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Sunday, October 21, 2007

Selling yourself in a job interview

When you go for an interview, a purchase decision is being made. The employer is seeing you and others to determine whom he’ll acquire and whom he won’t. Chances are he’s read your resume. Now a salesman is coming over with the actual product. Get ready. He won’t just look at the paint job and kick the tires. He’ll take the test drive!

You are the salesman and you’re the product.

Ideally, your potential employer will wind up wanting to buy the car…or at least to drive it again, after he has seen and tried some others. If so, you’ll be offered the job…. or at least invited back for another round of interviews.

In the end you may decide that this employer and his opportunity are not for you.

But what you and I will work on is making sure that he doesn’t conclude you’re not for him.

Bear in mind that you’re proving yourself on two levels:

1. As a fine person, and

2. As someone obviously able to do the job.

The person who is thinking of hiring you want to be sure that you’re someone he’ll enjoy working with. And also someone who can walk around inside and outside the organization as a favorable reflection on the company and on him. Only if he is satisfied on the “fine person” point, will he concern himself with whether he thinks you can handle the job, as indicated by your experience and track record.He is hoping to you:

Ø Intelligent, and also “street smart”,

Ø Analytical, logical, goal oriented, and a planner

Ø A skilled communicator,

Ø Unmistakably a leader,. But also a “ team player”,

Ø Healthful, and well groomed,

Ø Courteous, and cultured,

Ø Sensitive to the feelings of others,

Ø Politically aware, but not political operator,

Ø Responsible and diligent,

Ø Cheerful and optimistic.

And overall, an interesting person, with curiosity, enthusiasm …and may be even a sense of humor!

Don’t underestimate the seemingly superficial aspects that are more “image” than “essence”. Appearance and behavior are first to be noticed. And if they’re deficient, you may flunk the “fine person” test , even though you score plenty of “but-he-could-probably-do-the-job” points.

But for now, let’s go straight to “essence”. Like a salesman, you’ve got to deliver enough persuasive information to convince the prospect that your product can do the job.

Interviewing is a difficult form of selling for two reasons;

  1. It’s a “package deal”. Where a salesman comes with the product and,
  2. The customer, not the salesman, controls the unfolding of the sales presentation.

Ordinarily, a customer can take the product, and leave the salesman. Unfortunately, you are a “package deal”. Therefore you must sell with great finesse. You can just make a well-organized presentation, and afterward deal with questions of objections.

The interview is unique ritual drama, in which a sales call is played as if it’s a social call, which it is not. One of the two parties is totally in command. He’s the buyer; he’s the decision- maker at the end. By controlling the use of time and choice of the topic in a Q-and-A format, he determines which features are brought up, and in what order and how thoroughly or superficially each one is discussed.

The first principle of interview salesmanship: forgo the monologue

Because the format of the interview is ritualistically conversational, you can’t give a too long answer to any question. You can’t sell yourself as socially polished, if you monopolize the conversation

So don’t use any question as springboard for a monologue. Instead give a concise answer that hits the highlights in clear and specific terms, including numbers (“a little under $5mio in sales and about 150 employees”) and approximate dates (as I recall, that was in late ‘88”).

Don’t ever talk longer than one or two minutes. Finished or not, wind up your sentence and look at your interviewer you see if he wants more on the same topic…or would you rather switch to something else, if he want elaboration, he’ll say so.

Learn “newspaper style.” it will make you an outstanding communicator, and it is a lifesaver in the interview format

Next time you pick up a newspaper, notice the way every item is written:

1. The headline sums up the article.

2. The first paragraph lays out the entire story.

3. The first sentence of every paragraph tells what the whole paragraph is about.

4. The major facts of every story always come earliest. Lesser, more detailed points come later, and trivial are at the end.

Just like you reading the paper, your interviewer always has the prerogative to dig deeper, or switch to a different topic. You can drop any article after just a headline or a paragraph. And he can divert you to a different subject, just by asking another question.

You have got to state your main points in the first sentence or two of each answer. You can’t wallow in details, “setting the stage” for your main point. A new question may cut you off before you get to your main point. Then you’ll appear petty, illogical, and detail-oriented.

Analyze your product and your customer’s needs, and develop the sales message you wish you could deliver in a 15 minutes monologue. Then divide it into brief topical capsules.

