Importance of Communication Skills In An Interview – Tips From Aspect Ratio CEO Shivram Apte
I am writing this post in response to a comment on InsideIIM.com on Part 2 of this series. The question was how can a candidate show positive attitude, humbleness, openness and a teamwork oriented attitude.
MBA students who are going into placement season just about now are not going to like my answer.
I am not sure one can ‘show’ or demonstrate any of these attributes if they are not truly present. These are developed over the years. At best, someone in the first year of an MBA program can start working on internalizing these across the next year. The question then becomes, “Given that I have the right attributes, how can I communicate this fact during the course of an interview?”
One of the pre-requisites to be able to demonstrate these attributes is excellent communication skills. And communication skills are not built easily or quickly. I have found a strong correlation between candidates’ ability to hold an interesting conversation in an interview and how much they love reading. To be a little more specific, people who have grown up reading Enid Blyton, and Nancy Drew and Hardy Boys novels and then graduated to reading more adult fiction, non-fiction and business management books in more recent years, have been able to have more interesting conversations during the interview process. Our most disappointing experiences are with people who claim ‘Reading’ as a hobby on their CV, but are unable to substantiate this claim. When we ask them to tell us about the last couple of books they have read, they are unable to name the books and authors, much less speak to the content of the books. Once in a while, we meet someone who is not an avid reader, but loves watching BBC or CNN and has internalized a good communication style, but these have been outliers.
Given a base level of communication skills, the good candidate will find avenues to speak to his / her strengths without it seeming contrived or like delivering a memorized script. One way that interview panels check for a memorized ‘strengths-and-weaknesses’ script is to start with a question that clearly deflects from the programmed path that the interviewer presumes the interview will take. My personal favourite is to ask the candidate to tell me stuff about himself / herself that is NOT on their CV. Speaking about yourself should be far easier than speaking about any other topic of the interviewers choosing, yet the number of candidates that this simple question seems to trip is surprisingly large.
The best candidates will speak to their strengths in the course of a conversation. I have met a candidate who had read books by Alvin Toffler and we got chatting about those. This person had clearly enjoyed reading the books and could discuss a number of arguments presented by the author. I remember we were chatting for about 50 minutes, clearly exceeding the planned and scheduled 30 minutes. At one point, we found ourselves on opposite sides of the argument and I remember his words distinctly. He said, “I would like to respectfully disagree with you sir. I do believe that there are some things that have turned out in ways not quite in keeping with Mr.Toffler’s predictions.” He then proceeded to make his case with clear evidence. During the conversation, this candidate had clearly demonstrated diligence in that he had indeed read the books he claimed to have read, humility in the way he chose his words while disagreeing with me and an openness in the way he heard my side of the argument as he presented his case. With this particular candidate, the teamwork ethic was not proven during the course of the interview, but by then I was already sure that we were going to schedule one more interview.
To conclude, a candidate would do well to concentrate on improving communication skills in the time between now and interview season. The longer the duration available before the interview, the better the candidate can prepare; for unlike most subjects in our university examinations, communication skills cannot be learned in a week. For a person with great communication skills, it should not be difficult to speak to your strengths during the interview.
– Shivram Apte
Reproduced with permission from Shivram Apte. Originally published at AptReflections.