Get Noticed in an Interview—What this Non-Profit HR Director Wants to Hear

This month, Austin AMA hosted a professional development SIG “Secrets from the HR Department”, where three Austin-area HR experts participated in a one-hour panel discussion including tips on how to make your resume stand out, give a great interview, ensure your next promotion, and get the most from your HR department.

The following is a Q&A with one of our panelists, Leanne Noskey, MHRM, PHR of the Capital Area Food Bank. Need tips for standing out in an interview and get noticed? Look no further.

Austin AMA: What do you look for in a marketing position candidate?

Leanne: Every business looks for specific characteristics in a person whom they want to work with: some want great IT skills while others want bi-lingual employees. We’re looking for something a little different. We want you to prove that you have a positive attitude and a strong work ethic. No matter what your skill set and background, we believe that if you have determination, persistence and an optimistic outlook, you can succeed in this industry, and this is exactly what we look for in all our employees.

That said, even the most positive person can be tested sometimes, and even those with the brightest outlook can feel overwhelmed by big challenges. Therefore, another value that we look for in all our staff is their ability to be mindful of a long-term plan. Even if a project poses challenges right from the outset, we will overcome them and we will be successful. Remembering that every short-term goal leads to a long-term achievement is key to working on our team.

Finally, we value compassion and understanding. We want individuals who will treat their fellow team members like friends, even family. We want people who will respect the contributions of their colleagues, just as their own contributions are respected. And we want those who support and motivate their co-workers, even when the challenges are hard. What’s more, we want this same compassion, support and understanding to be shown to all our clients, so that we can truly identify and fulfill their needs, whatever they may be.

Austin AMA: What are you looking for in an interviewing and what makes someone standout?

Leanne: In the best interviews, candidates say a lot and I say very little – after all, the interview is about the candidate, not the interviewer. But there are a few things interviewers would like to tell job candidates well before the interview starts.

I want you to be likeable. I want you to smile, make eye contact, sit forward in your chair, and be enthusiastic. The employer-employee relationship truly is a relationship — and that relationship starts with the interview (if not before.) A candidate who makes a great first impression and sparks a real connection instantly becomes a big fish in a very small short-list pond. You may have solid qualifications, but if I don’t think I’ll enjoy working with you, I’m probably not going to hire you. Life is too short.

I don’t want you to immediately say you want the job. Oh, I do want you to want the job — but not before you really know what the job entails. I may need you to work 50-hour weeks, or travel 50% of the time, or report to someone with less experience than you… so sit tight for a bit. No matter how much research you’ve done, you can’t know you want the job until you know everything possible about the job.

I want you to stand out. A sad truth of interviewing is that later I often don’t recall, unless I refer to my notes, a significant amount about some of the candidates. (Unfair? Sure. Reality? Absolutely.) The more people I interview for a job and the more spread out those interviews, the more likely I am to remember a candidate by impressions rather than by a long list of facts. So when I meet with staff to discuss potential candidates I might initially refer to someone as, “the guy with the bizarre stainless steel briefcase,” or “the woman who does triathlons,” or “the gentleman who grew up in Germany.” In short, I may remember you by “hooks” – whether flattering or unflattering – so use that to your advantage. Your hook could be your clothing, or an outside interest, or an unusual fact about your upbringing or career. Better yet your hook could be the project you pulled off in half the expected time or the huge sale you made. Instead of letting me choose, give me one or two notable ways to remember you.

…but not for being negative. There’s no way I can remember everything you say. But I will remember sound bites, especially the negative ones – like the candidates who complain, without prompting, about their current employer, their coworkers, or their customers. So if for example you hate being micro-managed, instead say you’re eager to earn more responsibility and authority. I get there are reasons you want a new job but I want to hear why you want my job instead of why you’re desperate to escape your old job. And keep in mind I’m well aware our interview is like a first date. I know I’m getting the best possible version of “you.” So if you whine and complain and grumble now… I know you’ll be a real treat to be around in a few months.

I want you to ask lots of questions about what really matters to you. I need to know whether I should hire you, but just as importantly I need you to make sure my job is a good fit for you, so I want you to ask lots of questions: what I expect you to accomplish early on, what attributes make our top performers outstanding, what you can do to truly drive results, how you’ll be evaluated—all the things that matter to you and to me and my organization. You know what makes work meaningful and enjoyable to you. I don’t. There’s no other way to really know whether you want the job unless you ask questions.

… but only if the majority of those questions relate to real work. I know you want a positive work-life balance. Still, save all those questions about vacation sign-up policies and whether it’s okay to take an extra half hour at lunch every day if you also stay a half hour late and whether I’ve considered setting up an in-house childcare facility because that would be really awesome for you and your family. First let’s find out if you’re the right person for the job, and whether the tasks, responsibilities, duties, etc. are right for you. Then we can talk about the rest.

I love when you bring a “project.” I expect you to do a little research about my organization. That’s a given. To really impress me, use the research you’ve done to describe how you will hit the ground running and contribute right away – the bigger the impact the better. If you bring a specific skill, show how I can leverage that skill immediately. Remember how I see it: I have to pay your salary starting day one, so I’d love to see an immediate return on that investment starting day one.

At the end I want you to ask for the job… and I want to know why. By the end of the interview you should have a good sense of whether you want the job. If you need more information, say so and let’s figure out how to get what you need to make a decision. If you don’t need more information, do what great salespeople do and ask for the job. I’ll like the fact you asked. I want you to really want the job — but I also want to know why you want the job. So tell me why: You thrive in an unsupervised role, or you love working with multiple teams, or you like frequent travel. Ask me for the job and prove to me, objectively, that it’s a great fit for you.

I want you to follow up… especially if it’s genuine. Every interviewer appreciates a brief follow-up note. If nothing else, saying you enjoyed meeting me and are happy to answer any other questions is nice. But “nice” may not separate you from the pack. What I really like – and remember – is when you follow up based on something we discussed. Maybe we talked about data collection techniques and you send me information about a set of tools you strongly recommend. Maybe we talked about quality and you send me a process checklist you developed that I could adapt to use in my organization. Or maybe we both like rowing, so you send me a photo of you and your crew at the Head of the Charles in Boston (and I’m totally jealous.) The more closely you listened during the interview, the easier it is to think of ways to follow up in a natural and unforced way.

Remember, we’re starting a relationship — and even the most professional of relationships are based on genuine interactions. 

C. Leanne Noskey, MHRM, PHR

Director of Human Resources,  Capital Area Food Bank of Texas

Leanne joined CAFB in June 2011. She holds a PHR and is credentialed in Texas as a Mediator. She brings with her 15+ years’ experience in human resources with both the public and private sectors.

Leanne grew up in Canada but now calls Austin home. She graduated from St. Edwards University with a Master’s Degree in Human Resources Management and a Master’s Degree in Conflict Negotiation. In her spare time, she is also an adjunct faculty member at three area institutions where she teaches undergraduate and graduate courses in human resources and business.



Leave a Reply