Interview Tactics, Tips and Tricks To Help Midlifers Get To Hire Ground
The interview begins, “so… tell us about yourself.” The words land on your eardrums like Mike Tyson’s right hook, and your heart is pounding in your chest. Six figures are resting on your answers here. Your family is depending on you. This interview question is not as simple as it seems. What you say, how you say it and why you need to say it all matter. You don’t get a second chance to rephrase your response. And you don’t get a second chance to correct your first expression.
“A man cannot be comfortable in life without his own approval.” – Mark Twain, author.
You’ve been “yourself” for upward of 40 years. Why, then, has a simple invitation to describe yourself left you sweating under the fluorescent bulbs of the office and grasping at vague lists of hobbies? Well, among many other things, this one question could mean:
- What’s your life story so far?
- What’s your character like?
- How do you view yourself professionally?
- How do you see the world and your place within it?
You’re having difficulties with this deceptively simple question because it’s coded – as are any questions that might come up in an interview.
Team Vippi wants midlifers to enter this gladiatorial arena of difficult interviews armed for success.
You need to value-load your answers in a clever way that matches the real intent of their questions.
As a midlifer applying for a new job, you’re equipped with a heap of experience, but you’re battling against the preconceptions that you’re a stick-in-the-mud who can’t adapt to technology; that you don’t operate at the cutting edge of your industry or understand the shifting dynamics of its marketplace.
We know that’s bullsh*t just as much as you do.
The hiring manager will ask you tactical questions in the interview to assess how much value you’ll add to the operation. So you have to prepare tactical answers that convey how much of an asset you are.
Interviews are no longer a single conversation with, perhaps, an aptitude test thrown in. They’re a longer, more strenuous, and highly complex process. You are no longer just one department’s concern – organizations are collaborating more across functions. The company you’re interviewing for will take a more holistic view of its operation.
Everyone will want a say in the new hire.
Remember the days of arcades when you’d blast your way through different levels of increasing difficulty? Your interviews are going to look a lot like that.
Team Vippi wants to make sure you have all the necessary power-ups at your disposal to start working for the final boss.
What is value?
There are certain ways to convey your value-adding attributes in an interview. This scene from “Stepbrothers” isn’t one of them.
Before defining your value, it pays to think about the definition of value in and of itself.
- the monetary worth of something
- a fair return or equivalent in goods, services, or money for something exchanged
- relative worth, utility, or importance
Suppose the job application process is an assessment of overall suitability (and, most of the time, an AI program will weed out wildly unsuitable candidates from the get-go). In that case, the interview process is an ever-intensifying gauntlet of value.
As you progress through the three, four, or maybe even five rounds of interview questions, you’ll speak to decision-makers of increasing seniority. The questions will become more and more qualitative – financial figures on a page, after a certain point, will simply no longer cut the mustard.
The interviewers want a sense of how you produced those results.
They want to understand the way you collaborate.
They want to be sure that they can trust you on both ethical and fiscal levels.
They’re looking for confirmation that you’re able to be aware of industry developments and capitalize on them.
Returning to the definition above, a hiring manager wants to know that:
- You’re worth the investment.
- They’ll recoup the money they spend on your wages, development, and perks.
- You’ll be useful at a macro level for the goals of the business.
So it doesn’t matter how many years you’ve served in an industry – no hiring manager worth their salt is going to give you the thumbs up based on time served. You need to translate your experience into expertise.
- Showing that you’re up to date with bleeding-edge technologies and processes in your field.
- Stocking up on examples of times you successfully faced moments of change.
- Having the ability to talk fluently about the changing shape of your industry and the evolution of your marketplace.
Ageism sucks, but it’s very real. And as a midlifer, an interviewer might doubt that you have the same flexibility, professional nimbleness, and hunger as, say, a millennial candidate. But an entrepreneurial mindset knows no age, and demonstrating a clear and specific vision can help you navigate an interview…
…as long as you speak their language.
What values is your interviewer looking for?
