When interviewing — structure your communication to a solutions-oriented mindset
A long time ago, a friend was trying to get an internship at a software company where I was working. I was not the hiring manager but wished very much that he could join. After the interview, he said that it was great. On the other hand, the hiring manager said that it wasn’t because of a communications problem. When I first approached the manager asking him to try again, he said he could not do that because he was incredibly busy. Long story short: the stars have aligned. He got the job and became a top engineer for that company.
The default route, however, is more like the following case, which is my story. Recently, I failed in the process for a product manager position. In the analysis that you will see, I bring reflections about evident communication problems. I hope that my case serves to help you to consider how communication structure is vital in meetings where the audience requires a solutions-oriented mindset.
My interview situation lasted for 30 minutes. The interviewer was a product manager. She knew that I didn’t have a prior title of a product manager — that I was a generalist, an entrepreneur. As the interview progressed, I had the feeling that I was doing great. After the interview, however, I got feedback from the company that I didn’t do good. I could not get detailed feedback from them about what different meant. Nevertheless, it became clear that we didn’t talk about important things that I would want to cover for a product manager role.
During the interview, we started with an introduction but quickly engaged in talking about experiences. The interviewer helped me to pick a topic. She has suggested talking about a project related to one of the start-ups that I have executed. I felt that I was in the right place at the right time, with a lot to be said. Now, in retrospect, I can say that this initial idea of “a lot to talk about” was one of the elements that didn’t help:
Having a lot to talk about — the problem with narratives
That topic related to a period of 5 years of my life. It was a start-up that became a consulting business and I certainly had a lot to talk about. Since I didn’t know lean methods at the time, my strategy of communication consisted in telling her the story of that business but at the same time contrast with lessons learned of lean processes. Consider the following mistakes:
- Presenting a narrative may correlate with a lack of structure.
- The attempt to mix a chronological narrative with lessons learned is quite complex.
- I had no control if I would be able to cover all lessons learned in the given time.
- I didn’t tell the interviewer of I was doing that. The roadmap for the story with lessons.
Therefore, I have followed a mix between doing a narrative but trying to jump to conclusions from the narrative — as in trying to tell her that I have acquired knowledge about my past mistakes.
Connecting complex ideas in the interview does not mean good progress
I felt that e have developed a connection. I was particularly proud that I have indicated that I was executing a start-up like a business; and that such behavior was a big mistake from a lean perspective. I have also presented that I was offering too many services, like a large business, instead of coordinating smaller MVP experiments which would be a better approach considering lean methods.
Considering how old that startup was, I was confident that I connected with the product manager side of the discussion. The conversation reached the end and I was happy. Although I loved the process, I knew that we didn’t talk about an array of experiences that I have acquired related to lean processes — processes such as Canvas, Customer Development, Job to be Done, Qualitative Interviews, and others.
Missing what matters
While I felt a connection during the interview, we didn’t connect with what mattered for the role of a product manager. It became clear that I was using the topics of my narrative as the opportunity to reveal to the interviewer that I also had better knowledge which was later acquired.
Having no guide or using the wrong roadmap
Although it was a remote interview for a product manager, the interviewer was looking at a résumé of myself as a technical writer. It turned out that I have entered the interview process from the technical writer role but they have identified the possibility where I could be a product manager. That degree of flexibility was a plus but I missed the fact that it was a complication that required an even better organization in terms of communication.
Not having a guide for us was a big problem. Even if she had my generalist résumé, it would make much more sense. What she had, on the other hand, was my experience filtered for a technical writer audience:
Another major problem is that I didn’t have the same résumé in front of me. So she was looking at something, picking things to talk about, and I was remembering. Although I knew that she had the wrong résumé, I didn’t consider helping and being clear about the fact that we had better experience topics to talk about. It seemed okay to move forward.
When the interview was over, I had a better understanding that I didn’t have time to tell her about what I knew related to lean processes.
Structured communication and clarity about what you are going to cover
When looking at the situation in retrospect, I have found 3 major blocks of experiences that were relevant for a product manager. The following picture puts three experiences that would make more sense to go on before focusing in the topic that we spend time:
I want to wrap up a few notes that can help in situations of giving presentations for solutions-oriented audiences:
First — look at the premises and the initial communication effort before the meeting. That product manager had done her homework and spent time reasoning on top of the résumé she had received from me. If I had a bit more compassion for her preparation work and her company time, I would have told her that she had a résumé that was not the right one — followed by an apology. I would have informed her that I had more than five years of experience with lean processes with other projects.
Second — high levels of empathy can lead to confusion. That interviewer, as a product manager, was good at developing a qualitative conversation. Therefore, she was doing right and allowed me to develop more and explain my experience to her. But with that said, I embraced what seemed to be great and allowed myself to use the time in the wrong direction.
Third — lack of context during the meeting. If I had structured the communication, I would have the context to support the meeting to be brought to the right topics. If I had a deck of slides, it would be clear that I was flipping over many relevant experiences. The visual aid of where we are — in the timeline — would have provided real-time feedback supporting course correction as the meeting progressed.