Interviews: 5 simple ways to Out Shine your competition

1cdb54bHaving sat though 100s of interviews as an interviewer I find many candidates making simple mistakes. In spite of all the information available on how to present one self in the best light 3 out of 4 candidates still miss out on the simple stuff.

If you are attending an interview here are five tips which will help in outshining your competition. If you expect this to be Rocket science – you might be disappointed – coz it isn’t. A minor change in can smoothen the path to your aspired role.

Be likeable.

I would like to work with people whom I like to have around. Yes there would be that one person whom I would like to have around who gets on my nerves with his criticisms and advice but I so believe in his capabilities, good sense and that he has the companies interests in mind that I totally want to have him around. But he is only one. I don’t have the band width to tolerate more sour pusses around my work place. There has to be a balance. And if I don’t get the vibe that in an interview you are unable to come across as likeable then having you around the office is not a risk I am going to consider.

So I suggest you smile, make eye contact, sit forward on your chair, and be enthusiastic.

You may have solid qualifications but if you don’t seem like an enjoyable person to work with I am probably not going to hire you.

Solid qualifications and experience take you into the door but then so are all the others who have been shortlisted.

Avoid negativity.

That includes having something not very flattering to say about your current or previous employer. Okay so they are bad and that is the reason you want to leave but grow out of that negativity. It is not going to help our organisation any way. Coz this interview is about this firm and your value to this firm. Any other way you look at it might give you only a very skewed picture.

Come to think of it, this being an interview you are displaying your best possible of view of you, and if that comprises of foul mouthing your employer – after a few months you will be a pain to have around.

Now you might feel you are justified responding to a question like why do you want to leave with and answer that berates the employer or your boss or your con-workers. But here too you can be creative in how you frame your response. Be positive be your mojo. Instead of saying that your boss is a nerve wracking micro manager – You could say that you are keen to shoulder more responsibility  and freedom.

On the same lines avoid framing responses in a self negating way. For instance as an HR you haven’t handled a training role- so don’t say I have never handled training. Instead say that you have not managed that role but have trained new hires and created several training manuals. Avoid using the word haven’t or I don’t instead share applicable experience. Human mind especially the tired interviewer mind has a tendency to latch on to negative sound bites and rule you out. Don’t play into their hands.

Don’t Lie.

Even more important don’t get caught. Incase you do remember – “Don’t Lie” I come across resumes which mention experience and when asked to go deeper candidates feign ignorance. It looks bad. Getting your resume shortlisted is not going to help you in getting the job. How you perform during the interview is. So avoid un truths – especially in your resume.

Ask Questions

Ask for the Job. Maybe not right away as you start the interview. Don’t ask for the job upfront. That can be a downer. Instead based on the way the interview progresses ask for it with specifics. Explain the pluses you bring to the table. For instance : I work well with teams, or I enjoy travel or I thrive on unsupervised roles. Ask for the job and share facts to substantiate.

Ask questions that matter to you. Here are a few questions that you could ask. Focus on the role the responsibilities , your reporting is there a clear reporting. As the interview progresses you could go deeper on the reporting style. There is really no limit to the questions that you could ask but keep it relevant to the job role and avoid redundancy. No point is asking something which is available on line – that actually shows lack of preparation.  And a word of caution no when to stop. Observe signals from the interviewer.


Every interviewer likes a brief follow-up note , just saying thanks and acknowledging the time spent. A reference to the discussion during the interview about something specific that was shared a common like or a new technique could be mentioned to create a more complete follow up. After all it is these small meaningful interactions which trigger even the most professional relationships.

These five tips will ensure a small sailing through any interview you face.

Prakash Francis is a Talent Expert based in Bangalore.



Interview: How not to Suck when asked “Do You Have any Questions”

6a0133f30ae399970b014e88179ee5970d-piTowards the end of interviews it is the norm for the interviewer to ask “Do you have any questions?”. The common response from candidates is a “ No, not right now” or something to that effect.

Per-se there doesn’t seem to be anything wrong with that answer. It seems to be polite, courteous and modest. All good traits to display.

But think about it, why wouldn’t you have any questions?.

You will spend a chunk of your waking time at this place if things work out. Would’nt it be good to have complete clarity on what you will be doing, how you will be doing and maybe even why?

It is an opportunity. Take it.

So, lets get into the details of the Why, What and How to respond to the query “ Do you have any questions”

Lets start with Why?

