Don’t “Fly Blind” In Your Interview

By Jill Levy
RIMS Director of Member and Chapter Services

Often, a candidate has to wait until the end of the interview to be offered the opportunity to ask questions.  In most instances, that’s ok but there is one question you really need to get in at the beginning of the interview to help you structure your responses to the questions you will be asked during the process -- “What are top 3 things I’ve got to do in this position to be successful?” Without the answer to this question, without a specific list of what defines success, you’re “flying blind” as the metaphor goes for pilots.

How do you know what to talk about?  How will you know what aspects of the position the hiring manager be most interested in? What aspects of what you’ve researched about the company/organization do you want to integrate into the interview?

Not understanding quickly what defines success allows the hiring manager to trap you into a discussion of what you’ve done in the past rather than the more important issue of what you bring to the table for this position.  Each hiring manager (and don’t assume they are all interviewing experts) really wants to know is how you will address the specific challenges of this particular position and how you will add value to the organization/company. Without extracting the performance criteria for the job from the hiring manager, the interview is an exercise in futility since you won’t be able to address the two most critical questions.

Once you know what the “REAL” criteria for success in the job is – then you can tailor your answers around that criteria. Without this information, your responses to typical interview questions (What is your management style? How do you deal with conflict? What are your strengths and weaknesses?) are simply “shots in the dark.”

Let’s take a real example (names have been changed to protect the innocent):

Bob is being interviewed by Mark (the CFO) for a position as Risk and Insurance Director. In summary form, the job description is:

  • 12-15 years of experience in a technology-oriented business
  • BS in Accounting or Finance – MBA preferred
  • Good understanding of claims management, risk analysis, and workers compensation
  • Ability to supervise and develop the staff
  • Put budgets, forecasts and special analysis together as required
  • Candidate should be a self-motivated multi-tasker and a strong team player

You get the idea – it’s a laundry list of experiences, skills, attributes, and activities. However, it’s NOT the job. In this form of the tribal interview, the questions go like this:

Do you have a Bachelors degree? Have you had experience with claims management? How strong are your strategic planning skills? And so on until you fall asleep!

Let’s take our imaginary candidate Bob and have him pose the “What are the top 3 things I would have to do to be successful in this job over the next year” question.

The CFO thinks for a few minutes, remarks that no one in the interview process has yet asked that question and proceeds to describe the following three objectives:

  1. You need to identify specific strategies in the next 60-90 days to lower our WC costs by 10% over the next 12-18 months.
  2. Our risk forecasting systems and processes are out-dated and need to be revamped over the next 6 months.
  3. We need to design an ERM system for our company and develop a project plan and timeline for implementation over a three-year period within the next 9 months.

Based on knowing this information, would the interview be different? Would Bob structure his responses differently given what he now knows is important to the CFO?

Remember, an interview is nothing more than a sales call and the product you are selling is YOU!  While he or she may not even realize it, the hiring manager wants to know how hiring you will make his/her job easier, more efficient and enhance the return-on-investment that the organization is making by hiring you.  If you can answer these questions, you’ll be way ahead on receiving an offer!