Almost every interviewer will ask questions that allow you to present everything you have clearly in mind. The questions you receive will relate to what you want to say, if you know what you want to say. That’s because your interviewer really want to find out how your background and achievements fit his needs, and how they guarantee you will perform as well for him as you have for others.

Fundamentally he wants to hear what you want to communicate. Not necessarily, however, in the order you’d like to present it. And more attention devoted to your failures and gaps in background than you’d prefer.

What about questions specifically designed to give you trouble?

The interviewer will ask lots of questions aimed at revealing your flaws. Even your answers to the most bland and casual queries will be scrutinized for damaging admissions. And chances are, those revelations won’t have much to do with your resume stated background, they’ll relate to your personality and your management technique here is some wrong answers to watch for.

Wrong answer: there is more bad than good. The minute you are about to list attributes to anyone, anything, or any situation, be sure to ask yourself “how many good ones should I mention and how many bad ones?” decide shrewdly. Some times there should be lots of bad ones and hardly any good ones, as in the lists of probable results you mention when your interviewer gets your reaction to an operating policy that verges on the unethical and illegal.

But suppose he asks how you feel about your current job. Don’t slip. There’s more good than bad, otherwise, the interviewer will expect you to be malcontent in his job, too. And describing your current boss, there’s a lot that is admirable, not just shortcomings, otherwise your interviewer envisions you talking negatively about him. Same with your reaction to the, overall management of your current company.

You also see far more advantages relative to disadvantages when asked how the job you’re interviewing for fits your talents and aspirations, and how you fit the job. Game, too, when it comes to the problems facing the industry and company you’re being interviewed for.

Wrong answer: you’d live your life differently if you could. This is the wrong answer to those entire “if” questions. Don’t accept any offer to re write your personal history. You’re basically a happy and highly functional person, who has high self-esteem and is busy producing and enjoying, Not fretting and regretting.

Also bear this “wrong answer” in mind when faced with “if” questions about the future. If you can be anything you wish five years from now, it will be something that represents fine progress along the path you’re on right now.

With respect to highly personal facets of your life, probably the less said the better. at least until you’re sure that your values and circumstances clearly correspond to those of your interviewer. And if you’re asked whether you “consider yourself successful” the answer is “yes” and briefly why.

Wrong answers: illustrations of your greatest talents and achievements that: (1) don’t relate to the job you’re interviewing for, and/or (2) happened long ago. The fact that, after eighteen years of avid competition you recently bred trained, and groomed a Dalmatian that won best- in- show at the Grand National competition of the American kennel club is hardly worth mentioning. Especially when compare with the fact that last month your division’s hemorrhoids remedy scored the highest market share in the 64-years history of the brand.

When asked for your “ best” achievements always give your latest ones. Only when specifically asked about early phases of your career will you trot out the corresponding long ago achievements thus demonstrating that you’ve always been an over achiever. The greatest days of your career are now and in the future and not in the past.

A variation on this theme has to do with what you like most and least in your current job or the job in discussion. Your preferences will match the job. You’re interviewing for just as nearly as your talents do.

You have failed to develop non-business interests. and you spend time on non-business interests. you’re apt to be asked what your avocational interests are. Better have some ready to mention. Active sports are always good, intellectual and artistic interests begin to look respectable when you get comfortably over $100000…and they take great luster when you get way over $100,000. Charitable and “cause” interests also gain respectability and ultimate cache, as you soar into the corporate stratosphere.

However until you’re being considered for a position high enough to be corporately ornamental as well as useful, don’t let on that your wide-ranging interests take any significancant amount of time away from work. Chances are your potential boss wants you “hungrier” for corporate performance bonuses than for intellectual and humanitarian nourishment.

You may be asked what interesting books you’ve read lately. If you seldom read, you should pick up a critically praised non- business volume…. Perhaps a biography or a spy novel… from the current bestseller list. Comment knowledgeably. And if pressed further, mention a couple of other books you’d like to read but haven’t had the time for.

Wrong answer: your aspirations for the future don’t springboard from the job you’re discussing. Make sure your stated objectives are consistent with getting the job you’re interviewing for and pursuing it as wholeheartedly as the company could wish.

