Sure, it's an employer's market. That doesn't mean, however, that those who hire hold all the cards. Job interviews are stressful enough without myths like this to terrify you and harm your interview performance. It's time to set the record straight.
A few days ago I posted an entry about the incredible bounty of job-search resources you can get for free from the library, sometimes without even having to go there in person. As it happens, after I posted the entry I did a little library browsing myself in my library's eBook collection. There I came across a book, written around two years ago but nevertheless worth mentioning.
Ace the IT Interview (or Ace the IT Job Interview, in some editions) by Paula Moreira, a global IT recruiter for a large financial-services firm (unnamed by publisher McGraw-Hill), has two features that could be especially helpful to the IT job seeker. One is its structure. Moreira recognizes that while IT professionals know that a test of one's technical mastery is part of the IT hiring process, there are many other interview issues of decision-making importance that may not come so naturally to the IT set. Thus she devotes four of the five main sections of the book on the non-technical considerations: explaining the personal dynamics of the interview, different interview styles based on an employer's personality, what employers are really looking for, and even how to dress. The last section of the book is the "Interview Encyclopedia," which addresses the technical assessment with a dense compilation of possible questions that could arise.
The other useful bit is a short section within the first chapter of Part I, "What You Need to Know About the Hiring Process," in which she reveals the truth beneath common and often debilitating myths about the interview. Understanding these erroneous perceptions is critical because in most cases the reality is good news for the job seeker and should enable him or her to approach the interview with measurably less trepidation. Moreira's myths are:
"The Interviewer Holds All the Power"
If nothing else, I hope this fallacy sticks. I had a personal epiphany about this years ago. Even in an employer's market, employers need something someone out there has. They want to get that person-the right person. When a hiring manager interviews you, it's possible he or she is nervous also. What if you're the one and they blow it? And they do hope you are the one.
In a job interview, you are a mature professional discussing with another professional the possibility of working together. Too many people overlook this and instead view the interview as if they were defending a doctoral thesis. They unnecessarily position themselves as the supplicant, instead of just an applicant. Most importantly, they fail to recognize that they should be assessing the prospective employer as keenly as they themselves are being assessed. That means engage in a dialogue with the interviewer; ask thoughtful questions as part of the conversation instead of simply answering questions put to you.
"Employers Are Experts at Interviewing"
A while back I wrote about the results of a study by Development Dimensions International that revealed how poorly an alarming percentage of recruiters and hiring managers are at interviewing candidates.
Moreira touches on the fact that many interviewers ask questions that ultimately reveal nothing useful about the candidate. But she also notes that many interviewers-CIOs included-often don't even remember what questions they asked the candidate. Sometimes, according to the author, interviewers ask questions based on what they didn't like about the last person they hired for the position.
Again, this presents opportunity for you, the candidate to manage the interview. Ask insightful questions based on a thorough knowledge of the open position. Use your questions to elicit better explanations of their expectations. Taking charge of the interview in an informed way will get you noticed, says Moreira; the interviewer will see you as a diagnosing problem solver.
"Employers Know What They Are Looking For"
When I go to a sushi restaurant, all I know is I want sushi. I ask the waiter what's good that night and I hope he recommends the best, freshest item of the night.
Similarly, just because an employer posted a job description doesn't mean they know what they want. As Moreira puts it, "few managers take the time to think about what type of individual it takes to actually do the job."
This is another opportunity for the job seeker to manage the direction of the interview by asking the right questions and describing (voluntarily) how you see a particular challenge being solved. When offering your view of the solution, the author advises using your own experiences of resolving similar challenges.
"A Technical Interview Is All About Your Technical Skills"
This becomes more of a fallacy with the level of seniority of the opportunity. The more senior a role, the more the employer wants to see that you do more than your actual job activities. They want to see that you understand your role in the context of the business. They want to see that your technical skills go the extra mile of solving a business problem or even improving results. If you care to become CIO at some point, this is one to think about past the interview and into the job itself, once you get it.