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Interview Effectively and Destroy your Competition – Part 2

November 18, 2009 2 comments

In the last post I rambled on about the 5 most important basics that every one of us must be solid on in order to interview effectively. Now I’m really going to get into the interesting stuff: how to differentiate ourselves from the crowd and convince the hiring manager that she absolutely must hire us.

An interview truly is no different from any other sales call. Product knowledge  and market research are essential to success, and from there features, benefits and a close can be built. Rather than simply answering questions, we set ourselves up for success by identifying a need in the buyer and presenting the product in such a way that the need is not only met, but redefinied as an opportunity to be capitalized on.

The first place to start market research is in the job posting and/or job description. Most often employers will spell out exactly what they are looking for, so use it as a cheat sheet. Examine the posting in detail, looking for repeated phrases such as customer service, technichal knoledge, leadership abilities, or attention to detail. Those will give you a clearer picture of what the job will end up looking like. Use that information to decide if the job fits what you’re offering. Titles can be misleading, and finding a job that’s a good fit requires some digging.

If you’re still interested and believe that you can be truly excellent at the described role, start thinking about specific examples of times when you have done exactly what they’re asking for. Examples can come from work experience, school projects, teams, clubs or even family life. These stories will come in very handy in the interview. 

Next, Linkedin! If you’re not on it, stop reading and go create a profile. A good Linkedin network can be leveraged in several different ways and is so much more than just a way to keep track of your contacts. At the top right corner of your homepage there is a search bar. Click the dropdown, select Companies, and search your prospective employer. The result will be a company profile and a list of the people in your network who have connections to that business. Obviously a big win is finding a person in your first level who works or has worked for the company, but almost as helpful are the 2nd level’ers. These are contacts of yours who have contacts who currently work at the company you’re trying to get a job at. Call those people and have them get you in touch with their network. Get on the phone with that person and pick his brain about the business, where it’s headed, what the position is really like and what the company values. This conversation can be a huge leg-up when it comes to matching your features with the benefits that the interviewers are looking for.

The next logical step is researching the company’s website, the sites of its suppliers, competition and pertners. The candidate who can walk in and talk about the company’s current situation and opportunities based on research looks like an instant rockstar. Use your creativity in this section too, some other areas to research could be: recent LRB decisions, StatsCan demographics for the target market, recent legislation and Google Trends.

Now you’re ready for the interview. You’ve got your suit, screened your references, activated your network and are carrying a professional portfolio cantaining your resume and work samples – on to first impressions.

Smile! People like people who are positive, and people hire people they like. It’s as simple as that.

Research will likely have uncovered who the ultimate decision maker is, but if you’re still unsure, pay attention to the introductions. The hiring manager will rarely be the first to shake your hand, but will most often be the second person you meet. In my experience, the person who screened the interview, booked the room and made the contacts will come out to shake your hand and make the introductions. That is usually the HR assistant, Admin assistant, or HR manager, depending on the size of the company. Naturally, she will want to introduce you to the person in charge first. Make sure that handshake, eye contact and mention of your own name is memorable. To reiterate, even if your name has already been said, repeat your name to the first person so that there is no confusion. There’s nothing more distracting to an interviewer than searching through resumees for the candidate’s name while he’s talking, there’s just no way that the manager can be giving you her full attention.

Typically, the interviewers will engage you in a bit of small talk before they lay into you with questions. Use this as an opportunity to display your dazzling knowledge of the company and its industry. Share an observation or compliment them on a recent success. This can happen on the way to the interview room, or immediately after sitting down.

The first question will very often be something to the effect of “Describe yourself“. The stock response is to give a chronological recount of work experience and education, information that should be available on the resume. Instead, use that question as an opportunity to align yourself with their needs using basic sales techniques – “I’d love to tell you about myself. First, may I ask you a couple of questions about the position so that we can find out if I’m the best fit for the role together?” Assuming that they agree, throw out questions about the ideal candidate, what they’re hoping that the successful candidate will do for the company, where they see the businees going in the next year & 5 years, etc.

Listen intently to everything that they say, they’re giving you keys to the castle. Make notes, even if you’ll never use them, it shows that you’re putting a lot of importance into what you’re being told.

If you taken a class with Lloyd Michaels, you know where I’m heading next. Summarize the main points that were made: “So, let’s see if I understand you correctly, you’re looking for someone with A, B and C who will do D for the company in order to achieve E?”  With their wants and needs agreed on, start revealing some of your features that you came up with in your preparation. Specific examples of times when you have been successful, or learning experiences that you’ve had are best. After each feature is revealed, turn it into a benefit by explicity describing how you will use that to benefit the company. In this section, continue to dialogue with the interviewers, engaging them with questions about specific ways you can add value. After three or four features and benefits, summarize your points with a statement like ” I feel that the experiences that I’ve described – 1, 2 and 3 can be a great asset to the business in order to achieve (the business goal that they described in the opening)”.

