Developing Your Career

Developing Your Career

Cracking the Code: Winning the Tie-Breaker Interview

By Steve Harrison on September 4, 2013

During my hundreds of meetings with job-seekers over the last 30 years, I always ask, “Have you come close on a job opportunity where you thought you nailed it, only to discover after the last in a long series of interviews, you weren’t selected after all?” What went wrong? The last interview was upbeat and everyone seemed very positive. You’d cleared multiple hurdles and had proven yourself as job qualified, but what happened at the end to tip the scale in favor of another candidate?

Unfortunately, after successfully conducting a series of skill and expertise-specific interviews, many job-seekers are lulled into a false sense of security. The reality is that after the initial interviews and screenings, the hiring manager is no longer simply evaluating your job-specific skills (your interview “sweet-spot”). In the end, it’s less about the tangibles − competence, experience, employment history, achievements and references − and more about the intangibles – who you are beyond just your skills and whether they’d like working with you. Interviewers are looking for indicators of the following:

  • Are you culturally one of us?
  • Can you add value beyond the job requirements?
  • Will you work well in teams?
  • Are you interesting, versatile, adaptable, articulate, curious, energetic, genuine and likeable?

These characteristics can separate you from your competition. “Tiebreaker” interview issues become life stories, revealing character, values, purpose, passion, and chemistry.

I’ve devoted considerable time cracking the hiring “code” to help ensure that “runner-up” is never an outcome, especially after you’ve demonstrated that you are well-qualified to perform the job. What I’ve learned is that in this buyer’s job market, skills-specific “good enough” is simply not enough. Hiring authorities want more, because it’s about their needs, not just yours. It’s about cultural fit, adaptability, curiosity, and team play. As Yogi Berra would say, “It ain’t over ’til it’s over!” so never let yourself get too comfortable.

In the next three posts I’ll share specific tactics that I’ve learned over the years that will help ensure you finish first, clear that last hurdle and get the offer.


Steve is co-founder and Chairman of Lee Hecht Harrison and former chief ethics and compliance officer of Adecco Group. He is a long-time management and corporate culture innovator and author of “The Manager’s Book of Decencies: How Small Gestures Can Build Great Companies.” This is the first in a four-part series from Steve addressing the art of interviewing.

4 Responses to “Cracking the Code: Winning the Tie-Breaker Interview”

  1. Karen

    I am excited to learn more about this topic. I recently experienced what I thought was a homerun but to find out that the company has decided to continue to their search which left me hanging. Was it me? Was it my presentation? Was it my skillset?

  2. Stephanie

    I totally agree! Having the skills to do the job is only half of what you need. If you don’t fit in the culture of the company you are looking into working for; it can be a miserable mismatch.

    • Patty Tanji

      Great point Stephanie. Companies are hiring for culture fit more than ever. How do learn about a company’s culture. You have to ask the people that work there. Informational interviews are great. Don’t wait until the company is desperate to hire. They will tell you everything you want to hear whether its true or not. Know what you value then find out if the companies you’re looking at value the same.


Leave a Reply