Alchemy or Chemistry?


Co-hosting an interview workshop with peer @AdrianBates, we discussed the underestimated importance of making connections and building relationships during the recruitment process. Is this Alchemy - a mythical art of turning base materials into precious metals; rooted in ancient wisdom, for only a few to discover and then be rewarded by endless riches? Or is it Chemistry – a latter day science that any of us can acquire with enough practice?


Having spent time in executive interim recruitment I thought back to the bright-eyed hopefuls sat across the interview table. Every suitable candidate had equal chance to showcase their skills and experience. Fortunately, many succeeded in creating that vital spark, but others’ reactions varied from damp squib to lethal explosion.


It’s very easy for candidates to freeze when faced with (seemingly) innocuous questions; “Why do you want this job? Some burst into tears, but, with even the best will in the world, we couldn’t give someone a contract out of sympathy. Others bubbled over with enthusiasm when asked; “What are you most proud of”, to finish speaking at least 15 minutes’ later seemingly without needing to draw breath. Even after making allowances for style and cultural differences, that could soon become tedious and even threaten to turn the air toxic.


Although succeeding at interview appears to be shrouded in mystery, to do so is eminently discoverable. Yes, it takes time to understand the company and their situation; eg, through a SWOT or SOAR analysis. No, it is not pointless to research likely questions and practice answers as solutions evidenced by your achievements. These are essential work skills, albeit applied earlier on in your next career move.


As for chemistry, building rapport is not a complex science. Keeping calm and paying attention to your own patterns and behaviours are also great places to start. Building rapport with the interviewer means paying attention to their pace and timing too. There needs to be interest and engagement on both sides: Having your own questions ready is also a vital ingredient – believe it or not!


There are few things an interviewer wants more than the warm and happy glow of helping the right person to progress along the next stage of their career. Like Alchemy and Chemistry, it takes practice and perseverance on both sides, but the return on investment is golden.


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