A couple of weeks ago, I reviewed Tim Vincent’s “Nail That Interview.” If you’ve read the review, you’ll know that I enjoyed the book, because it wasn’t more of the same tired career advice you can find just about anywhere. Instead, Vincent’s book takes a thoroughly original approach to job hunting, one that challenges how both jobseekers and hiring authorities traditionally participate in the process.

I reached out to Vincent for more of his insights on the subject, and he was kind enough to answer some of my questions via email. I’ve reproduced our correspondence below, with minimal editing.

Matthew Kosinski: First off, tell us a little about yourself: who is Tim Vincent, and how did he get into recruiting?

Tim Vincent: As sales director for an IT services company in London I learned the hard way that recruiting mediocre people leads to mediocre results. Yes, I could help the weaker members of my team to enhance their performance, but in doing so I was neglecting the high flyers who were already feeling under appreciated. How to get and keep an outstanding team?

I became a fan of Topgrading (Brad Smart) and focused on making sure I always got hiring right, even if that meant having unfilled headcount. I built great teams who achieved extraordinary things, and unsurprisingly I got headhunted to do this for other companies.

I spotted the merit in my becoming a headhunter and helping many client companies get their hiring right. I took the plunge. Now Rembrandt (ed. note — Vincent is CEO of Rembrandt Consultants) has 13 associate offices worldwide, and I’m proud that we are known and sought out to influence the talent others rarely reach.

MK: How did the idea for the book come about? Why did you decide you needed to write “Nail That Interview”?

TV: Since launching Rembrandt in 1997, my colleagues and I have dealt with candidates up and down the seniority stack, across age ranges, and from around the world who almost without exception have told us they felt they interviewed well when, unfortunately, we were finding to our cost that, almost without exception, they do not!

Candidates typically don’t take the interview meeting seriously enough, and this complacency usually leads to meetings which are at best OK, but at worst are awful. In extremis our shortlisted candidates flunking interviews might mean we have to re-search the role, and that is expensive. Determined to ensure that all of our candidates excelled at interview, we worked to develop and refine the 10-step process that became the backbone of “Nail That Interview.”

Random House had identified a gap in the market for a book providing a strong preparation for the interview since all of the books on the shelf offered little more than stock answers to typical interview questions. They particularly liked that our proven approach is all about the questions you ask at interview – not the answers you give. “Nail That Interview” was born of this partnership between a glaring gap and a proven solution.

MK: The book contains a lot of activities, making it sort of like a workbook. Where did these activities come from, and why did you choose to write the book in this way?

TV: The tools and activities in the book are those that we have found work best in practice. Everything from making sure our candidates take notes, to writing out “Nail Questions” (ed. note — this is a specific type of question Vincent mentions in the book), to the specific structure before practicing delivery on partners or friends are how we have found candidates emerge best prepared.

Active engagement in preparing oneself is critical. We learned that the clearer we were with the specific actions and steps necessary to prepare properly, the more likely candidates were to follow through.

We had plenty of errors along the way that helped us refine our thinking. Indeed, all of our early work to help improve interview preparation used to be pretty light touch with our candidates, still trusting that people who are excellent at what they do would just require a few nudges in the right direction to produce great interview results. However, we continued to be disappointed. We had to lead them by the nose through exercises that engaged them.

So by beginning with the CV we do two things — firstly, we start simply with something quite familiar, and secondly, we test whether candidates are prepared to go right back to basics, get this foundation document right, and accept that they need to work with us arm in arm through a thorough course.

Working through the coaching tools we explore how well they understand themselves, and this hoop also helps set up a relationship of trust between us. What emerges from the coaching are the key bullets that need to be delivered at the interview, not the least being a sense of what their career dream is, where they would like to end up at the summit. Only with this fundamental insight can the candidate jump into preparation proper for the meeting.

We have found that these exercises and activities give us the results we sought. “Nail That Interview” takes the reader through the 10 steps that have been proven to work best for anyone preparing to be interviewed. They simply work.

MK: Do you think your book is useful for everyone, regardless of their career status? For example, should a kid fresh out of school have the same mentality of “I only really need and want this job if it is right for me at this time” as a more established employee? Why?