From there, the interviewers will continue on to their question period. Keep features and benefits in mind as you’re coming up with answers. Find ways to tie your answers into success stories from your past, and then to tangible benefits that the manager will see because of their brilliant decision to hire you.

Finally, there will be a point at the end of the interview where the floor is open to you. Always have a few questions left to ask, the worst answer to “Do you have any questions for us?” is “No”. With questions out of the way, make a point of asking about the next step, and feel free to ask if you will be involved in that step. It will likely be a second interview. Don’t be pushy, and the worst thing that will happen is you will make it very apparent to them that you want to be considered. Sometimes they’ll invite you back on the spot, meaning that you have already destroyed the majority of your competition.

For more advice on interviews from people much more experienced than me, check out www.managertools.com It’s two experienced executives who give managers advice on everything from writing a resume to preparing annual goals. They’re awesome, a lot of my material is borrowed from there. For interview-specific podcasts, go to http://www.manager-tools.com/taxonomy/term/23

Good luck!

Categories: Interviewing Tags: , ,

Interview Effectively and Destroy your Competition – Part 1

November 14, 2009 2 comments

Christmas season is fast approaching, and for many of us that means seasonal jobs, graduation, promotions or relocation. In order to capitalize on any of those opportunities, we must first traverse the rite of passage that is the interview.

Most of us have been through CAPP class, and/or been assaulted by the tired old tips that are dispensed like murky-tasting water from a park fountain. Even so, it’s appalling how many people don’t observe even the most basic of interview rituals.

I’ve spent the past few years in a state of near-perpetual hiring. The business that I’m involved in was in the midst of a massive expansion when I took over as manager of my department, then the inevitable turnover that results from bulk hiring waves ensued, and finally we’re now emerging from a period of stagnation and lay-offs which means even more hiring. The benefit for me is that in a relatively short period of time, I’ve conducted somewhere in the neighborhood of 250 interviews through internal applications, external postings and job fairs. That experience has helped me to become the interviewing coach to many of the management prospects in our company; people who have all of the skills and tools necessary to make the leap and need to learn how to best present themselves to help the hiring managers agree.

In my experience, there are two definable levels of preparation that apply to two levels of candidate, and it is impossible to succeed on the second without a deep understanding of the first. In this post, I’ll outline that first level of effectiveness. With these and simple, honest answers to questions, any candidate’s likelihood of landing the posted position will be considerably higher than at least 80% of the people I’ve sat down with.

The majority of the applicants I see arrive without taking care of the following basic requirements for success. Similarly, the majority of you will gloss over the list because you would never make such rookie mistakes. Simple math tells me that both of those things can’t be true, so read on:

  1. Arrive on time. You had car trouble? Your cat is sick? All the interviewer knows is that you had one chance to make a first impression, and you blew it. Thanks for coming in, we’ll be in touch. If you have a crap car, leave an hour early. If you can’t make the interview a high enough priority in your life to find a way to make it happen, don’t waste the interviewers’ time by showing up.
  2. Dress simply, basically, and very well. Again, this is a question of priority. Find a way to get a nice, basic business suit on your back, get it pressed as well as your shirt and tie. That’s right, a tie. You may tell me that most people don’t wear ties to interviews anymore. That may be true, and most people don’t get hired. The crowd is average, in order to excel you must be greater than average. Shoes should go without saying, but I will anyways: anything that’s black , is clean and shined should do. If you’d wear them to a wedding, they’ll probably work. Conversely, don’t overdo it. You’re not going to win the job with your clothes, but you could lose it, so don’t try to blow the interviewers away with your pinstripes, pocket squares, cufflinks or three pieces.
  3. Look prepared, focused and excited in the waiting room. Everyone is (or should be) nervous going in, but when people distract themselves with iPhone games or recline on the waiting room bench, they appear unfocused and less than committed. Huge takeaway here: The interview starts the second you set foot on the interviewer’s property and doesn’t finish until you’re alone and headed home.
  4. Eye contact, firm neutral handshake, say all of the interviewers names back to them as you’re introduced, but you knew that already.
  5. Bring your resume, a list of references (who you called in advance), at least one letter of reference and an example of your work (if applicable) in a professional looking binder.

That’s it for the first level, simple right? Every manager Ive ever spoken with who hires front-line workers (servers, receptionists, salespeople, etc.) is simply looking for someone who is personable, professional and reliable. All of those things are communicated best non-verbally by paying attention to the above five points.

Check back for the second level strategies; they will include how to find out what the interviewer really wants, when to walk away from an interview, turn your features into their benefits, researching success and leveraging your network effectively.

Categories: Interviewing Tags: , , ,