Wrong answer: anything but the frank truth about when and why you’re leaving. if you were fired say so. Any attempt at cover-up will seem dishonest, unintelligent and emotionally immature. Give a short, simple explanation, objectively avoiding bitterness and complaint. Show you can rise above the temporary setbacks. Your forthrightness and maturity in comparison with most people, who fidget, fiddle and fume, will come off favorably.

Wrong answer: the too vague answer, for every job you’ve held, and be able to state without hesitation your title who you reported to, what size and type unit you commanded (in people, facilities, budgets, sales, profit, market share, etc.) know too in approximate numbers the size and situation of the overall organization of which you’re unit was a part.

Wrong answer: “confidentiality prevents me …” use common sense when it comes to confidentiality. Don’t be a blabbermouth, but if the competitor whose interviewing you frankly discuss his business with you, and then reciprocate, knowing the guy’s figures wont make them your figures, and vice-versa. If you have been responsible for something very brilliant and very recent which must be screened from your competitor. Just give a definite but non-specific comparison he’s undoubtedly already guessed,”With the new line included, sales for the first quarter are more than double what they were in the same period last year. Much more than double.”

Wrong answer: more than was asked for. one rather tricky question is to ask for your “four greatest achievements” or some other number of something favorable. Give exactly the number asked for, and no more. The test is to see if you’ll plunge right past the requested number, piling on achievement after achievement, in a binge of self-praise. If so, you’ll be revealed as a bragger, psychologically suffering from low self esteem. At the very minimum, you’ll seem to be someone who doesn’t listen and follow instructions alertly.

Wrong answer too long answer. This wrong answer is asked for by every agonizingly open- ended question. The remedy is a capsule that I suggest you create out of the fifteen minutes salesman’s monologue you’re not being allowed to deliver.

Capsule the pain-reliever. Gapingly open-ended questions are one of the worst headaches of the interviewing process. They are painful as you grope for an answer that’s appropriate, clear, and succinct. And if not handled well, they can lead to the serious complication of bogged-down monologue, which can demonstrate that you are innately a poor communicator. They are asked in apart, because they are troublesome to insecure, fuzzy thinking people, who don’t communicate well under pressure. ..People the interviewer want to weed out.

Your interview pharmacopoeia should include:

A “tell me about yourself” orientation.” Don’t be wimpy and grasp for help: “well, what particular aspect would you like to know about” instead, just plunge in and cope”. Take no more than one to two minutes and hit the highlights, covering everything from childhood to now. Include a few words about where you grew up, because this question is usually asked to evoke a broad-brush personal portrait.

Key segments of experience and achievement. These are the topically organized segments of the fifteen minutes “salesman’s” monologue” you’d love to deliver but cant in the conversational format of an interview. Have your selling points of experience and achievements clearly in mind, with specific figures stapled into your memory. Nothing minimizes an achievement more than failing to remember precisely what it was.

Achievements in rank order. this one prepares you for any “top three” or “top five” questions. Since your greatest achievements should also tend to be your most recent, you’ll ponder the importance/time tradeoffs in preparing this list. If there’s nothing major to report from your most recent briefly held recent job, don’t make something up, just to “represent” the ill fated career move.

Maybe you have one monumentally large achievement sure to command awe and respect… and clearly attributes to your being there as the instigator and not merely one soldier in the platoon, but it happened too long ago to be one of your “latest-and greatest.” Prepare it succinctly, and deliver it last, depending on how you’re asked for.

Strengths and weaknesses. Your strengths are at the heart of your sales pitch, and they ought to be the right ones for this job…or you’ll be better off not getting it. Be ready to name and.. if asked. Illustrate several. Include your energy level.

Come up with a proper “more- good –ones- than bad ones” answer, the ratio should be overwhelming… maybe 4 to 1. But, within the boundaries of enlightened self-interest, be honest also. The standard formula for an interview-confessed “weakness… is “a strength carried to a fault.”


“Sometimes I may dive my people a little too hard. Since I’m a bit of workaholic. I tend to expect others are too.”

“Sometimes can be too supportive of my people. Hanging on to them, still trying to train and coach, when perhaps I should just pull the plug a few months sooner.”

Reasons for leaving. Prepare an accurate capsule on what happened and what your current status is. And keep it brief and simple.