The questions you’ll encounter in a job interview aren’t random, and they’re not only trying to work out if you’re a “nice” person who’ll turn up to work on time.
Team Vippi gathered around a table to pinpoint the five attributes that an interviewer will deem to be most valuable – and, therefore, the attributes for which they’ll be digging with targeted questioning.
Knowing how to decode their questions will be instrumental in guiding you to suitable examples and answers from your experience. All of these qualities reflect discipline – the ability to say “no” to distractions and hone in on your objectives and targets.
It’s through showing you’re honest and disciplined that an employer knows they’ll be able to trust you and your work.
The hiring manager will be looking for people who are honest and have a moral backbone.
They need to be able to trust the contents of your reports, know that you’re not going to bring the company into disrepute, and be confident that you’ll interact with other team members in a healthy way that nurtures respect.
Questions your interviewer might ask:
- “How would your colleagues describe you?”
- “What steps will you take to earn the trust of your colleagues?”
- “Describe the most difficult challenge you faced in your career – how did you overcome it?”
What they really mean:
- “Are you a liability?”
- “Can we trust you?”
- “Are you going to steal from us, f*ck us over, or tarnish our reputation?”
Are you going to pass the buck when it matters most? Or will you own your mistakes and take your development into your own hands?
Employers want to know they’re hiring someone who’s about their business, takes pride in their achievements, accepts responsibility for shortcomings, and puts in place measures to prevent the same mistakes from happening again.
Questions your interviewer might ask:
- “Describe a time you had to own up to a mistake in front of your colleagues.”
- “What moment in your career required the most adaptation – and how did you rise to the occasion?”
What they really mean:
- Are we going to have to micromanage you?
- If we train you, will it stick?
- Will you take credit for the ideas of others or work as a self-reliant but collaborative team member?
- We don’t expect you to be perfect. But do you act on feedback and improve where you can?
You can work to target – but how much attention do you pay to the finer details? How exacting are your quality standards? Are you happy just churning out crap, or do you ensure your work holds up under scrutiny?
Your interviewer wants to know that your eye for detail matches your passion for your work.
Questions your interviewer might ask:
- “Give an example of a time when the success of a project depended on your thoroughness.”
- “How regularly do you take your work home with you?”
- “Define your priority management process.”
What they really mean
- Are we actually going to get good work out of you that makes us money?
- Are you going to be efficient and effective during the given work day?
- How do you organize your day to get your work done most efficiently?
Deadlines are looming, shifts are challenging, and clients are breathing down your neck. The hiring manager wants reassurance that you can weather the worst storms, ride out personal circumstances, and deliver tangible results.
You could be the most moral person in the world, with the keenest eye for fine details – but if your interviewer gets a sense that you’ll fold under the slightest bit of pressure, it’s back to the job search for you.
Questions your interviewer might ask:
- “How do you process failures and bounce back from them?”
- “Describe the last time you needed to improve a process at work – what roadblocks did you face, and was the project a success?”
- “Explain the last longer-term project you worked on – how did you remain focused?”
What they really mean
- Can you handle it?
- We are periodically going to crank up your workload and expect unwavering focus. Will you be able to manage that?
- Will you continually phone in sick?
- Can we rely on you during high-stress scenarios?
How to frame your self-worth to an interviewer
So, that’s covered the role your prospective employers play – gatekeepers for the value you can add. So how do you meet these lofty standards?
They’re not trying to “catch you out.” And if you see it that way, you were never who they’re looking for. Qualitative interviews are crucial for assessing who you are over and above the numbers you’re capable of producing.
Build a mental “resume of moments.”
We can’t tell you what examples of integrity and diligence to use – they’re from your career, skillset, values, and experience. What we can say to you is this: You have to build yourself a reference library.
Most employees keep a separate file of “wins” and “challenges.” When they’re approaching that all-important pay/performance appraisal, they instantly have a grab bag of achievements and moments during which they can show they added value to their team.