Why you should have questions to Ask? The benefits are multiple, and the three most important ones are –

  1. These questions help to build clarity on your role, the company, and your boss.Interview is a 2 way process. As you are being interviewed you have an opportunity to evaluate the company environment, and the work. These questions will help you do just and put you in a position to take a more informed decision.
  2. Building rapport with the interviewer is a major objective for any candidate. Rapport happens with engaging conversations and the right questions asked sincerely are the lubricants to ensure a smooth conversation.
  3. The third point is a by-product. Relevant questions will mark you out as a well-prepared and keen candidate, who has done his homework.

Those are the 3 key reasons as to why you should use the opportunity to Ask. Now lets move on to the what?.

What to Ask?

Once there is clarity about the objective of asking questions – deciding on what to ask becomes simple. These questions fall into 3 broad categories

  • Role related.
    • Ask questions to get clarity about the role in case there are areas that you feel have not been thoroughly covered in the earlier part of interview. Sample questions could be –
      • Can you share more about the day to day responsibilities of the position?
      • If I am hired, what would be expected of me in the first 90 days? ..
  • Culture related.
    • We spend a majority of our waking hours at work. You are more likely to enjoy your time at the workplace if you fit into the workculture. You are likely to develop better relationships and be more productive at work. A few sample questions are –
    • Can you share your thoughts about the company culture?
    • What is the culture like?
    • What do you enjoy most about working here?
  • Boss/hiring manager related
    • These would be questions relating to your prospective Boss’s working style, how does he prefer his reports whether email or face to face, or phone. How often does he prefer being reported to. Is he a micromanager or a hands-off chief . A straightforward question to ask would be –
    • How would you describe your working style?

And as he responds you could ask questions to probe further.

These are just a few sample questions to ask, they are not an exhaustive list. You will find enough resources on line which provide such lists. The thing is that with a clear understanding of why you are asking – the what to Ask becomes easy. Infact the best questions come to you as you answer the questions the interviewer asks. So when a question pops up, jot it down in a pad to ask at the end.

What not to Ask?

Just like there are questions that are good to ask, there are also questions to avoid asking. This would be –

  • Question relating to Personal topics, family or last working assignment.
  • Queries about happy hours, non- work activities, lunch and vacation times.
  • Salary is a topic which is best left to the interviewer to bring up.
  • Filler questions. Avoid asking questions for which you can get the response by Googling.
  • Lastly avoid too many questions. And what is too many? If the interviewer is getting restless or is subtly giving indications of the interview being, take the hint. At best 2-3 well thought out questions should be good enough.

That brings us to the How?.

How to Ask?

Let the questions be open ended. For example you could phrase the questions as .. “Can you tell me about …?, “How would you describe ….?. Framing the question in such a manner makes it easier to probe further, thus opening up the conversation. Avoid yes and no questions.

Further, open ended questions set you up for follow up questions. Based on the interviewers response these help you to dig deeper. Follow-up questions give us greater insight, letting us form a clear opinion.

A key aspect about asking questions is waiting for response. A thing to remember is that it is not just about asking questions it is about building conversations. Let the interviewer take his time in responding. Don’t interject or try to fill in the silence in anyway. Get comfortable with silences. And don’t interrupt when the interviewer is speaking. For one it interrupts his train of thought and the other it is disrespectful. Not quite your objective.  deer-in-headlights

Moral of the story is when asked “Do you have any Questions” – don’t be like a dear caught in the headlights. Be prepared with a list and ask 2 to 3 relevant questions. Art of the Ask is in engaging the other person in this case the interviewer. It is about building rapport and getting clarity.

Prakash Francis is a Talent Acquisition expert based in Bangalore.

What was your contribution?

What can be your contribution?

What is the contribution of a wicket Keeper in a cricket team? He prevents the ball from trickling past to the boundary. He keeps the batsmen in check by being ready to stump – thereby preventing the batsman from being prolific in his scoring. These are just a couple of contributions of a wicket keeper during a game. CONTRIBUTION

So what is/was your contribution in your job. Did you get a new client. The lone client in a difficult market. Did you solve a tough accounting problem that the company was facing. You need not have accomplished anything all alone. Nothing happens all alone in the industry. In fact if you say that you accomplished something alone then that might raise a red flag.

Think about all these contributions while you were at work. Get them on your resume and create a contribution statement. Your contribution statement can even be a promise as to what specific contribution you could make in the job you are applying for. This can be created based on the job specs.

Be creative. Try this out. I do not come cross such proactive statements in resumes. Try something different.

