Sunday, September 16, 2012

Interview Preparedness (Pt 1) - The MOST IMPORTANT step of all in the employment process.

While a well designed resume can open the door to many an opportunity NOTHING can solidify or ruin an opportunity like the outcome of an initial interview.  Last week I had 5 candidates call me post-client-interview to tell me they "didn't think it went so well".  While that is an unusually high number for a one week period, it re-surfaced the point of how interview prep is the most important part of the employment process. I'm actually going to break this topic into 2 parts:  Part 1 for the Interviewee and Part 2 for the Interviewer. 

Over the years I've witnessed candidates with very few of the necessary technical requirements land jobs easily and I've also witnessed candidates that are Spot-ON for the technical requirements repeatedly miss out on employment.... why?  Because the candidates lacking in requirements knew how to CRUSH the initial interview and candidates with excellent qualifications were (for whatever reason) unable to adequately express their knowledge during the interview.  Below are some tips to assist an Interviewee on how to be better prepared and hopefully more successful in the interview process.

Since at least 90% of the initial interviews conducted in the Healthcare IT industry are over the phone, the tips below mainly pertain to telephone interviews but also can translate to in-person or web interviews.

1.  Be prepared for ANYTHING:  Its become very apparent that most employers have not refined their interview process.  They don't necessarily know what to ask or how to ask it.  They don't consistently have the same people conducting the interviews.  They often are pressed for time and they sometimes don't even have a firm understanding of exactly what qualifications will be a good fit for their current needs.  I've sat in on interviews where the interviewer has interrupted, excused themselves and had someone else take over mid-interview.  I've sat in on interviews where SURPRISE! there was an impromptu panel interview and there were 5 people on the phone from the employer side.  And... I've unfortunately sat in on interviews where the employer didn't even know what position they were interviewing the candidate for.  With this over-whelming lack of consistency being the "norm" the interviewee must be prepared for anything and be able to "go-with-the-flow" without getting flustered and tongue-tied.
2.  What to do if your time is limited: Telephone interviews customarily last between 30 minutes and 1 hour.  Even if you are provided with a meeting invite that sets aside an hour, be prepared to express your qualifications in 30 minutes or less. 
1st: Make sure you have a job description of the position you are interviewing for. 
2nd: Prepare notes in advance of the interview listing examples of how your qualifications/experience are a match for the job.  With those notes in front of you, you will easily be able to recall your most important talking points. 
If the interviewer is interested in you but they have to cut the interview short SPEAK UP!  Say something like: "I appreciate your time, however I feel I wasn't able to adequately explain my qualifications, could we schedule more time to speak later this week"  Also since your time is limited, don't go bouncing off on rabbit trails.  Stay focused.
3.  Know how to express your qualifications and experienceMost people have a firm understanding of their experience but they don't know how to explain it.  Being able to explain your qualifications is key to landing your desired jobs, particularly in our industry.  If you have a specific technical ability, know how to translate your on-the-job responsibilities into words.  For instance.... if you are a EMR Trainer be ready to explain Where you've trained (classroom?, shoulder to shoulder?, locations) What you've trained (Epic Optime? Cerner SurgiNet? Allscripts? etc) How you've been involved (curriculum build? Principal or Lead Trainer? Go-Live Support?) Who you've trained (Physicians, Nurses, end-users, how many?) and then be ready to explain the details of your understanding of the technologies you have trained.  By having notes in front of you with all the details you should be easily able to explain the most important aspects of your knowledge and abilities. 
4.  Be prepared to answer open-ended questions: A good interviewer will not ask many Yes or No questions, they will ask open-ended questions that require more detailed answers from the interviewee.  One such question is: "tell me more about yourself".  This question leaves many interviewees completely stymied.  It is always best to have a prepared statement for this question.  Keep it simple, not too long-winded and too the point.  Point out your professional timeline such as: "I entered the Healthcare industry 14 years ago after graduating with a degree in Nursing, and over the years have transitioned from nursing into Clinical Information Systems, my focus for the last few years has been in EMR Implementation Project Management." "On the personal side I enjoy (and name a few hobbies or interests here) STAY CLEAR of any discussions about your family life or health issues which might lead to discrimination.
5.  Do your research and ask questions: Prior to an initial interview with any employer you should have a firm understanding of who they are and what they do.  If you're working with a recruiter, gain as much info from them as you can and then go to google!  Research the potential employer!  It is a good idea to prepare a short list (5 or so) questions you want them to answer in interview.  Normally the last question they will ask is "do you have any questions?" and you don't want to hang up the phone and then snap your fingers and say "Damn! I forgot to ask...."  Have a list in front of you!  If the questions are answered during interview cross them off, as more arise, jot them down.
6.  Know the job you are wanting to fill: If you're working with a recruiter request a full job description, if they don't have one get as much information as you can and then check out the employer site for a job listing.  If there isn't one available there, make sure one of your first questions during the interview is "I'm not sure I have a firm understanding of the responsibilities of the position, could you take a moment to discuss your expectations?"  Always have the job description or whatever info you have on the job directly in front of you.  Unfortunately I've seen quite a number of candidates over the years get into an interview and confuse the position they are interviewing for with another role they applied for elsewhere.  This makes the candidate AND their recruiter look bad.
7. Be relaxed and be yourself: There is no reason to become nervous during an interview.  Relax, remember to breathe and enjoy the process.  Even though the interviewer cannot see you, they can definitely FEEL you and if you're nervous they're going to pick up on it.  Also, try to concentrate on what they're saying, not what you're going to say next.  If you are busy mentally preparing your next statement you're going to miss important information.  Do away with any unnecessary distractions during the call (including your own over-active thought processes).  I've conducted interviews with candidates that are so busy talking over me or mentally preparing their answer that they've missed important information like: who the client is, what they pay rate is, what the job responsibilities are and this will be a detriment in the future.
8. PRACTICE - PRACTICE - PRACTICE: I will often run "mock interviews" to help candidates prepare for their initial client interview. If you don't have a recruiter to assist you, get a friend that understands your industry and have a practice interview with them.
9. It's OK to call the whole thing off: If at any time during the interview information is provided that is not in line with your employment desires, wait for a break in the conversation and express your concerns.  If it is something that you feel the potential employer might be able to modify make that request, if an agreement cannot be met, thank them for their time and end the call early.  No need in taking up more of your time and theirs if it isn't a fit.   Along that same vein, if for any reason the client seems to be interviewing you for the wrong job, stop them and let them know.  If you applied for an analyst role and the client starts discussing a project manager role with you, let them know right away which position you are interested in.  (I've seen this happen more than once)
10. Panel vs One on One Interviews: Normally the initial interview is a one on one conversation with a decision maker but more and more frequently employers are conducting "panel" interviews.  This means there will be a group of people all interviewing the candidate at once.  This can at times be overwhelming and confusing.  It's virtually impossible for the interviewee to recognize the various voices just from the quick introduction and sadly on occasion introductions aren't even made.  Normally a meeting invite will be sent that will include the names and titles of all the attendees but sometimes a panel interview will be conducted without the candidate's prior knowledge.  I call these the SURPRISE! Panel interviews.  The panel usually consists of one or more hiring managers and one or more "team-mates".  They will be hoping to learn if the interviewee is the right personality fit for their team and also if the interviewee has the right qualifications for the role.  Be yourself... you don't want to be hired to a team of folks that is expecting something different when you show up for your first day on the job.
11.  Don't embellish!: If you do not have the qualifications for the position, don't try to expand your experience and "fake" your way through the areas you aren't familiar with.  You might be able to fool a recruiter, you will NOT be able to fool your peers in the industry.  If you do not have some of the requirements for the position and you somehow manage to make it through the interview process, it won't take many days on the job for your new employer to figure out you're not as knowledgeable as you lead them to believe. 

