Minnesota Cities Magazine
More from Sep-Oct 2017 issue

St. Paul to City Hall: The Art of the Job Interview

David Unmacht, LMC executive directorBy David Unmacht

I write this column on the two-year anniversary of my tenure as executive director and on the eve of a deliberately arduous and important interview process for the newly created deputy director position here at the League of Minnesota Cities. The response to the posting of this job opportunity was overwhelming; a total applicant pool unlike any I have experienced in my career.

The individual that will be selected for this position will succeed on three fundamental principles: (1) How well they fit with our members, mission, and culture; (2) How well they meet or exceed our expectations of leadership; and (3) How well they present themselves and their skills during the intensive interviews. The last principle is the focus of this column.

The Art of the Job InterviewIn my career, augmented and greatly advanced during my six-plus years in executive recruitment, I participated in and witnessed hundreds of interviews. I experienced many interviews of widely divergent quality—the good, the bad, and the ugly!

Through all of it, I developed a keen understanding of the psychology and practice of job interviews. With near 100 percent accuracy, I knew within the first few minutes whether a candidate would interview well and either move on in the process or receive a job offer. The collective experiences of these interviews helped me considerably in getting ready for the interview process for the executive director position here. Over the course of several weeks, in my quest for this job during the spring of 2015, I got to practice what I preached.

Here are four tips for mastering the art of interviewing that both interviewers and interviewees should consider.

1. Be prepared
It is always obvious which candidates are prepared. The best candidates offer insights on the position and place by conducting research on the organization and people, and by learning and understanding the mission, vision, and culture to determine if the job and employer match their values. The best candidates bring a working and conversational knowledge about the organization. Prior to the interview, applicants should ask who will participate in the interview and what their names and positions are.

2. Predict and practice
Public-sector administrators don’t typically do a lot of practicing for their job. Our profession doesn’t involve hitting a baseball or dancing in a theater, which demand repetition and consistency. However, the job interview is one area where it helps to practice, and also to predict. Interviewing is a true art form that requires both prediction and practice. It is important to predict and anticipate questions and then practice responses. Watch for self-confidence exhibited through body language; that’s when you know who practiced and who didn’t.

3. Develop a good sense of timing
One of the worst interviews I’ve witnessed was with a candidate who knew the interview was 45 minutes with 10 pre-determined questions. He took 20 minutes to answer the first question. The panel of board members, including me, wrote him off after 10 minutes. In another bad experience, at the end of the interview a candidate was asked if she had any questions for the council. She pulled out a sheet of paper and said, “Yes, I have a list of 15 questions.” I stepped in immediately and said, “No, that won’t work.” True stories. Jobs and careers are often lost or won based on the candidate’s sense of timing during interviews.

4. Display key personal qualities
Personal qualities may be the easiest to identify and judge. Three traits are most important: eye contact, personal energy, and the handshake. When introducing themselves, or responding to questions, candidates should make direct eye contact. Connecting with the interviewers is vitally important. Interviewers are looking for candidates who bring the room to life; bring passion and personal energy to the engagement; and motivate the questioners to get to know them. Successful candidates avoid monotone responses, and alter their tone and tenor with short stories and real examples. Finally, a weak introductory handshake isn’t always a bad omen, but it routinely foretells the type of interview that awaits.

Keeping these factors in mind can help you whether you’re interviewing someone or being interviewed for a job. And, incidentally, by the time you read this column, you will know which of the 181 deputy director applicants met the League’s expectations in the art of interviewing.

David Unmacht is executive director of the League of Minnesota Cities. Contact: dunmacht@lmc.org or (651) 281-1205.

Read the Sep-Oct 2017 issue of Minnesota Cities magazine

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