Career Advice Tuesday: “The Interview Batting Order; What Number Should I Hit?”
October 9, 2012
I know tat you are a baseball fan, so I wanted to ask a themed question now that the baseball post season is upon us. The question I have is very simple, relates to interview mechanics and interview positioning.
From what I understand, for many senior level information security positions companies will interview between three and six people, I wanted to know if you felt that there was any advantage or disadvantage as to what order that you interview.
Some people have told me that it is best to go first, some say it is best to go last, some people say that it does not matter, I would like to know what you think.
Dear Mr. October,
Very good question and one that many people have differing opinions on. The question you ask is really, when it is the most beneficial to interview? I am going to tell you that in the end, there is probably no real difference when it comes down to decision making, but let me give you some strategies on what could be the best mindset depending on where you sit in the order.
1) Leading Off- If you are set up to interview first, you need to understand that you are setting the standard for all other candidates who will be interviewed for the role. The key to going first is to go into the interview with the goal for the hiring manager to decide that you are the best candidate for the role, and cancel the others. Although this will likely not happen, you can try your best to help them arrive at this decision, by making a memorable impression. The best way to do this is to excel at some of the intangibles – focusing on your alignment with the company’s culture, your appearance, and your communication skills. In essence, when you go first you will need to emphasize style as much as substance. The reason for this, is by the end of the process the interview team may get confused because all of the candidates will have good skills, however, the sharper communicator, the candidate with the best executive presence, and the best fit with the culture will be more memorable.
2) The Middle – No one likes the middle, but I don’t think that this is a disadvantage if you have some goals going into the discussions. To me, the goal of a “middle” candidate is to exclude the candidate or candidates who have previously interviewed. In essence, the candidate should go into the interview with a competitive attitude, since based on the fact that there is more than one candidate, this is now officially a competition and the interviewing team by nature will compare candidates. Once piece of advice would be to ask the interviewers questions about what qualities will make the person successful in the role, and continuing to ask questions geared to understanding the ideal fit, what is missing, and what are the key problems that need solving. By doing this, you may be able to get the interview team to reveal some of the shortcomings of previous candidates or to describe what attributes an ideal candidate will possess. Once you have your answers, it is your duty to demonstrate value and to emphasize your strengths in this context – effectively blowing out the competition and positioning yourself in a way where the decision should be clear, no matter who walks in the door next.
3) Hitting Clean-Up – or Going Last – I know that many people like this position, but it definitely has its drawbacks. If you go last, and the previous candidates are strong (see above) the interviewing team may view your candidacy as a nuisance and may not be fully engaged. However, when you go last in the interview process you have the ability to make a lasting impression and be top of mind during the evaluation process. You also have the ability to address any of the interviewers concerns about the role and the other candidate’s deficiencies. So, the best way to attack this interview is to combine the approach of the first two suggestions – combine both style and substance, and most of all compete! However, there is one thing that you can do if you interview in this position, than the others, you can “Close the Deal”. When I say “Close the Deal”, what I mean is that you can let the interviewers know that you want the job, and leave little or no doubt that if offered you will accept it. Not that you cannot do this in the other interviewing positions (and you should), but when you interview last, it is most powerful.
There is some additional piece of mind for the interviewing team to know that they will have their position filled, after the long interview process. By leaving the interviewers with the confidence that they are not going to leave the process empty-handed could be a huge advantage. Everyone likes a sure thing, and if they believe that you embody that, that could bode very well in the final decision making process.
Ideally there is no right or wrong answer here. In the end, in most interview processes talent usually wins out. But remember, that all interviews are competitive situations, and you need to be prepared to successfully compete against your peers no matter when your meetings are scheduled.
Hope this helps – Enjoy the playoffs!