If you want to improve your success ratio-and ironically, ultimately interview less – the most important thing you can do is to shift your mindset from “candidate” to “consultant.” A consultant is there to listen, advise, and demonstrate value. When taking a meeting, a consultant must assume they already have the job and the skills required to address their client needs. The meeting (your interview) is a conversation about the best way to achieve that.
FOCUS ON THE THREE MOST IMPORTANT QUESTIONS
Use your “Consultant” mindset when addressing the three most important things an interviewer is thinking and asking:
- How Can You Help Me?
- Why Do You Want to Work Here?
- Will You Fit In?
DO: Research to form a hypothesis about how you can help, ask questions to confirm/disprove hypothesis and keep the focus on the client’s problems/needs. You can and should share relevant examples of past success, and importantly follow-up with a recommendation based on your meeting (with your thank you). Memorized answers to every possible question don’t work- ask questions relevant to the conversation. You are wasting your and the employers’ time talking about things other than the prospect’s problems.
Any good salesperson understands the more you know about your customer before a meeting, the more effective you can be in matching your product or services with their need. A consultant knows the same thing. Without preparation, you are winging it and winging it does not close deals. Preparation closes deals!
START WITH THE BASICS – They are: the company, the role and who you are meeting with (Hiring Manager, HR, Peers, etc.) Form a hypothesis about each person’s issues or needs and draft questions that will help you confirm/disprove that hypothesis in the meeting.
BUILD A LIST OF QUESTIONS YOU SHOULD ASK – These should be open-ended and show your knowledge of the Company wherever possible. For example: what are your greatest challenges in the next six months? What would you need my help with right away? What does a typical day look like? What are the characteristics of people who succeed in this role? Who will I be interacting with and how? How will my success be measured?
DO YOUR RESEARCH – Search for topical news on the company and industry, check LinkedIn profiles for anyone you are interviewing with. Review Company/Organization website (Investors section, Corporate Values, News, Press Releases, Size/locations), conduct Google searches. Check Company social media feeds (follow the company!) Before your appointment, reach out to your network—look for alumni contacts to gather as much background as possible and build your own ‘inside team’. Be sure to review online trade publications and websites.
PREPARE YOUR TALKING POINTS – Once you’ve done your research and come up with questions you want to ask, it’s time to prepare your talking points. These include your PVP (Professional Value Proposition, which you are familiar with and have practiced) and 2–3 accomplishments that are relevant to the opportunity that you have turned into stories.
Your key talking points for this interview should resonate with you deeply and should speak to the key skills, qualities, and values you bring to any job. Come up with 2–3 stories that you can weave into your conversation. Introduce them in your pitch at a very high level and keep coming back to them as you respond to any open-ended questions like “Tell me about yourself,” “Tell me about your background,” “What brings you here?”—which if not anticipated can be deal killers.
MAKE A LIST OF THINGS YOU ARE AFRAID THEY WILL BRING UP –Make a list of the things you are afraid they’ll bring up, review tough interview questions (e.g., Tell me about a time you failed), and come up with your strategy for responding and practice. Write your talking points and interview notes on 3×5 index cards or on your phone. Review those notes right before the interview but never during an interview.
Questions about salary- if these come up in an interview before you have an offer you try to re-direct as they have all the leverage and you don’t want to put yourself out of the running. Suggestions: “what were you thinking about” or “there are many aspects to compensation, bonus, etc If you don’t mind, I’d like to postpone this discussion until I thoroughly understand all facets of the job”. As a last resort-“I’m looking for a (salary or total comp) range of <absolute
References- Don’t give out references until you’re close to an offer, while you need to contact your references before as a courtesy to let them know you are getting close to an offer- you need to protect them before.
- You need to protect your references
- Tell them you need to contact your references beforehand as a courtesy
TELL YOUR STORY EFFECTIVELY – Tell the story of your accomplishments using the PAR structure:
P=Problem or situation
A=Action you took
R=Result- make your story engaging and concise
General DO’s – Get there early (but announce yourself no more than 5 minutes before) take notes, show energy and enthusiasm, make eye contact, offer a firm handshake and use open body language—start by sitting up straight. Always dress professionally, look the part and be POSITIVE!
HANDLING QUESTIONS – The most important thing you can do in an interview is to focus on your attitude and energy. Remember your goal is to get another meeting! The more relaxed and positive you are, the more it will feel like a conversation. Be strategic in your responses. Remember everyone wants this to work out, so bring your “A” game and drive the narrative.
HIRING MANAGERS ASK TOUGH QUESTIONS TO DETERMINE – Authenticity, self-awareness, functional and strategic ability, leadership qualities and abilities, response to pressure, level of commitment and culture fit—are you a ‘suitable’ colleague?
STRATEGY FOR HANDLING DIFFICULT QUESTIONS
- LISTEN CAREFULLY: Ask a clarifying question if something is unclear to you.
- PAUSE AND REFLECT: Assess how you should “play it.”
- ASK YOURSELF: Can I use this question to show how I can help them using a “story?” If NOT, then: Can I sidestep the question?
- BE BRIEF AND STEER IT BACK: Get back to the discussion of getting/giving information about how you can help.
Your questions plus the notes you took and observations you’ve made lay the groundwork for your follow-up. During the interview you should have listened for:
- NEEDS—so you can demonstrate value
- CHALLENGES/ISSUES—so you can offer solutions
- OBJECTIONS—so you can address
- COMPETITION— so you can outshine and outlast whoever else they are seeing
Expect to take as much time and attention on your follow-up as you did in preparing for your interview. Your influencing follow-up email letter (your ‘recommendation’ and thank you) is as important as the interview itself. This is where you are putting all the pieces together and making the case for you to be the person to solve their business needs. An influencing letter/email should go to each person you met with and contained tailored content for each person based on the notes you took. A group email is never appropriate, always customize wherever possible, and be sure to double-check for grammatical typos as well as personalize structure—e.g., is the right salutation included to the correct person. Double-check your email addresses – all the effort is only worth it if it is going to be seen in someone’s inbox!
Written by Fran Berrick
Check out Fran’s career coaching company, Spearmint, for more tips and resources!