As an executive job coach, an important part of my job is training my clients how to prepare for interviews. During this training, I am often handed the job description relevant to the interview. Most often I caution my clients to take that job description with a grain of salt. I have learned through the years working for major companies that “the bigger the company the bigger the mess.” I, of course, say this with sarcasm, but there is a lot of truth in this.
Typically, job descriptions are documents that Human Resources are required to have on file for reference purposes. They have no practical use except during the hiring process or during the yearly employee evaluation should there be a dispute. Once a position needs to be filled the job description becomes the focal point for recruiting. However, very often, these documents have not been adequately updated and made pertinent to the opening. At times they are outright misleading!
Evidence to this was when I interviewed with Honeywell. Truthfully, I was very reluctant to apply for the position advertised in The New York Times. It was two titles below my level, but it was a 15-minute drive from my house. Since I was so upset with my employer at that time, I was very motivated to make a change. Evidently, my resume was so impressive that I was called in for an interview. Only, during that interview, I find out that they are looking for someone with my background and accomplishments and not what they advertised for. I ended up spending the best fifteen years of my career with Honeywell.
So what is the candidate to do to be best prepared for the interview? The answer is to learn the skill of sleuthing into the company through his networking contacts and the skill of being able to ask the interviewer questions revealing the key issues on his mind. The job description may reveal some of the issues, but often they are buried among the details. The reason for this is easy to understand. Job descriptions are often written by HR. How often do they understand the core needs of the position? HR most often uses standard language descriptions that are very general, “Looking for a highly motivated self-starter with strong organizational and leadership skills. Must be an excellent communicator with…”. The same goes for recruiters unless they have a long-standing relationship with the company.
The solution is that the candidate should attempt to surface the true needs of the hiring manager as soon as possible at the start of the interview. One way to do this is by asking the interviewer a question such as “I understand what you are saying but I wonder if you could share with me what the hired candidate would be doing, say, in the first three weeks on the job?” Paraphrasing that question, you would be asking, “What is important for you?” After all a newly hired person will focus in the initial period on the job that the boss needs done. Right?