In almost every case being on a shortlist is handled poorly.
Think about it. When a client gives a brief for a role a document is produced
which describes the company, the background to the role and the ideal
specification of shortlisted candidates. This means the client knows what they
are looking for and the intermediary will only put forward people who, in broad
measure, meet the requirements.
What then prompts the notion that most candidates go about their interviews
with the wrong mindset?
Quite simply, they do not recognise that selling their backgrounds becomes
almost an irrelevance, because their rival shortlisters have similar
backgrounds. The definition of a good shortlist is if you cut their heads off,
they are all the same. A shortlister’s job is not to sell your background, but
to beat the others.
With great respect to employers, the interviewer almost by definition is not
somebody who interviews for a living. The opening moments of an interview are
where most of the banana skins lie.
‘Tell me something about yourself’ does not mean recite your life story. The
object here is to guide the interviewer to tell you what he’s really looking
The interviewer already has a fairly substantial explanation of the
candidate’s background. The response, therefore, should be ‘tell me, what
particular aspect of my background is of interest to you? How do I differ from
the other shortlist candidates?’
The nature of the game at that stage, therefore, is to find out what more
subtle targets lie in the interviewing process. Think of yourself, therefore, in
that interviewing process as like being in a swimming race or a 100-metre dash
where your rivals are permanently on the verge of overtaking you.
Many years ago I heard a true story that went something like this; an 11-year
old son on a Sunday morning says to his father ‘Daddy, where do I come from?’
Dad’s reaction was reticence before launching into some superficial elements of
the facts of life. The child’s response: ‘Thanks Dad. Jeremy’s from Blackpool!’
If after the interview you think ‘I sold myself well and told him/her
everything’. You almost certainly got it wrong. You were on ‘transmit’. You
should have been on ‘ask’ so you could ‘aim’ your responses.
Andrew Garner is CEO of Garner International
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