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March 10, 2009


Nantucket Nectars' Drew Farris hands out advice on getting hired

During the interview process, there are many things that you can do to make yourself seem like a more desirable candidate. We all know what they are - show up a little early, dress appropriately, and know something about the company. If you don't do these things, you aren't going to get hired, period. Unfortunately, outside of these standbys, there aren't many things you can do to guarantee you'll land the job. There are, however, innumerable things you can do to completely ruin any chance you have. Many of them have something to do with ignoring your better judgement, some of them are character traits that are easily spotted, and sometimes it comes down to basic people skills.

As a potential employee you are meeting with a person to whom, if hired, you will look to for instruction, guidance, advice, and raises. Your interviewer has a limited amount of time to determine three things: can they work with you; can you work with the other members of the team; and are you capable of performing the necessary job functions. All of these qualifications are equally important. Unfortunately, the only thing that's even remotely possible to demonstrate quantitatively is whether or not you have the necessary learned skills. The remaining elements are left up to a judgement call. This is why some companies make you take a psychological profile test before you even get an interview. The results from these tests are tallied and matched with the desired profile for the position being offered. In my opinion, however, a face to face meeting is the only real way to get a feel for what you can bring to my company. The interview is everything, but it is where most mistakes happen.

You have two jobs during the interview process:
1. Convince me that by bringing you onto my team - whether it's a team of two or two thousand - that I am acquiring an asset.
2. Determine whether or not this job is right for you.

My responsibility is to ensure that I am selecting the best candidate for the job and that you are committed to being a member of the team. It is crucial that you be honest with yourself regarding the job and how well it suits what you are looking for. The following are some salient points to keep in mind.~Don't lie
Never lie in an interview. If you get caught, you don't get the job. If you don't get caught immediately, but it's discovered after you get the job, you can be dismissed immediately - or, at the very least, it sours the employer's impression of you.

Interviewers don't read those interview books
A good interview never asks only those questions listed in the books titled "How to land the perfect job." If you want a pat answer, ask a pat question. Sure those questions are asked - most of that information is necessary. But it may not be asked in the manner you read about in the books. There are lots of ways to find out what you did or didn't like about your last job. A great example is the question "Who is your favorite person at your previous company?" This question is great for finding out where the person stands - the answer to this question doesn't matter nearly as much as the information that can be derived through the follow up questions. This question and others like it are designed to get you to open up about your experience and impressions of your previous work.

Be informed, not improvised
So, you've done everything right - your resume is an accurate reflection of what you've accomplished in your working life - now what? The first thing to remember is that everyone gets nervous so don't worry about that. Worry instead about making sure you've researched the company and make sure you've got your facts straight. Imagine our surprise when a job candidate told us that Pepsi owned us - which couldn't be further from the truth. I don't even know anyone at Pepsi. The lesson here is that when you can't remember the real facts, don't guess. Guessing at answers indicates a sloppy approach to work.

It's okay to say "I don't know"
A very, very important part of succeeding is understanding that it isn't about knowing the answer to everything, it's about knowing how to find the answers. It is far better to say you don't know than make something up. If I ask you what our annual sales were for last year, I'm trying to establish something about you. As a private company, those figures aren't published, so if you looked in the standard places, you wouldn't find that number - but you should tell me that you looked! However, Inc. Magazine ran a few articles about us in which some round numbers were tossed about. Imagine how impressed I'm apt to be upon discovering that you've familiarized yourself with that information. Conversely, it is more usual that someone comes in, has heard a few radio ads, knows that Tom & Tom founded the company, but that's it. All their information came from a media campaign we aired last week. This says a lot about desire, work ethic, and passion - or lack thereof.~What's your passion, really?
People come in all the time and tell me how much they love juice. How all they've ever really wanted to do was make juice; that because of that, they would be excellent employees. The simple reality is that we aren't looking for people who necessarily love juice (though that doesn't hurt), we are looking for people who are passionate about what they do in life. People who love juice buy our product. People who love to work hard and see their efforts directly impact the success of the company work here. So, it is imperative in an interview - anywhere - that you communicate your passion for what you do. Drones are a dime a dozen. People who can convince you of their enthusiasm in a half-hour interview are few and far between.

Communication skills are key
I don't think I can stress enough the importance of communication. This truly makes all the difference in the world when decisions are being made about whom to hire. As the person responsible for Nantucket Nectar's technology, I've interviewed a good number of people, and very few have fit the "techie" stereotype. The majority of people I interview are marketing people, or human resources people, or just regular people who've discovered that their ability to work with computers can enhance their careers in directions other than what they originally thought. The key point I'm trying to make here is that today's technology positions are far more likely to be filled by people with non-technical backgrounds who happen to have a knack for technology - I personally came from a marketing background. Therefore, the factor that sets someone apart in an interview isn't the technical skills, it is their ability to communicate.

In most areas of business, communication skills must come alongside technical skills. Even in high-tech, information managers are increasingly looking for candidates with "people skills" and teaching them the technical skills. The focus here is on the future. When I make the decision to hire the candidate with the hottest technology skill under the sun, I'm answering my need for instant gratification. When I hire a candidate that can communicate ideas and use language to motivate and direct, I'm hiring a future manager that I can train in the technologies I need today. The trick is to find the best balance of the two.~Say for example that I'm reviewing candidates for an internship position. I know this position is going to have responsibilities that involve dealing with employees at every level of the company. On paper, the final two candidates look very much the same - both come from the same type of background and have pretty even technical abilities. Which do you chose: the candidate who talks well about her qualifications or the candidate who starts sucking on her hand the minute you ask her a question that didn't appear on the list provided by her placement agency? This really happened - and the point is that even if the second candidate's qualifications are stellar on paper, she will lose out to people who can communicate.

A final note
You can make my job easier by doing two things. Constantly improve your understanding of business, especially in your field. If you are in marketing, make sure you read about marketing strategies, case studies, and the trade magazines. If you are in human resources, make sure you know the most up to date laws and procedures. This is step one. Step two is the difficult part. Make sure you can communicate your knowledge to me. It really comes down to that. If you feel uncomfortable with your ability to communicate, there are classes you can - and should - take to get past this. These include public speaking, debate, and theater classes. Never assume that the business leaders of today were born that way. Many, many executives - who make their living communicating - first had to learn how to do it. It is a skill that is acquired through training and practice. It also stems from being confident in what you are saying. This is how knowledge and communication go together. Learn as much as you can about your field, and learn how to tell people about it.

Drew Farris is the Director of I.S. at Nantucket Nectars and the owner of LANMind, and Small Business IT Consulting Practice. Visit and


Filed Under: Interviewing