The Hard Truth About Interviews
One of the frequent actions a leader must undertake is the autopsy of a failed promotional interview. Leaders strive to achieve and upgrade their seat from coach to business class when opportunities present. As the saying goes, “nothing ventured, nothing gained”. However, taking a positive step of trying to make a vertical move in your organization brings with it the possibility of failure. How we handle the outcome is perhaps the most important lesson of the exercise. As leaders, we take a honest approach to our own failures, and when the team comes looking to us for answers, we keep to that same level of honesty.
There are several hard truths about interviews, whether they are entry-level “just glad to be here”, or promotional (“this is a natural step for me”). The first hard truth is that an interview is a lousy place to tell someone that although you haven’t been using any of the skills required for the job, or doing any activity that may speak to your suitability, if given the chance, you will rock it. Most interview panels will see through that line of bull. Recall the saying “dress for the job you want, not the one you have”? The same goes for behavior in the workplace. Which leads to the next hard truth.
You need to understand the implication of what you said to get the interview in the first place. Your application materials may have required you to explain how your knowledge, skills, and abilities fit the position. You may have been asked to submit a writing sample explaining your take on the mission or vision and how the job fits those ideals. However, it is very clear that whether written or not, applying for a promotion is a signal to the organization that you are in. You believe in the direction the team is going, you have (hopefully) contributed in the past and want to do so in the future. So, the hard truth here is that, even if they select someone else, YOU HAVE TO CONTINUE TO PERFORM AT THE LEVEL OF THE POSITION YOU WANTED. That sucks, but there it is. No time for you to wallow (maybe the weekend) in your own self-pity. Once you tell someone that “this role is me”, you are that role until you leave the organization. To do (or say) otherwise is to say that you weren’t really serious in the first place.
The last hard truth I will cover here is understanding what is really happening in an interview. As Forbes and a variety of other sources will tell you, there are only three questions for which you need answers: (1) Can you do the job?; (2) Will you love doing it?; and (3) Can I stand working with you? Every question you will get asked is a variation on these three. As George Bradt says (and some disagree that these are good markers), these questions speak to strength, motivation, and fit. Interviewing, for example to become part of a team, is an opportunity for the team to get a glimpse as to what your presence on the team is going to bring. It had better bring some harmony, teamwork, and loyalty. Otherwise, why would they want to take a chance and muck up their mojo with you?
Ultimately, failing to achieve is not a death sentence or something you should take personally. It is, like almost every experience, an opportunity. You may have followed every rule, answered every question with no remorse, and just got out-competed. It happens. What is your take-away from the process? Accept the hard truths and pick yourself up, dust yourself off, and get back in the game.