What They Did Right BEFORE the Interview

June 22, 2012

Five minutes into an interview, I can easily tell how well a person has prepared for our meeting.

Some individuals like to interview so they can practice talking about themselves.

The real winners, though, are those who focus on helping me connect the dots between my needs (first priority) and their qualifications (secondary priority). An interviewee can connect those dots only if he or she has thoroughly prepared ahead of time.

Two weeks ago I interviewed several stellar applicants for a key communications job. I observed certain characteristics among those who interviewed well, and it became obvious that prior to our meeting they had done the following:

  1. They studied the organization to learn about our strengths and weaknesses. They came into the meeting with a basic understanding of the opportunities and threats we faced. They had done their due diligence.
  2. From their research, they saw opportunities where they could make a difference. They envisioned the unique impact they could have. Prior to coming into the meeting with me, they had already connected the dots in their own mind.
  3. They anticipated that I might invite them to, “Tell me about yourself.” They rehearsed their response so it was not a redundant, verbal summary of what I’d already seen on their resume. Instead, they customized their “positioning statements” so they could describe themselves in a differentiated way. Read the rest of this entry »

10 Tips for Interviewing Success

April 7, 2010

Last week I was invited by a colleague to participate in the final round of interviews for a key position on her team. As I talked with the five finalists, I observed certain characteristics among those who interviewed exceptionally well. Afterward I jotted down a few notes that might be helpful to others who are preparing for a job interview.

First, be aware that by the time you are scheduled for an interview you have already cleared several hurdles. Apparently you said something in your cover letter to differentiate yourself from the herd of other applicants. The content of your resume indicates that you’ve met the essential criteria listed in the job description. Without question, the person interviewing you has already Googled your name to find any additional information contained in your digital footprint.

Congratulations! You’re on base and in scoring position. You haven’t yet crossed home plate, though, so here are my coaching tips. To emerge the winner, here are several items to remember:

  1. Be yourself. If you don’t feel comfortable “in your own skin” during the interview, that might be an indication that you won’t be comfortable in the job itself.
  2. Exchange enough information so both parties can make a rational decision about whether this will be a good match. Don’t think of the interview as “selling” yourself. Think of it as a first date where you’re just talking to see if there’s potential for a long-term relationship.
  3. Tell stories. Make them interesting. Make them brief. Read the rest of this entry »

What Can You Do?

September 24, 2009

—Making promises during a job search

I was once being interviewed for an executive job in Ohio. At the time I had not yet completed my master’s degree, so I asked the company CEO if that would work against me. “I don’t care how much you know,” he replied. “I want to know what you can do.”

During a job interview, the hiring manager is not thinking about you. He’s thinking about himself. He’s not concerned about your success, your knowledge or your experience—except as it relates to him and to his success, his profitability and his ability to look good.

With that realization, you should focus your job search communication on what you can do. Occasionally you may need to mention your degree, your experience or your achievements. But those should always be presented as evidence of what you can do in the future.

Twice I’ve hired candidates who presented me with a list of things they intended to accomplish during their first 90 days on the job. Admittedly the lists needed revision, but I was impressed to know that the applicants were already thinking about the work needing to be done. Both candidates sold me on what they could do, not on what they knew, where they’d come from or what they had done. They demonstrated that they were already engaged and eager to get started. Momentum was already building. I appreciated the thinking that both individuals had shown, and I rewarded them with key leadership opportunities on my already-successful marketing team.

Making “campaign promises” during a job search requires a combination of two important elements—introspection and research.

Introspection. Before you really know what you can do, you have to look inside yourself and become fully aware of what you have already done, where you’ve been successful and what types of work have made you feel most alive and productive. You then have a good idea of what you can do.

Research. To find the ideal match for you, you will also need to research market trends, study the major projects of targeted companies and understand the priorities of the hiring manager. You will be well positioned to achieve exceptional success when there is alignment between a) what you can do and b) what they need.

My advice to anyone in a career transition is to talk about what you can do. In other words, change the sentence, “I’m looking for a job in ______________.” to “I’m looking for an opportunity where I can ______________.”

Many LinkedIn status reports describe the type of job the person is looking for. I was impressed, though, when one of my jobless friends stated that he was “looking for a sales opportunity where I can generate exceptional revenue.” He talked about what he could do. Before long he found a great job and is now doing what he promised he could do—making sales and generating revenue.

So my question of you is:  What can you do?

What Have You Done?

September 22, 2009

—Telling your story during a job search

When I’m interviewing someone for a job, I’m always impressed when he or she confidently talks about career achievements. Those who interview well are those who describe their accomplishments in a story format, and the ones who rise to the top are those who tell their stories in three parts—a beginning, a middle and an end.

You can effectively describe your achievements if you tell stories that cover these three things:

  1. The situation. Describe the circumstances you found yourself in. Perhaps you were given a problem that needed to be fixed. Or maybe you were assigned to lead a project with declining revenues or eroding market share. Maybe you inherited a team with low morale or poor productivity. Describe the problem (but no whining, please).
  2. Your action. Then, talk about what you did to address the situation. Maybe you developed a plan and implemented new procedures or systems. Perhaps you hired and trained new employees, coaching them to work together cohesively as a team. Maybe you identified an untapped market for your product or services.
  3. The results. As a result of your actions, what measurable impact did you have? What positive results did you produce? How was your department, your organization or the community a better place because of what you did?

When describing what you’ve accomplished, talk in the first person, using “I” rather than “we“—even if you were part of a team effort. I’ve sometimes interrupted interviewees who were proudly describing what their team had accomplished. I asked them to tell me specifically what their individual contribution was to the team’s success.

I recommend that you develop nine success stories using this formula (situation, action and results). Why nine? Because I love the rule of threes. You can always remember three things when you don’t have access to your notes and the pressure is on. So here’s how I came up with nine stories for your portfolio:

Three Positioning Themes. Select three broad categories that represent your professional accomplishments. These should be three differentiating attributes you want someone to know about you. Your interview answers should be anchored on these themes so that at the conclusion of the interview the other person will remember at least these three things about you.

Three Success Stories. For each theme, develop three stories describing your success in that area. Stories are memorable and will bring to life the three themes. Each story should be written, edited, honed and practiced. Then, during an interview, you’ll be able to tell the stories in an engaging, conversational tone.

It works best to have various versions of each story so you can adapt it to the specific situation. Sometimes you might need to be very succinct, telling your story in just one sentence. (“Faced with declining sales, I identified an untapped market and increased our revenue by 12% the first year.) By the way, the one-sentence version of your story should also be a bullet point in your resume. Other times the listener will want more information and you’ll be able to flesh out the details and tell a more complete story.

With the right preparation, you can approach your next interview with a relaxed confidence, knowing you’re just having a conversation with someone who wants to hear an interesting story.

…and they all lived happily ever after!

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