Learning to easily and fluently express your abilities is the most important part of the interview process. By following the steps above and with some practice you should master the initial interview.
Being able to talk about your knowledge, milestones and qualifications is an asset.  Who is going to "sell" you better than YOU?  If you lack confidence this will hurt you deeply in the interview process.  To gain perspective, talk to prior co-workers and ask them what stands out about your work to them.

If you're in a position where you regularly conduct interviews, review the "Part 2 Post"
Best wishes in your career endeavors! 
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  1. From Lisa via LinkedIn: I enjoyed your interview article, especially since I have recently had a couple of phone interviews, and one was a Surprise Panel interview. My personal frustration is each company I interviewed for didn't get back to me in a reasonable time frame with an answer. With one company, I had a total of three interviews, including a group presentation, and then received a final thanks but no thanks impersonal email. I emailed the person back, twice, and received no feedback or response.

    On the other surprise panel interview, I emailed the following week to thank the main person, then again the following week to follow up on the status, and NOTHING. I feel it's so rude when interviewing not to follow up with any feedback regarding the interview or position. Based on my knowledge and contacts, the 2nd position has not yet been filled, but still no response on a 2nd interview or any feedback. What are you thoughts on interviewers that don't respond?

  2. Hi Lisa,
    Its unfortunate but fairly common in our industry to not receive feedback or to have it be less than thorough feedback if they're declining further interviews.

    The only advise I can give is to do what you've been doing. After the interview send a "Thank you for your time" note to the person leading the interview or to your recruiter to forward on to the client. Then - LET. IT. GO. Put it in a bubble and release it to the universe. If its meant to be it will, if not, it wont. Either way its not a direct reflection on you. Just keep plugging forward and eventually the right position will land.

    Re-review the tips in the post to determine if you have one of the "afflictions" - talking too much, not talking enough etc and revise that. Otherwise you're just experiencing normal activity so don't let it get you down.

    Best wishes and thank you for the valuable feedback.