If the new CEO brought along his own person for your job, no harm in saying so. Add, if true, that you too might have brought along some one you knew and trusted if you were in the CEO’s shoes and had such a limited time to affect such a major turn-around. Indeed, you went out of your way to cooperate with the man who’s now your successor, during those first awkward weeks when you were both on the payroll and he hadn’t yet been named to your jobs. As you see it, what he has to do to be successful is to finish installing this-and-this program, which you were putting into place when the upheaval occurred, and he seems to be taking basically that approach (if true).

“personality clash” with your boss., however, normally should not be the diagnosis. Say instead, “fundamental policy differences” and cite some concrete examples. You simply cant afford to be categorized as someone who cant get along with people.

The trick in discussing is to take an open minded dispassionate, managerial stance observe, comment, and react as an informed, objective observer, who’s also a very skilled manger…not as someone subjectively involved, wronged and wounded. You’re willing to stand and be judged on the wisdom of your program and the next administration may have to continue them. On the other hand, if you tried something that failed and you were in the process of changing course, say so. You’ll be judged far more on the caliber and comprehension you demonstrate, than on the fact that you were fired. Chances are, your interviewer has also been fired at least once in his career.

Your management style

Know what style the company feels it has. Check in advance and also watch for clues dropped by your interviewer.

The “participative” style is currently in vogue, whereby your door is open to your subordinates and their ideas, and you get results through motivation and delegation. But for some companies you should hedge your bet…” “On the other hand, nobody wonders who the boss is or where the buck stops.” Pragmatic pastiches, plus taking the pulse of your interviewer, will, you get safely past this issue

What appeals to you about our job.

Study the company prior to your interview, if career opportunity is of more than casual interest to you. Read the company publications. if these aren’t available, phone the P.R department of the corporation for copies. Knowing what’s going on in the company not only helps you prepare an answer to the cliché questions of what you like about the company; it also gets you thinking on your interviewer’s wavelength long before you’re in his office and on the spot.

Current status and long range trends of your speciallity and the overall industry.

If you know any thing at all about your present field, you certainly have some good ideas on where the action is now and where the future may lead. Marshal them. Don’t just pull them together on the way home from an interview where the CEO of a conglomerate had more thought-provoking insights into your specialty than you did

What would you like to know about us.?

Ironically, the more you want the job, tougher the question is. If you’re skeptical about whether the job will advance your career. You’re loaded with questions, that have to be resolved to your satisfaction.

But suppose you are thrilled to be considered for the job. Its with an important company, and represents a career breakthrough in responsibility. Then what do you ask? Certainly not about benefits and retirement. Maybe about what they see as the key problems and opportunities to be addressed by the person who gets the job, willingness to invest in the business, and whether it is central to the company’s future growth or a candidate for” harvest” and possible disinvestments. But be careful. Shouldn’t you know what the problems and opportunities are? Check for a common view of such issues, but don’t imply you cant see, without being told, what some of the key ones probably are.

Reading…and…writing… between lines. You know well that your interviewer will be trying to “read between the lines” of your answers…looking for accidental unspoken nuances that may be even more revealing than your statements. So, since has reading you may as well make sure you’re writing. When answering the questions about talent and triumphs. You have a perfect opportunity to write between the lines messages about your other fine characteristics, And management techniques

The “pregnant pause”…and how to deal with it. The pregnant pause is a gimmick some interviewers use to unnerve candidates, and to force them to reveal personal insecurity, and hopefully to voice unguarded statements. After you’ve finished answering his question, the answer says absolutely nothing to move his side of the conversation forward. He just looks you in the eye, waiting for you to panic and rush in to fill the awkward pause. This starting stoppage may come at random…or possibly when the interviewer suspects, or wants you to worry that he suspects, that you’re not telling the truth, or at least not the whole story.

The only way to deal with this behavior is to nip the bud. The first time your interviewer breaks the rhythm of the conversation this way, pause with him long enough to make absolutely sure he’s “pregnant pausing” and to make sure he knows that that you know that’s what he is doing…maybe 20 seconds or more. Then say, kindly and helpfully, as if perhaps he seems to have lost track of the rather complex discussion you’ve been having “is there anything else you’d like to know about…(the question you just finished answering)?”