Having a resume objective is fine. But it can get too general. A little groundwork can help you structure your resume to the specific job you are applying for.

The curious case of the utter uselessness of interviews

On April 8th Jason Dana an Assistant professor of Yale came up with a provocative write up on NY Times titled – “ The utter Uselessness of Interviews”. His argument kicked up a fair bit of dust.

If you read the post right till the very end you realize that his title was misleading. It should have been ” The utter uselessness of Un-structured interviews”. In the post he argues for Structured Interviews as against unstructured interviews. But you realize this only at the very end , only in the second last para.

I read the post assuming that the argument was about the uselessness of interviews. But in a climactic twist the last scene revealed that the villain was actually the hero. Everything was right with interviewing(villain turned hero) – solution was to conduct a certain kind of interview( structured).

Then why this Title?


Cannot be – not on NY Times.

Possibly Mr Dana wanted to have some fun at our expense. Send us on a small wild goose hunt and maybe get some readership.

Life can get to be boring, at times.


What is a Structured Interview?

Job Interview

In a structured job interview all the candidates are asked the same set of questions in the same order. This ensures that they are assessed on the same parameters, translating to a fair and objective assessment.

The flipside to this style of interviewing is that they may not elicit much information from the candidates.

Unstructured interviews on the other hand are conversations that follow promising lines of inquiry as they appear. You get to know more a lot more about the candidate this way, but it makes comparing the candidates difficult.

Which is the best bath? Depending upon the requirement it could be a either or neither. In my opinion the best path would probably the middle path. No i am not referring to the path showed by the Great Gautam Buddh.


What i mean is, stay flexible in your line of questioning – but have a core set of questions common for all the interviewees. By preparing these core questions in advance – you can be assured that all key points are covered.  While, the unstructured element of the interview opens the door to productive areas of enquiry which you may not have anticipated.



The grateful candidate

“I need money. Can you lend me 1000 Rs?” a man asked Mulla Nasruddin.

“I won’t give you. Be grateful for that!”

Angrily the friend replied , “that you don’t want to lend the money I can rather understand. But asking me to be grateful for that is downright disgraceful.”

“My dear friend, ” answered the Mulla , ” You asked me for money, I could have said,  Come Tomorrow”. Tomorrow I could have said ” I am sorry , iam not ready to give you yet, come the day after”. If you came the day after i could have said “come at the end of the week.” This way i could have held you off till the end of time, or atleast until someone else gave you the money.

But, you would not have found anyone else to give the money because all your hopes would have been with me, and you would have been counting on me to get the money. So in all honesty i am telling you I am not going to give you the money so that you can look for it elsewhere and make your fortune there. I have saved you so much time and effort, So be grateful to me.

The recruiter and candidate relationship is similar to that story.


The candidate comes looking for a job and the recruiter in his attempt to be polite raises the candidates hopes. Finally all the hedging tactics don’t help as the recruiter does’nt have a suitable job and he starts ignoring the candidate calls and mails. This results in mental agony for the candidate and utter waste of time. After a few weeks or months the candidate finally realizes that nothing is going to happen and decides to heap insults on the recruiter.

Who is to blame? the recruiter, off course.

Instead of hedging, if the recruiter had told in all honesty that he cannot provide the job and asked the candidate to focus his efforts elsewhere, the candidate would have been saved the agony.

But, would the candidate have been grateful?

No way!

Recruitment Art or Science

fine-art-selection (1)

Recruitment is more of an art than a science. Would you agree?

Aron Ain the CEO of Kronos the WorkForce management company thinks so. And he is probably right. As the CEO Aron has a longterm perspective trying to understand how the candidate might impact the culture of the firm. Aron describes himself as the keeper of the company culture. And the way he evaluates the candidate is by asking questions about their families and their work life balance. Considering that he has been the CEO for 12 years i am sure this approach works for him.

In my opinion hiring is both an art and a science. There is no black or white about it rather just 50 shades of grey.

In the initial stages of screening when the candidate pool needs to be trimmed to a manageable list size – a scientific approach ensures that the most suitable candidates get through to the next round.

As the rounds reach a final phase the artistic influence in the decision making increases as the hiring managers jostle with the squishy intangibles the so called softer side of the candidates persona. This is especially so in the case of leadership roles.

However , with increasing penetration of Data Analytics and AI in the HR space – this influence too might arguably come down. But as long as emotions play a role in the final candidate selection – Art will win.

Your thoughts.