The Deciding Factor in the Interview

Interviews can be nerve-wracking. Preparation will help immensely, but understanding what the person on the other side of the desk is looking for can make all the difference.

As a Hiring Manager and former Recruiter, there are 3 things I look for in a candidate, with the last one being the deciding factor every time.

1. Relevant Skills (the “what”).

This is a given and if you’ve been offered an interview, there’s a good chance you have the key skills the company is looking for. While direct industry and functional knowledge are usually preferred, if you’re making a career switch, you can build a strong case by focusing on desirable qualities such as being a consistent top performer (e.g., early promotions, employee awards, etc.), offering a unique mix of expertise that provides value to the company, or demonstrating how your transferable skills will enable you to hit the ground running.

In the interview, what’s MOST important is connecting the dots and showing how your expertise will address the company’s biggest pain points.  This requires research on your part, but it’ll make a huge impact.  If you spend an hour dumping a bunch of skills (and worse, interests!) on me as a Hiring Manager, you leave me with the heavy lifting of figuring out if you’re a match. However, if you do the work for me by clearly demonstrating how your skills will solve my problems, I feel a sense of clarity and optimism as you exit the interview. And subconsciously, this feeling will play into my decision-making.

2. Fit (the “how”).

We’ve all heard “fit” is important, but few can clearly define what “fit” actually means when they’re hiring for a role. Due to this, many Hiring Managers tend to describe “fit” as an “I know it when I see it” quality.  This is dangerous because in many cases it means the Interviewer hires someone who is similar to themselves, a common hiring mistake.  So how do candidates prepare for this?

First, let’s clarify “fit”, which can be loosely defined as “how” you approach your work.  It’s the way you make decisions, relate to others, solve problems, lead a team, prioritize, and perform tasks. It can include personality factors and physical style. A strong hiring manager will look for someone who can function effectively within the culture to get things done. While on the surface it may make sense to the Interviewer to hire someone like himself if he is successful, smart Hiring Managers know that differences can bring new ideas, strengths and energy to a department.

The truth is, fit goes both ways.  There’s no sense trying to be someone you’re not to get an offer. Both you and the team will be miserable after a few months.  What you can do in the interview is to have two-way dialogue where you can communicate your work style and get a good sense of the work culture so you can make a good determination of “fit” for yourself.

3. Motivation (the “why”).

If all else looks positive, the deciding factor will be motivation.  This is the answer to “Why do you want this job, in this company, at this time?” and your answer will make or break your chances of getting hired.

Hiring mistakes are expensive, costing up to 7x an employee’s salary.  As humans, we have a strong aversion to loss, so Hiring Managers want to be certain when extending an offer that they’re making the right decision.  In fact, if you’ve ever been in a hiring process where things were moving smoothly, only to really slow down right before the offer stage, this is likely because the Hirer got “cold feet” just before pulling the trigger.  Even after careful due diligence and all signs pointing to “go” on a candidate, there’s always that last minute thought, “Did I miss something?”

Knowing my #1 fear is making a hiring mistake, your “career story” needs to make perfect sense to me as the Hiring Manager. I don’t care what you’re “passionate” about, or that you’ve always wanted to work at “[insert popular company]”.  I want specifics.  I want to know your thought process for how you concluded THIS is the right next step for you. I want to know how it fits into your bigger career plan. I want to know you’ve already taken steps to invest and it’s not a whim.

You’re career story needs 4 components: 1) compelling, 2) attention-getting, 3) logical and 4) genuine.  Example:

“After building my Project Management expertise the last 4 years working with technology clients in the healthcare space, my company sent me on a long-term project in China to help our largest client open a new facility there. Although I spoke the language, I had little experience with policy and regulations, which were critical to the project.  Through my contacts and research, I gained the knowledge to successfully complete the assignment, and simultaneously realized that this type of work engaged all of my strengths including negotiating with vendors, problem solving in the moment, and interpreting policy. Since PharmaTech, Inc. is in the process of expanding to Asia, I quickly saw a great match between my background and your company’s goals and am very interested in applying my experience to assist PharmaTech open their new facility in Asia over the next two years.”


Most job seekers understand the importance of “the what” and “the how.”  Don’t overlook the deciding factor.

Happy hunting!

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