By kindly and inoffensively calling the interviewer’s bluff, you create unspoken recognition and respect. If by chance, your interviewer decides to try again, repeat the treatment.

Coping with the “stress interview.”

There was a fad 20 years ago, which still hasn’t completely died out, of giving a “stress interview.” Pioneered by an executive recruiter who’d been a prisoner in one of the Nazi death camps, the idea was to discover what he called the “counterfeit executive. The one who cant take pressure. By applying great pressure and tension during the interview.

You may run into someone who kicks off the interview by throwing down the gauntlet: “I cant see how you’re qualified for this job” he goes on from there with argumentative, demeaning and perhaps embarrassingly personal questions. Maybe he deliberately misinterprets your answers. ; And probably he avoids looking at you. Gazing over your head, thumbing through his calendar, and shuffling papers.

What to do? You have to call his bluff. Say ”I’d appreciate it if you’d look at me when I am talking to you. If we can get this conversation on a more cordial basis, we’ll communicate much better.”

Maybe just saying something like that will pass hi “test.” If not , get up to leave, turning back as you get to the door. “I’d still be willing to have a good conversation with you, but this session doesn’t really seem worthwhile.”

Chances are, he’ll call you back, say you passed his “test” and continue the interview on a new and more cordial footing. By then, however, you wonder you should even consider working for this guy or the company he represents.

Who’s in charge of the interview? You or the interviewer.

You are responsible for the outcome of the interview. You’ve got to get your message across. If your appropriateness, your ability, and what a fine person you are fail to register, it’s your loss. And it’s your fault, not the interviewer’s.

But who’s in charge? Some people think that you should take charge. Go in, say “hello” and see if the interviewer asks the question that draws out information you want to convey. If not, begin answering different questions from the ones he asks and twist and lengthen your answers to make sure you cover all the important points that support your candidacy. Be poised and pleasant, but don’t be afraid to demonstrate aggressiveness and leadership. Crucial qualities in an executive.

First of all, you’re selling yourself as a “fine person.” Secondly and equally important, if you try to take charge and control what information is covered, you may not convey what your interviewer wants to know. You may bore him with a persuasive pitch on points he was willing to concede. Meanwhile, failing to address the doubts and concerns you would have discovered if you’d sensitively followed his lead. Moreover since the interview is a demonstration of how you think and operate, there’s a good chance your interviewer may conclude that you’re a “hip shooter”…a

Superficial thinker, who plunges ahead before gathering information, and checking pre-conceived assumptions. Therefore, don’t grab control in terms of personal image; you can’t afford to dominate the interview. And in terms of accomplishing your objectives, you don’t really want to.

Steering the interview with questions and “red- flagged” answers

If you want to stay within the ritual boundaries of a social conversation in which the employer has the prerogative of asking most of the questions, there are only two techniques by which you can gently guide him toward matters you’d like covered.

Questions. Always ask a question to see if he’s interested in a subject you want to talk about: “is the development and marketing of internally generated new products a major factor in your growth plans? That’s an area where I’ve had a lot of successful experience.”

He may say: “absolutely! Tell me about it.” Or he may say: we’re not entirely opposed to internally –generated;;new products. But we’ve become skeptical. We find we get a lot more for our money by acquiring underdeveloped products someone else has pioneered. Have you ever tried the approach?”

Now you know where he stands. Maybe you’ve also got success stories of the type he’s more interested in.

Red flagged answers. Sometimes you can wave a red flag at the bull and he will run for it. Sometimes no; a valuable technique for attempting to steer an interview along more promising lines is to wind up an answer with a provocative statement that cries out for a follow-up question, if the interviewer is interested “…which is why, of course, I then completely changed our approach to incentive compensation.”

Your interviewer ought to be tempted to ask what changes you made and what resulted. But if he’s not, at least you haven’t been rude or boring, and you haven’t wasted time on a topic he’s apparently not interested in. the bull doesn’t always run after the red flag.

Tryouts what if you haven’t interviewed for quite awhile and you suddenly face an unexpected “biggie”? Or if you look forward to a series of interviews and don’t want to waste the first one of two? “Role playing” is the answer. A friend of your spouse can sit in for the interviewer; perhaps asking questions from a random list you’ve prepared. Better yet, set up a real grilling by a business friend from the right industry. Choose someone who can come up with his own tough questions, and who will give you a clear-eyed critique afterward.

