• United States



by Jeff Combs, Alta Associates

Career Advice: How to Prepare if you Score an Interview

Dec 07, 20084 mins
CareersIT Leadership

When you've made it to the playoffs, don't forget the fundamentals of the game

As we enter an employment market where competition for jobs is on the increase, it’s more important than ever that job seekers sharpen their game, eliminate variables and play to win.

One area most candidates could stand improvement is in their communications, responsiveness and preparation once they’ve been selected to interview.

Few candidates realize that from the moment the hiring entity decides to initiate an interview process, they’re being evaluated by both the company and their recruiter if they’re working with one.

There are three general areas that prospective employers and recruiters pay the most attention to. They are responsiveness, communications and preparation.


Granted, a candidate’s responsiveness is directly related to their interest level in a given opportunity. However, if the goal is to get job offers from which to choose or land the job you desire your level of responsiveness is critical. Long delays in returned phone calls or emails can scuttle your chance of being a contender. This is especially true in the current market where there is more competition for fewer roles. Unless there are good reasons such as travel, personal obligations or illness one must strive to be quick to respond to communications from hiring entities and recruiters.


Equally as important as responsiveness is the way that candidates communicate. By this I’m referring to tone and professionalism. The tone of one’s communications, both verbal and written, can convey positive or negative traits. Ideally, a candidate’s communications convey enthusiasm, interest and a “can-do” attitude. Unfortunately when candidates don’t pay attention to tone they come across as disinterested, uncommitted or just poor communicators. One major culprit is the wide reliance on mobile devices like Blackberries and iPhones. Twitting and texting is fine for friends and family but when you’re hunting for a job, full sentences and proper grammar are required. So every time you get on the phone “smile before you dial” and get your energy up. And every time you respond to an email, read what you wrote and ask yourself what kind of message you’re conveying. Remember, once you’ve started the interview process every aspect of your communication skills are being evaluated.


This should be obvious but unfortunately it isn’t to a lot of people. If you are interviewing for a job, you are expected to learn as much as you can about the company. What they do, how they do it, where they do it, how many employees, how much revenue, what regulatory issues they’re facing, whether theyve been in the news.

You must do this so you understand the opportunity better and more importantly, so you know what questions to ask. Interviews are two sided. The company is assessing you and you are assessing the company. Asking the right questions accomplishes two things. Youll learn more about the role and the organization but you also get to demonstrate your perceptiveness and critical thinking skills.

There is also usually a quiz involved and candidates who aren’t prepared for it often get shot down in the first HR interview. For example, I once had a candidate interview for a security architect role with a major credit card company. This was a very strong candidate who, despite my coaching, believed that his experience would translate to any environment regardless of industry. He was wrong. When the HR executive asked him what he knew about the company he answered “I know I have one of your cards in my wallet.” The HR exec was not amused by the candidate’s glib answer and lack of knowledge. The interview ended and my candidate went down in flames.


I recognize that to many, this stuff may seem obvious. It’s not exactly Complex Event Processing. Unfortunately, my associates and I have found that many candidates forget, don’t care or don’t know and they end up paying the price. As recruiters it’s our job to align the right people with the right opportunities. This is how we earn a living so it’s in our best interest to position candidates for success. However, we can only do so much. Like an athletic coach it’s our job to pick the players, help them hone their skills and get them to the big game. Once we’re there, it’s up to the players to take the ball and run with it. By paying attention to fundamentals like responsiveness, communications and preparation you’ll be less likely to fumble at crunch time.

Jeff Combs is Practice Lead, Security and IT Risk Recruiting at Alta Associates.