You should have precisely the same approach for interviews. Find examples in your work history (recent or otherwise) of situations where:
- You worked fluidly and efficiently within a team.
- Showed discipline, perseverance, and diligence to work solo toward a target or put in extra work using your initiative.
- You handled, oversaw, or contributed to the solution of a crisis.
- Adapted during a time of significant change or upheaval.
- By having examples of each value-adding quality to hand, you can match up to more or less any question they throw at you.
Be a STAR.
Knowing the hidden agendas behind interview questions can help you figure out the attribute being tested by the hiring manager. But scattering the moments from your mental resume around the interviewer with reckless abandon will look random.
You need to answer the actual question they’re asking.
It’s essential to have a structural framework for presenting these value-affirming scenarios from your work history. Meet STAR:
- Situation: What was the problem that needed fixing? What was at stake for the business?
- Task: What were your immediate objectives in terms of finding a solution?
- Action: What did you do to meet the demand? Did you go above and beyond to find a solution? What processes did you put in place to reduce the risk of the situation arising a second time?
- Result: What happened as a result of your actions?
This is one of the most efficient ways to frame your self-worth and fiscal value to the employer, combining qualitative attributes with tangible results – all in a way that makes narrative sense.
Do your homework on the interviewers.
You might feel like a cell sample under a microscope when it comes to interviews. But a great way to demonstrate value is to know who you’re talking to and direct your answers to them.
Very often, interviewees will get a list of the people who are running the interview. They might not even be from the department overseeing your role – as we’ve mentioned, companies like to cross-pollinate resources between different areas and departments.
If you’re talking to a pretty varied panel of interviewers, emphasize how well you collaborate in your answers. They clearly value collaboration if they’re asking for the opinions of leaders from other departments about potential hires. From your resume of moments, pull up examples that showcase your flair for working with others.
For example, you may be applying for a role in accounts. But you get the names of your interviewers, and you see that the Head of Sales will also be joining the meeting by video chat. Putting two and two together, you note that Sales and Accounts will be collaborating pretty heavily.
So it’s going to make a whole lot of sense to talk about times you’ve worked across functions to get sh*t done with Sales in a previous role.
They’ve already seen your resume. They know you’re valuable. But it’s about showing you can value-add for them in their day-to-day responsibilities.
The tricky questions
Particular questions tend to trip people up in interviews. They’re less scenario-based and more values-based. They’re super qualitative and need more depth than other questions – but you also need to keep your answers laser-focused.
The hiring managers aren’t only interested in what you answer but how you present yourself and the way you frame your response.
Let’s hone in on those wide-open questions to give you some context and navigate your responses.
“What are your key strengths?”
“Oh, I’m just a really hard worker, and I’m good with people.” Nope. Won’t cut it. Sorry. While it can seem like a trap, this question is an opportunity to showcase your best elements. You’ve been in your industry for years. You know what you’re good at by now.
An interviewer needs to make sure your strengths fill a gap in a way that makes you worth paying. If they’re adding you to the team, they need to make damn sure you can do the job and know it inside out.
So hoist your flag up the MAST and show the interviewer what you’ve got!
You need to pick strengths that are:
- Measurable: The easier it is to quantify your skills, the better. That’s why you need to demonstrate qualifications or commission figures throughout your answers. “I have a Ph.D. in Computer Science for MIT” is a better strength to list than “I’m pretty good at computers,” for example.
- Actively useful for that particular role: Pick strengths that match the job description. “I’m great with kids” isn’t going to get you far in your interview for Head of Security at a research lab.
- Specific: Show your experience with a particular program, technique, or skillset. “I’m fluent in coding C++” is a strength a company may well want to see, for example, if they’re hiring C++ coders.
- Talent-oriented: Think about more qualitative benefits you’d have over any other candidate. Are you fluent in another language? Are you a master problem-solver? How are you at team-building or nurturing others? It’s so vital to mention talents that transcend departmental responsibilities.
