Using feedback to improve your interview skills

We depend on supportive feedback, from parents, partners, friends, teachers and colleagues, to improve ourselves and our ability to connect with others. When we lack feedback, we navigate in the dark. Yet a lack of interview feedback is very much the norm. What little feedback there is creates false beliefs that hamper interview success and career advancement.

Belief: The more interviews I attend, the better my interview skills will be.

The Facts: Because of a lack of useful feedback, most candidates present themselves in the same way time after time. They gain little or no insight into how interviewers perceive them and take no steps to improve their presentation skills. Their success rate in interviews shows little, if any, improvement over years or even decades.

Belief: The feedback I get after an unsuccessful interview helps me understand how to do better the next time.

The Facts: You’re likely to get very little helpful feedback after an unsuccessful interview. If there’s any feedback at all, it probably focuses on perceived deficiencies in your experience and job-specific skills (“We’re looking for a little more background in …”). Sometimes, the feedback is expressed in terms of the perceived superiority of the successful candidate. (“He has more experience in …” “She has had greater exposure to …”)

Such feedback is usually very misleading in that it causes you to think first of improving your hard skills. The reality is almost invariably that your hard skills aren’t the issue. Rather, the successful candidate was more effective at selling his or her soft skills in the interview and at establishing compatibility with the role and the employer. Many interviewees can discuss their hard skills with confidence. It’s almost always the presentation of soft skills that separates the successful from the unsuccessful.

Belief: It’s impossible to get useful feedback about my interview skills.

The Facts: No it isn’t! Because the most important aspect of improving your interview success is in learning to present your soft skills more effectively, many people can give you useful feedback. They don’t need to share your field of expertise, because their feedback doesn’t need to deal with your hard skills. You can draw on family members, friends and former colleagues ¾ even on headhunters, if you’re on good terms. And, of course, there are career coaches who can help.

The requirements in all cases are a trusting relationship and openness on your part to hearing honest feedback, both positive and negative. By asking questions and listening carefully, you can learn what your verbal and nonverbal communication skills say about you. With this insight, you can work on eliminating negative impressions you create and on improving your ability to connect with others. You are now on the road to greater interview success.

About the author:

Janet Webb is the founder and president of JW Associates International Inc., an executive search and career management company with its head office in Toronto, Canada. To learn more, visit Janet has authored the e-book Interview to Offer: The Definitive Guide to Establishing Fit and Landing the Job.

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