Preparation That Will Get You Past the First Interview

February 13th, 2011 § 1 comment

The interview process most large companies employ today begins with a first round “character” meeting conducted by a Human Resources representative, followed by in-depth interviews with multiple hiring managers in stages two and beyond. Most corporate HR departments are understaffed and lack an understanding of the technical positions they recruit for – two reasons why the recruitment agencies they partner with are such a key resource for them. Today’s question focuses on getting past the first round with HR:

I’m a C# developer who has a first interview coming up with a traditional manufacturing company. They don’t do a lot of hiring in this area and my first round is with an HR generalist. Any tips for making sure I don’t botch this?

Understanding of some basic core interviewing skills can move you past this first round. It is also helpful to understand that the HR representative, who will be your first impression of the firm, might not be the best individual that the company has to maximize that impression.

Let’s discuss some qualities that all interviewers should aim to exhibit during a first interview with a company. These are also some of the core competencies of interviewing that require preparation to hone at the beginning, but should be second nature to those several years into their professional careers.

Understand your resume.

If you need a copy of your resume in front of you to speak to your experience, you haven’t prepared enough. An interviewer should be able to relate, off the cuff, a variety of anecdotes about each key item on their resume – schooling, internships and professional work experience. These stories should be ground in fact – speak to the scope of a project, the required deliverables, technical skills you utilized, the outcome and, ultimately, what you learned as a result.

Understand the position.

Why is ABC Company interested in speaking to you in the first place? Is it a server technology or programming language you have experience with? Perhaps you come from a buy-side firm and that fits the philosophies of the long-only fund that you received a callback from. Understanding the role you’re interviewing for is more than reading the description, it’s reading into the description and realizing the value that ABC hopes to derive out of hiring you.

An HR recruiter might not have any idea how a VaR risk model is put together, but they know that’s a keyword that appears on the description. Read your resume, read the description and know that you should speak in detail about each link. HR thinks in “keywords” when writing their descriptions, posting Internet job ads, and while reading resumes. Reiterate all the technical skills that are a match between what you’re doing now and what the hiring company is looking for.

Understand the company.

Read their financial statements, their press releases, and other news coverage. Understand their product offerings and who their clients are. If you have not already, familiarize yourself with the market in which they operate. Know who their competitors are and the competitive advantage of this particular firm. In what group does the role you’re interviewing for sit? If you don’t know, make every attempt to find out through your recruiter or the research you can do prior to the first round.

Having thoroughly prepared this information will allow you to be more specific in your responses during the interview. You’ll appear a more serious candidate, one who has put thought behind selling themselves into this specific role, as opposed to one who interviews time and again speaking only of themselves and not the relationship between themselves and a potential employer.

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When dealing with HR, it’s important to remember that your audience can be quite different than the peers you’re used to working with. Line managers will usually exhibit some similarities to their subordinates (i.e. Type A’s as floor traders) but an HR rep could run either end of the spectrum. Mirror and match personalities as you should with any interview, and remember to speak only with a level of technicality slightly above what you think the interviewer’s comprehension is.

Not just answering but listening to the interviewer’s questions will give you guidance as you look to construct the information you’ve thoughtfully prepared into consumption for this particular audience.

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