It’s worth knowing these strengths whether or not you’re asked this question. If you can narrow your list down to five or even three strengths that can add value, you can answer with confidence, safe in the knowledge you can back up whatever response you give.
Using the STAR format mentioned above, make sure you prepare examples. Citing unsupported strengths equates to nothing but hot air.
“What are your weaknesses?”
Look – we all have weaknesses. You know this, and the interviewer knows this. So answering, “I don’t know,” or, “I’m pretty much perfect, so I can’t really answer,” means you’re going to come across like a Grade-A jerk.
(Don’t say “Perfectionism” either – that just shows a complete lack of self-awareness.)
You have to be honest. The interviewer isn’t interested in what the weaknesses are (although if you answer “basic math” in an accountancy interview, you might have a few problems).
Instead, they’re looking to confirm your:
- Honesty and integrity.
- Level of self-awareness.
- Willingness to overcome and build on these weaknesses to achieve extraordinary things with the company.
Plus, if you know and accept your weaknesses, it means you can develop.
So pick a real weakness. Structure your admission of weakness in the following way to reduce its impact on your standing in the interview:
- Own up to your weakness.
- Frame it in a positive light, or mention that it hasn’t yet damaged performance in a meaningful way.
- Discuss how you have worked to overcome it. “Having a weakness” doesn’t mean you still suck at something – it just means that there’s been a slight crease in your workflow that you’ve had to work harder at than other attributes.
Weaknesses that aren’t going to be a thorn in your side include:
- Public speaking
- Patience with others
- Being upfront with people when you need something
When structuring your response, it helps to give ORAL.
“Erm, what? Haven’t these acronyms gone too far now?”
Well, you’ll remember it, won’t you?
- Ownership: “I’m not naturally a very organized person…
- Reframing: “…but I’ve managed to maintain great performance and keep my results top-tier regardless. Still, I’m aware that this has acted as a roadblock to efficiency in the past .”
- And Learning: “I’ve learned to put aside half an hour every week to reorganize my workspace and schedule. This way, I’ve been able to face up to my organizational difficulties and get the best results for my team.”
Ensure you know your weaknesses before you go into the interview, and practice your whole spiel before turning up. Having weaknesses is fine. You’re human. You can still add value despite them, and there is always a way to show this value to your hiring manager.
“Tell me about yourself.”
Ugh. It’s so easy to overthink this. After all, do you talk about your current job? Family? Golf score? Your values? There are so many sides to an individual. Where to start?
Here’s the thing: You’re in a job interview. You can come across as a well-rounded, functional member of society in how you communicate. In terms of the contents, though, consider this your opportunity to elevator pitch the heck out of the interviewers.
They want to know where you’re at, how you got there, and what you want to do next. Get to the point while you’re SAT there:
- Sum up your present. What’s your current role? Identify the scope of it, and highlight a recent achievement.
- Address your past journey. The interviewer doesn’t need your life story. Simply mention previous experience that’s relevant to the role for which you’re applying.
- Talk about your plans with their company. What do you want to achieve next? Why are you interested in that particular job? Show them what they will gain from your employment with them directly.
You can whirlwind through this answer in under 2 minutes without much difficulty. Sure, they want to see that you’re a human being with goals outside of work – but don’t kid yourself. You’re there because you’ve made other people money before, and you want to show the hiring manager that you can make money for them, too.
What can you contribute to this role / team?
The trick to answering this question is knowing that they can already picture your contribution. After all, they’re familiar with your resume, and you’ve likely made it through a few rounds of the interview process.
This question is a gift – they’re practically cueing you up to give details on the value you can add to their operation.
Your resume will list attributes you have or responsibilities you fulfilled in previous roles. This is your chance to go into more detail. It’s time to GEAR up and get this f*cking job.
Use the following process:
1. Give real, detailed examples of how your skills worked in previous settings.
Say you fronted a sales project at your last company.
- What were you selling?
- How many colleagues did you oversee?
- What were your targets – and what was your specific role in smashing them to bits?
