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Interviewing: Overcoming the Defeat from False Negatives!

Author : Dilip Saraf
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Candidates go into their interview rounds, both with great anticipation and apprehension. Anticipation, because they want to get that job offer after the demanding rounds of interviews; apprehension, because they are afraid of flubbing interview questions that they are prepared for, but are not sure that they will have the presence of mind to deliver what they know in a cogent and compelling way. Yet another concern most candidates have during such interviews is that their ability to reason through a tough problem posed to them to arrive at a strong answer to impress the interviewer.

There are so many factors that go into the selection process that providing all correct and compelling responses to the interviewers questions is only a part of the calculus. There are many indefinable factorssubjective factorsthat go into the final decision that it is almost impossible to pin down the actual reason for final rejection. Although providing correct and compelling responses is necessary, it may not be sufficient. Even not being able to respond to all the questions is not a sine qua non for someone in the interview circuit to reject you. On the flip side your je ne sais quoi may trump all your flubs to win you that job! This is how unpredictable the overall selection process is! Making sense of its rationality is often futile, especially when you are competing with an internal candidate!

Yet another set of factors that go into an interviewers decision is based on their personal biases (gender, race, age, ethnic background, chemistry, and personal appearance), which are all very difficult to isolate and identify. So, despite all your preparations, answering all the interview questions with strong responses, and doing all the things right, a rejectiona false negativecan be puzzling to someone who is otherwise expecting a positive response from the process.

So, how does one deal with such an outcome, where you are sure that the rejection you received was a false negative? Here is my checklist:

  1. Do not stalk the recruiter or hiring manager about the reasons for their final decision. Legally they are not required to provide you that information. Moreover, they may get into legal jeopardy themselves if they disclosed the real reason for their rejection (too old, too difficult to understand because of your accent, argumentative, etc.). If you are going through someone who presented you to the hiring manager then you may have an avenue to explore the reasons through your contact. Ask them for that favor and learn from it; do not argue.
  2. Objectively assess your overall interview performance and see if there is a pattern to how you perform in certain situations and if there is something you need to change about that pattern through better communication, preparation, or conscious awareness. Here, reviewing your past interview performances can help you identify what this pattern may be.
  3. If you are having difficulties with your technical part of the interview (coding, algorithms, circuit design, legal precedents, modeling, accounting principles, among others in your claimed expertise) make sure that you are adequately prepared. Search for resources that provide interview boot camps in your areas of expertise. It is worth the expense and effort.
  4. When it comes to the HR part of the interview (why are you looking, why this company, why were you out of work for three years, etc.) find an interview coach who can help you package your responses to better serve you. Especially in such discussions it is not what you say, but it is what they hear that drives their perceptions. So, before you just rattle out a response make sure that it is what you want them to hear. A coach can be a good sounding board for these inputs.
  5. Be aware of your verbal ticks that unconsciously can get in the way of a fluent interview. Verbal ticks are uums, oohs, and other sounds that you make thinking through your responses to interviewers questions. Record your practice interview and listen to yourself. Also, see if you come across as a clear communicator throughout the interview.
  6. Do not ever ask the interviewer, How did I do in this interview? It shows lack of confidence and that you did not have enough self-awareness of your performance. A better way to ask the same question is, What are the next steps in this process? If they were not sure about you their typical response would be, Oh, we have several other candidates to interview, so we do not know what the next steps are for you and its timeline. With such a response, you better keep your pipeline and push for your next target company.
  7. Sometimes, you are rejected because they have you as a back-up candidate. In such cases someone will call you (not an email) and tell you that you were #2 candidate and their first choice has accepted the offer. In such cases do not despair. My own experience is that when you are told that you were #2, their top choice does not work out in about 50% of the hires, especially for management and leadership roles. However, this takes about 4-6 months to evince. So, if you are still in the market follow-up with that company and remind them that you are available if anything has changed at their end. Many of my clients were able to get in because their first choice was a false positive!

False negative from an interview selection process is not the end of the world. Disappointing as it may be in that moment, there is always a way to make something of it for you to benefit from.

Good luck!


About Author
Dilip has distinguished himself as LinkedIn’s #1 career coach from among a global pool of over 1,000 peers ever since LinkedIn started ranking them professionally (LinkedIn selected 23 categories of professionals for this ranking and published this ranking from 2006 until 2012). Having worked with over 6,000 clients from all walks of professions and having worked with nearly the entire spectrum of age groups—from high-school graduates about to enter college to those in their 70s, not knowing what to do with their retirement—Dilip has developed a unique approach to bringing meaning to their professional and personal lives. Dilip’s professional success lies in his ability to codify what he has learned in his own varied life (he has changed careers four times and is currently in his fifth) and from those of his clients, and to apply the essence of that learning to each coaching situation.

After getting his B.Tech. (Honors) from IIT-Bombay and Master’s in electrical engineering(MSEE) from Stanford University, Dilip worked at various organizations, starting as an individual contributor and then progressing to head an engineering organization of a division of a high-tech company, with $2B in sales, in California’s Silicon Valley. His current interest in coaching resulted from his career experiences spanning nearly four decades, at four very diverse organizations–and industries, including a major conglomerate in India, and from what it takes to re-invent oneself time and again, especially after a lay-off and with constraints that are beyond your control.

During the 45-plus years since his graduation, Dilip has reinvented himself time and again to explore new career horizons. When he left the corporate world, as head of engineering of a technology company, he started his own technology consulting business, helping high-tech and biotech companies streamline their product development processes. Dilip’s third career was working as a marketing consultant helping Fortune-500 companies dramatically improve their sales, based on a novel concept. It is during this work that Dilip realized that the greatest challenge most corporations face is available leadership resources and effectiveness; too many followers looking up to rudderless leadership.

Dilip then decided to work with corporations helping them understand the leadership process and how to increase leadership effectiveness at every level. Soon afterwards, when the job-market tanked in Silicon Valley in 2001, Dilip changed his career track yet again and decided to work initially with many high-tech refugees, who wanted expert guidance in their reinvention and reemployment. Quickly, Dilip expanded his practice to help professionals from all walks of life.

Now in his fifth career, Dilip works with professionals in the Silicon Valley and around the world helping with reinvention to get their dream jobs or vocations. As a career counselor and life coach, Dilip’s focus has been career transitions for professionals at all levels and engaging them in a purposeful pursuit. Working with them, he has developed many groundbreaking approaches to career transition that are now published in five books, his weekly blogs, and hundreds of articles. He has worked with those looking for a change in their careers–re-invention–and jobs at levels ranging from CEOs to hospital orderlies. He has developed numerous seminars and workshops to complement his individual coaching for helping others with making career and life transitions.

Dilip’s central theme in his practice is to help clients discover their latent genius and then build a value proposition around it to articulate a strong verbal brand.

Throughout this journey, Dilip has come up with many groundbreaking practices such as an Inductive Résumé and the Genius Extraction Tool. Dilip owns two patents, has two publications in the Harvard Business Review and has led a CEO roundtable for Chief Executive on Customer Loyalty. Both Amazon and B&N list numerous reviews on his five books. Dilip is also listed in Who’s Who, has appeared several times on CNN Headline News/Comcast Local Edition, as well as in the San Francisco Chronicle in its career columns. Dilip is a contributing writer to several publications. Dilip is a sought-after speaker at public and private forums on jobs, careers, leadership challenges, and how to be an effective leader.



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