TV: Yes — “Do I want this job?” is as important a question for the school leaver as it is for the non-executive director. Because everyone should be a discerning careerist, everyone should care deeply about what they spend their precious time doing.

Compounding this argument is the fact that the candidate who comes across as a critical career buyer will find interviewers inclined to sell to them and the more so if that candidate asks inspiring and challenging questions which help guide the meeting constructively.

But possibly the most important point here is that we are more likely to succeed and thrive in a job that we are passionate about, not just because it is a good job in itself, but because it leads somewhere we aspire to get to. So “Do I really want this job?” is the right question for us all.

Since the book was released, I have delivered talks at several schools where 16- and 17-year-old pupils have found the steps help them understand the importance of “attitude” and that “wearing” strong attitude through well-structured questions can help them positively influence the interviewer. They are putting the 10 steps to good use as they prepare for interviews for universities and for summer jobs alike.

“Nail That Interview” stresses the important notion that any job can act as a foothold to your dream career if the candidate is clear about what that dream actually is. Manny Fontenla-Novoa won a job in the post room at Thomas Cook and rose to CEO of the group. His attitude when he went for that postie job is the one I wanted to help instill in all readers of “Nail That interview.” These tools work equally well for everyone, regardless of whether they are just setting out or in the twilight of their careers.

MK: Your book is obviously written with job seekers in mind, but I think it holds a lot of good lessons for recruiters, hiring managers, and other talent professionals? Would you agree? Any advice for how interviewers can “nail that interview”?

TV: I think you are right there is much to be gained from the book for the recruiter, hiring manager, and other talent professionals, whether experienced or rookie (we ask all of our consultants to read the book as part of their induction training. Headhunters are interviewers after all).

By looking at a business meeting from the other side of the table, you gain insights that simply weren’t visible from where you were sat before. Here is the view from the well-prepared candidate’s perspective. Given this insight, how do I best interview them to ensure I make the right call and at the same time positively influence them to want to join me, my team, my company?

A few well-formed questions prepared in advance of the meeting would be a good idea. We use Nail questions when we interview candidates for clients — they are just as effective whichever side of the desk you sit at.

MK: We know what kind of mindsets candidates should have going into the interview process, but what about the interviewers? What sort of mindsets should they have when meeting with new candidates?

TV: A good question!

The first piece of advice we give to client interviewers (who ask for it!) is what not to do: don’t ask anything too general!

“Please tell me a bit about yourself – just take me through your CV” is lazy and unhelpful to both you and the candidate. This advice then raises the question — “So, what do I ask then? What is a good approach to making sure I interview candidates well?”

If you prepare properly for an interview, you will at the very least recognize that you have just 60 minutes to decide whether or not this candidate is right for this role and for your organization at large, so you won’t waste precious time on generalizations, and you’ll make sure you are organized, probably following a framework that at least ensures you:

a) Are clear what it is you are looking for:

  • This job / role specification
  • People / capability / attitude in general that works well in your organization

b) Have read through the CV and made notes in the margin where you want to dig in for further information.

c) Have prepared 3-5 questions (Nail format questions work equally well for interviewers who want to ensure they positively influence candidates, so will require that the interviewer is clear about the key points they want the candidate to recall so they can bed them into their questions).

d) Understand the whole interview process so that you know what to do with your interview notes, thoughts, and feelings.

  • Who else will interview the candidate?
  • What are they looking for?
  • How will all feedback come together, and how will a decision be made to hire / re-interview / reject candidates?

e) Recognize it’s your job to see through the specific role in question to what exceptional people can become using your organization as a platform. Truly great interviewers develop a sensitive nose for the hidden abilities of the few, abilities candidates either don’t know they have or more likely might think aren’t relevant, when in fact these are the keys you seek.

Bottom line for the interviewer? Smell the coffee! You are the nominated officer of your shareholders to select a new employee for the business, and that individual is looking to you for steerage as to how this job you are looking to fill can act as a foothold into the business and (if they have read “Nail That Interview”) beyond to their career dreams. Be prepared for the 60 minute meeting in a way that equips you to pick out the talent you like for the role and influence them to buy your job. Good candidates get to choose their careers.

They get to choose who they work with. Why should they choose you?

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