Standing Out in the Interview

How Young Professionals Stand Out In Social Enterprise Interviews

Not long ago, Josh Notes, COO of GreeNEWit, was hiring for an energy auditor position. There were three great candidates with similar education and work experience. Josh couldn’t decide which one was the best fit for the role so he asked each candidate what separated them from the other candidates. One explained that she was pretty handy. If something went wrong on the job, she could probably fix it herself instead of call Josh. That was all Josh needed to hear. She got the job. 

At GreeNEWit, a renewable energy services company in Maryland, every hire counts. One of Josh's most important roles is to look for talented professionals that blend technical competence, communications skills and confidence in their work.

But what makes one candidate stand out among a field of highly qualified applicants is a craving for responsibility and a love for solving problems. “I wish more people would call me up and say, ‘Josh, you have a problem and here’s how I can fix it.’” Josh explains. If that person could make a legitimate business case for their solution, Josh would seriously consider hiring them whether there was a position open or not.

Josh’s approach to interviewing is similar to what I’ve heard from many small social enterprises. Once you’re in the interview process, a hiring manager has already decided you fit the skill and experience qualifications. Now they’re looking for what doesn’t show up in a resume – your character and personality as well as your enthusiasm and preparedness for the role.

Lack of preparedness is the biggest weakness of potential hires, according to hiring managers I’ve talked with over the last few months. Highly qualified candidates walk into interviews with little knowledge of the organization, let alone having anything prepared in advance. This is a huge mistake considering the most important part of any interview for hiring managers like Josh is assessing a candidate’s ability to help achieve the goals of the organization.  

How can you weave opportunities and solutions into your interviews with social enterprise hiring managers? Here are a few ideas.

Before The Interview

Identifying opportunities begins with researching the organization and the hiring manager. Explore their website for new initiatives and gaps in their current offerings. Investigate what the hiring manager is interested in from what they post online and the groups or networks they join. Use Linkedin to research the competitive landscape. If the organization is a nonprofit, pull their 990 and do a quick financial analysis to get a sense of how the organization is doing and where they are prioritizing resources. Take all the information you gather and hypothesize opportunities that exist where you can add value. The goal is not to be presumptuous, rather eager to learn and help where you can.  

During the Interview

Once you get to the interview, it’s time to make the hiring manager feel less like they’re sitting across the table from you, and more like they’re sitting in an adjacent cubicle. Turn the interview into a brainstorming session by sharing your analysis of the organization's challenges and the potential solutions you’ve considered. To better inform you answers, you can ask for additional context by explaining that you applied for the role as it was written and are curious about the strategic goals of the role. Let the conversation and ideas flow and be sure to summarize points and emphasize why you’re well positioned to execute on those points.

After the Interview

Once the interview is over, take the time to reflect on the questions asked and ideas brainstormed while they’re fresh in your mind. Refine the highest potential ideas you discussed and expand on points you feel you did not answer adequately. Share these ideas in the thank-you note that you send to the hiring manager.  Hiring managers are used to customary thank-you notes, but will be impressed by a brief summary of your reflection. Your summary should clarify and emphasize the points you were trying to make, and convey that you are invested in pursuing the opportunities discussed in the interview. Again, without being presumptuous, give the hiring manager the sense that you’re already committed to adding value.

From what I’ve heard from hiring managers, this process will truly set you apart from a field of applicants who come to interviews with canned responses and polite questions. When you can effectively point out an opportunity and explain how you are positioned can capitalize on it for the organization, you give hiring managers every reason they need to employ you, even if it’s not in the original role being hired.  

Ready to impress in your next interview? Josh at GreeNEWit is hiring another energy auditor / analyst in Columbia, MD. He wants to know how you can solve problems that will lead to sales and growth for GreeNEWit.