Job Interview Tips: Applicant Distress Syndrome?

job interview handshake

What’s the diagnosis? Sweaty Palms? Deer in the headlights look in their eyes? Sudden amnesia? Butterflies in the belly? FEAR OF THE UNKNOWN?

Did you get a case of Applicant Distress Syndrome during your last interview?

If you’ve been on the receiving end of a job interview lately, you have probably easily recognized the symptoms of Applicant Distress Syndrome!

Due to the current jobless rate and economic conditions in the United States, hiring officials are faced with the daunting task of culling through hundreds of job applications for even one position. This is equally true for the federal government in their efforts to fill nearly 5,000 vacant positions at any one time. After Human Resource offices have accomplished the difficult task of sorting through volumes of resumes to identify the best qualified group of candidates, the next step in the hiring process is the job interview.

Job interviews are time-consuming and expensive for both managers and applicants. The result should be to gain new and supplemental types of information from the applicants during the interview process which demonstrates how their experience directly relates to the new position and will enable them to be the most successful candidate among their current competition. So why is this such as upsetting and mysterious experience for the job seeker? And why do hiring officials feel the process is largely a waste of time?

There are two basic reasons, with both centered on preparation.

First, if applicants are unprepared for their interview, they are sure to “bomb”. As a former federal hiring manager, I found it very interesting to see the different levels of preparation of applicants. No two interviews were the same. Each applicant had their own style and level of preparation. Some were better at the art of interviewing than others. Most were dressed appropriately in business attire and carried a portfolio or briefcase with copies of their resumes and references at hand. The better applicants performed in the interview, the better their chances of being hired.

Be prepared to talk about your resume. On more than one occasion I would ask an applicant about a specific item in their resume. Deer in the headlights! Amnesia! Blank stare! Or sometimes, if an applicant was unprepared to answer a question, they would instead proceed on rambling tangents, filling the air with mind-numbing and irrelevant noise. It is not hard to eliminate this candidate once they demonstrate their complete lack of preparation. So, other than studying their own resume, how do candidates know what to prepare to ensure a good interview performance?

Second, the content and construct of the interview is the fundamental link to providing the results the manager seeks in whittling down his field of candidates to the ‘best of the best’. Poorly constructed questions by the manager will not elicit meaningful information helpful in culling the list of candidates. I once asked a newly hired federal employee to share her experiences regarding a telephone screening interview. I was shocked at her response. The panel’s first ice-breaking question was, “Could you please describe to us what you look like?” This was clearly inappropriate and not job related. How would a candidate have prepared for that question? And what type of useful information was gained for the hiring manager? Poor interview questions coupled with reliance on first impressions and gut instincts are poor predictors of good hires. It also calls into questionable legal practices and may be counter to merit system principles. Agencies get in trouble when selecting officials unintentionally veer off into topics in violation of Federal EEO laws.

Your Interview Prescription and Cure for Applicant Distress Syndrome – Know what’s coming!

Today, federal managers increasingly are utilizing the Behavior Based Structured Interview as the best strategy to help them make the best hiring decisions. The reason for this is twofold. This process has been validated as providing selecting officials with the best predictive evidence that the person selected will be successful on the job. Secondly, when done correctly, the process can be reviewed by third parties and be found a legally defensible process.

The Behavioral Based Structured Interview is a TEST to get you to Talk about Past Behavior

The Behavioral Based Structured Interview is founded on the premise that recent past behavior is the best predictor of future performance. The interview consists of carefully planned, job-related questions that can be systematically scored to reliably identify highly qualified job candidates. Federal organizations rely on the behavioral interview process to systematically provide all applicants the same, fair experience. It ensures that only job related questions are asked. It provides relevant information to managers in making good hiring decisions and ensures a fair and legally defensible selection process. Equally important, it ensures a good match between the candidate and the job. Again, the need for preparation, this time on the hiring manager’s part, provides quantifiable, quality results.

Job Seekers Must Prepare and Practice Work Examples That Demonstrate Past Behaviors

Today it is vitally important for job seekers to understand the interview process and how to respond to the interview questions. Interview questions of a theoretical or hypothetical nature may be easier to "game" as an applicant can give a text book answer without ever having the actual experience. The hypothetical question will not give insight into the applicant’s actual performance in a given situation.

These are questions that seek actual examples from an applicant’s past experience and concentrate on job related competencies. The candidate’s description of actual situations, what they personally did in these situations and the results of their actions, can demonstrate to the interviewer how well they performed in the past – all excellent predictors of the future.

Practice and Preparation is Critical to Keep Applicant Distress Syndrome AWAY

For applicants, the importance of preparation cannot be understated. Every job applicant should establish an interview preparation strategy targeted to each position being considered. The challenge for the applicant is to clearly convey their answers to the interview questions to demonstrate why they are the best person to fill the position. Hiring managers are busy and want to make the selection of the best applicant. The competition is keen and the hiring managers want to select the right person the first time. Prepared applicants are easy to spot and are a welcome experience in a long day of interviewing. Only those individuals who can create their compelling story in the interview will distinguish themselves as the best applicants. And this alone will help them get the job.

The responsibility for preparation is a shared responsibility between the interviewing official and the applicant. The hiring manager prepares by constructing good questions. The applicant prepares by understanding the advertised job requirements and documenting specific, job related examples of their own job experiences and accomplishments.

Will you Experience Applicant Distress Syndrome or Be Prepared and Confident?

Which brings us back to the original premise: if you cannot determine what will be asked in an interview, how can you effectively prepare? You can simply analyze the position that is available, and determine the possible questions, and prepare 4 or 5 examples that you can talk about in the interview. And practice, practice, practice. And lack of preparation results in a poor interview. The goal for hiring managers is to bring out the best in applicants and gather all the information they need to make the right hiring choice. Will you be ready to talk confidently about your best Past Performance Accomplishments in a behavior-based interview? I hope so.

Get Interview Preparation and Practice Help from Tim Cannon at The Resume Place.

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