- How did you organize people to meet deadlines?
Mention your approach to collaboration, too. The interviewers don’t just want to know your skills – they want to see the value those skills have added in real terms.
2. Elaborate on your skills.
You’ve listed your skills on your resume. Repeating that you’re a good leader will solve nothing.
However, a more supported response would be: “I used recent leadership training to establish targets, lead by example, follow up with teammates who were falling behind, and work with my team to use their skills to find solutions.”
Your personality, experience, skillset, and training are all value-adding attributes – be sure to demonstrate these when asked about what you can contribute.
3. Link your skills to what the company does.
You’ve seen those apps where you can put your face on Tom Cruise’s body or Charlie’s Angels, right? The interviewer is going for a less dramatic version of that – they’re trying to picture your skillset at work in their sales team.
It’s essential to go into the interview with a genuine vision of how you’d approach selling a particular product from their inventory using your sales leadership skills. It shows you’ve done your research on the company and can start bringing in ideas (and adding value) from day one.
Treat the interview like the first day on the job.
4. Robust claims are backed with data.
The hiring manager has to justify the decision to bring you onboard to their higher-ups. So give them data to work with.
Not all jobs provide performance data – but most jobs offer some you can use. Whether it’s commission figures, quality scores on customer service, article clicks for writing jobs, or production numbers in manufacturing, there will be some metric by which a company has measured your success.
Even the number of times you hit your monthly deadlines or targets, any awards you won, or your last annual review score can help your interviewer form a tangible, numerical picture of the value you can add.
Questions *you* should be asking *them*
“It’s been great speaking to you. Do you have anything you want to ask before we wrap up?”
Don’t treat this as some throwaway moment. An interview is not just about you proving the value you add – it also involves having the interviewer sell their company to you. The harder you make them pitch the role to you, the more they’ll unconsciously want to put you in it.
The questions you ask at the end will be vital in turning the tables on the hiring manager.
These might include:
- How do they reward and value staff who go above and beyond? Not just standard perks – ask specifically if they incentivize high performers and overachievers. Does their output (the benefits) match your input (your hard work)?
- How do they train and grow their employees? Do they have internal development programs or pay for courses and qualifications related to your role? A company should invest in its people and their progress. Will they place a stake in yours?
- What is their company culture like? Which attributes of their social environment, benefits, events calendar, and communication set them apart from their competitors? Will working there just feel like a job rather than an immersive culture?
- What challenges do they face with their employees or finding the right employee? Is it really a problem with sourcing the right talent, or does the work/reward ratio push the most qualified individuals into the hands of their competition?
- What’s the average employee turnaround time? How long does the average employee work for the company before moving on?
- I recently read about your company’s new product/restructure/merger/collaboration in the news. Would you like to hear some ideas that I think could help? It’s vital to read up on the company’s latest developments before you head into an interview. When you bring it up as a question at the end of an interview, you’re demonstrating that you can take the initiative, show interest, and solve problems.
- Is there anything the interviewer’s learned about you that would serve as a roadblock for hiring you? Make the interviewer identify any potential hiccups and address them there and then. This shows a great deal of self-awareness and accountability.
Some of the questions during your interview might seem deceptively vague. But you’ll be able to flip any question round to your value-adding attributes if you:
- Dedicate time to being self-aware about your strengths and weaknesses as part of your interview prep.
- Always have concrete examples of instances where your value-adding attributes have paid dividends for previous employers – including data, where that applies.
- Then, paint a picture of how the hiring manager can capitalize on this value-adding attribute. Know your audience (the interviewers) and their roles in the company, and target your responses in ways that show them how you’ll make their job easier.
The special code to crack with interviews is that there is no special code. Yes, there are questions within the questions they’re asking – but they all want to know the same thing – That they’ll get value from you in return for the wages they give you.
Team Vippi wants to help connect you with the most value-adding parts of yourself. If interviewers don’t want to get in on that deal, it’s their loss.