07/06/2011 02.40 EDT
Given the number of interviews I do on a weekly basis, it’s easy for them to blend together. Not that I get candidates mixed up with one another; I take good notes and do my best to be focused in every interaction. But it’s hard for a candidate to stand out in a calendar that may contain 15 to 20 interviews, but the “stars” do.
In my opinion, what differentiates stars in an interview setting is their ability to engage their interviewer. Typically, they are focused and succinctly describe their strengths. Accomplishments are linked to results. They have an engaging style and as a result, I rarely look at my watch or even wonder what time it is – the conversation flows naturally.
This notion of brevity is worthwhile for every executive-level candidate to consider. The human attention span is short, even under the best of circumstances. The more concise you can be in an interview while still driving your point home, the more likely you will be to engage the person on the other side of the table. I find that star candidates have the ability to provide specific examples that sound more like short stories than novels. The novelists, on the other hand, often lose track of the questions they’re in the middle of answering, as do those asking the questions.
Other distinguishing traits include bringing a focused energy to the conversation and an observable passion for one’s work. These qualities shine through in an authentic way. I believe that the person I am interviewing for 60 to 90 minutes will be much the same person who walks into his or her first day of work with my client. They aren’t afraid to offer a contrary view when required.
In most of the interviews I conduct, I am reasonably confident of the individual’s technical or functional capabilities. By the time they get to me, they have been vetted fairly completely on these issues and I feel that technical/functional excellence is simply a cost of entry skill. What differentiates great candidates from merely good candidates lies in how they achieve results as much as what the results are. If you can effectively and engagingly outline that for me, you’re pushing yourself ahead of the pack.
Some people naturally have this capacity to engage; some don’t. However, in my experience, it is a skill that can be learned and one that I would encourage any executive who aspires to senior leadership to develop. It is a skill that not only helps in an interview but in leading a team, persuading a client, or running a company. All I know is that when I meet a star candidate, I am energized and excited to introduce them to my client. It makes my day.