The danger of being prepared.

There’s no such thing as being over-prepared. There always is however, the danger of being over eager to play back what you’ve worked on. And by recommending “capsules.” I certainly can’t mean to encourage that tendency.

Engines ready…contact

Let’s get through a pre flight checklist of practical tips.

Ø Check the forecast. If your interview has been arranged by a recruiter, call him the morning or the afternoon before. He may have information since you saw him last, regarding job content, what’s looked for, how long other interviews have lasted, what lines of questioning was pursued, and what mistakes other candidates made. Don’t betray nervousness by asking about all these items.

Ø Pack your flight case. Into your elegant attaché go extra copies of your resume, a yellow pad and a quality pen, any charts of figures you may need a refresh your memory if questioning gets detailed, and a business journal to read if you have to wait for a few minutes.

Ø Arrive early and check the equipment. Get there five minutes ahead of schedule and ask to use the lavatory before being announced, check the lint on your collar and parsley on your teeth.

Ø Return your salute from the crew. The interview begins in the corridor as your host’s secretary greets you and maybe offers to shake hands (be alert for this). She, and through her possibly the receptionist too, will probably be consulted for a report on your poise and personality. Your corridor conversation with her should be cordial but not presumptuous.

Ø Don’t land prematurely. After your firm handshake your host might feign a landing and then pull up, leaving you discourteously plopped for an awkward minute or two. Circle gracefully until you get landing instructions, or clearly see where he is landing.

Ø Warning. Unless you’ve got a bad back, or the sun is in your eyes, sit down where indicated and relax.

Ø Five minutes warning. Don’t go all business all at once. Get off to a positive, upbeat start to a relatively personal note. Do not start off with the lousy weather or any other “downer”.

Ø Hazardous terrain. Avoid such hazardous topics as politics, religion, and sexually- and racially oriented issues. Beware of trick questions aimed at exposing your negative attitudes on these matters by implying in advance that the interviewer has such feelings. Even sports can be a hazardous topic until you know your host’s opinions.

Ø Keep an eye on the radar. Read the interviewer’s body language. Leaning back signals on smooth leisurely ride, tapping fingers, fidgeting and checking the clock call for crisper answers. “Closed position” (tightly-crossed arms and legs) say you’re meeting resistance, whereas, open loose limbs say “all clear” and hand-to-face says he and you are uncertain, possibly untruthful.

Ø Don’t go on autopilot. No matter how well things seem to be going, don’t let your guard down. The one puts you totally at ease is the one who’ll find out even more than you’d prefer to tell him.

Ø Debrief promptly. If a recruiter is involved, call soon afterwards to debrief. The client will also call, and if the recruiter can play back your favorable comments, they will reinforce the client’s good feelings about you. Don’t be a sappy sycophant. But don’t be coy; either recruiter is more inclined to support candidates who probably will accept, than those who might not.

Ø File your flight report. Why not send a brief “thank you”. Two or four paragraphs, using personal stationary or “regular size” paper. While you may refer in some way to what was discussed, this note is not a parting salvo of hard sell. Instead, it’s a courtesy that says fine person. And differentiates you from the vast majority of candidates, who don’t bother with amenities. Even more importantly, write down for future reference everything you found out at your interview. Most candidates wont do this either. Therefore, you’ll be more on the employer’s wavelength than they will, at “second round” interview three or four weeks later.


Markk said...

Hi! Just a friendly piece of advice here. Your article is way too long for a blog post. Most bloggers will not have the patience to read this job interview thesis. The blog is no place for this lengthy stuff. You could have broken up the article into four for five parts. In that way you will 4 or 5 postings. It's easier for any reader to digest shorter pieces. Can't blame 'cos you're new but don't worry, you appear to be a smart kid. You'll improve by studying other good blogs on how they write - like newspaper writing. Cheers!

Debajyoti Banerjee said...

Yes Markk, I agree with you :) But only these 3-4 articles are long, but all my previous posts are short enough :)That's why I have used expandable post summaries here ;-). Thank you for your good advice.Your comment will be helpful for other new bloggers.