledge a real weakness that is not critical to the job, and show how you have learned from this, and have found ways to improve the skill.” Similarly, Larry posits, “a good answer includes a meaningful flaw (not “I work too much”), ownership of the problem, a meaningful effort to address the flaw or solve it, and a method for monitoring progress on staying on track.”
According to Nancy, “We all have areas to improve. The interviewer wants to see if you have the self-awareness to recognize your area(s) to improve as well as what steps you’ve taken to address them. Include both in your response.”
Shane draws insight from his own experience: “The ‘weaknesses’ that I am interested in are really traits that have not fit well at previous jobs. For example, I am personally awful at attention to detail. I should never be the final one to send a client communication. I do have a tendency towards ‘getting things done’. So if I’m paired up with someone who ‘gets things right’ we form a very good team. That’s what I’m most concerned with as a hiring manager; how do I form the best team possible, and I need to know someone’s weaknesses so that I can form the best team around them.”
8. What should students consider when developing their own questions for the interviewer?
Ron spends some time in his mock interviews helping students with this part. He states, “Some questions that I coach students to use are: ‘What are the common attributes of your top performers?’ ‘How are you dealing with a key challenge (that you have identified in your research}?’ ‘Can you describe your approach to career development?’ ‘How would you define success for this position?’ ‘What are a few things that really drive results for the company?’”
George encourages students to spend time understanding the company to come up with meaningful questions: “Know as much about the company as is available from online sources, including local news reports, industry reports. Search LinkedIn for Babson alum who work there and reach out to them for insights about the company—what is it like to work there, does the company invest in its employees, is it good place to work? Try to determine the principals the company believes in. Check these answers to see if they match your short or long term goals.”
Finally, Shane adds, “If the interviewer is the hiring manager, I think time is best spent continuing to sell yourself as a candidate. If you forgot to bring up a story, or have a strength you didn’t mention, then reframe that as a question back to the hiring manager. If you want to ask about culture, then find someone else on LinkedIn. If you want to know what’s bad about a company, then ask someone who just left. And do that before the interview. If you need to know the salary or visa requirements, then ask the hiring manager. Don’t waste your valuable time with the hiring manager with those administrative questions, it’s a poor return on investment.”
We hope you find this interview helpful as you prepare for a busy recruiting season ahead. We are so grateful for our interview coaches! Students can schedule appointments with an interview coach through Handshake. To learn more about our coaches please visit: https://www.babson.edu/career-services/career-development/graduate/contact-us/ .