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Some thoughts on improving your interviews

Strangely enough, from my earliest days in business to my current role as CEO/owner of a national search firm, my feelings about job interviews have never changed. At best, interviews are a false environment where, more often than not, the applicant projects the person he/she wants to be, or the person he feels the interviewer is looking for, rather than exhibiting the person he may truly be.

Often this is the result of an applicant’s many years spent honing his interview approach. His/her interview performance has become a default setting as it worked for him in the past. This makes an interviewer’s ability to penetrate the facade – to identify and understand the real person sitting across from him – essential in order to avoid making a regrettable decision for the business.

But this can be easier said than done.

What I have learned, after years of experience interviewing people at all levels and walks of life, is that interviewing a job applicant is not dissimilar to interviewing a prospective fraternity house roommate. You are going to spend a lot of time under the same roof with this person. Accordingly, you need a confidence that he will fit in with the other occupants, that he is all he seems to be and is there to make an enduring commitment.

To help me with this, there are six characteristics in a conversation with a job applicant I mentally check off in order to identify the right person for the job. These tips can be useful for both the interviewer and interviewee.

1. Is the person interesting?

My test for this is not about the depth of a person’s ability, but the breadth of his curiosity in life. Does he have genuine outside interests? Does he have friendships spanning different lines and backgrounds?

I have often found people are more interesting than they project themselves to be. As a CEO or interviewer, I should not have to work hard at finding out what makes you interesting. An applicant who leaves me wanting to know more about him gets a big checkmark in my book.

2. A holistic perspective

One of my great frustrations as a company head is people who think solely about the department or section they work in rather than, at the very least, showing an interest and appreciation for all departments, and how the business in total comes together.

So, when it comes to a job candidate, I look for his intuitive interest in the whole of the business above and beyond the role he/she is applying for.

3. Passion

It does not matter what the passion (within reason, of course), but it is a shut door for me if I do not recognize the applicant’s emotional connection to something or someone in their life.

Without passion, people simply exist, they don’t live: selfishly I want to live with people, not merely exist with them. Sparks of passion are your best bet at building an engaging, positive and fulfilling culture.

4. Open about their mistakes?

The only way I have really learned anything in my career is from the mistakes I have made. In some ways, I am proud of them, and even more so, that I have learned from them. So anyone who, in a good, healthy and open conversation, claims to being mistake-free, I would prefer it if they went and worked for a soulless franchise or the equivalent.

5. Opinionated

I must admit that, while I am not an avid reader of books, I am nevertheless a daily reader – highly aware of the issues going on in my country and the world. What I expect from an interviewee is a natural and comfortable perspective on significant issues relevant, or not, to our business – our markets and our world. Without a natural awareness of what goes on around you, how can you possibly expect to be effective in a competitive work environment?

6. Leadership

I look for someone who can tell me a story about a vision he/she has set, and his journey to achieving it. And, most importantly, I want he/she to clearly articulate how he mobilized people, even in a small way, to achieve those outcomes. These sorts of leadership qualities are something I look for in applicants – at all levels.

While a job interview will always be a fairly contrived interaction, it need not be one where masking who you really are is necessary in order to hear those magic words, “You’re hired.” And for all you interviewers out there, remember to dig deep beyond the surface as you might find “gold in them there hills” to the benefit of your company, and its future.

Philip Kemper is Founder/President of Kemper Associates, a 37 year old Chicago-based national executive search firm, specializing in Permanent and Contract staffing for Trade Shows and Exhibits, Staging and Equipment Rental, Business Meetings and Events Production, Video, Training and Incentives and more .His more complete bio is on LinkedIn at: . You may view Kemper Associates’ web site at: , and contact Phil with questions or comments, and employment needs at:, or his private phone line: (312) 944-6551.

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