Career Strategy Tips #3 - Whew! The Interview


It seems self-evident that the interview is all about you, but a strategic part of that equation is whether or not you choose to be pro-active or re-active. Bottom line, the interview should not be just about you. It is your chance and choice to be in control. You will see what I mean as we proceed. So...

• What does being pro-active in an interview really mean?

• How do you do it?

• How can you be in charge of an interview or at least equalize it, rather than being on the receiving end -- the defensive?

Let's divide the process into three parts:

1. Preparation

2. Interview

3. Follow-Up

You get the call. The meeting is set. Let's put on your pro-active hat and proceed.

1. You should RESEARCH the company as completely as possible, including bios on the leaders and the person to whom you would be reporting, their annual report if public, their performance and competitors, financial statement, etc..

Importantly, get more information about with whom you will be meeting, the culture, the challenges, the position, by calling the person who is coordinating the meeting such as an HR staff member. Make this person YOUR ALLY, your friend, and see what additional information he/she can provide which will make you more knowledgeable going into the interview.

Why do they want to meet with you? Seems obvious, but why not find out what about your background and experience stood out for them and motivated them to call.

This is about RELATIONSHIP BUILDING and growing your connections inside the organization.

Prepare for THEIR QUESTIONS -- from, why you for this position? to your strengths and weaknesses.

Be clear about who you are -- your BRAND -- what makes you special -- 1 or 2 key this position- relevant- accomplishments that you are most proud about  and that will distinguish you from other applicants.

Be clear about why you are the PERFECT FIT for this position.

The BOTTOM LINE is that you should position yourself to begin YOUR MEETING -- it's not just 'their' meeting -- knowing a lot more about them, than they know about you.

2. The moment of truth has arrived. Begin the meeting in the DRIVER'S SEAT and stay there.

Establishing CHEMISTRY with the interviewer is critical, and it usually happens in the very beginning. The perfect fit is driven by the PERFECT CHEMISTRY.

Remember, in most cases, assuming you have the basic qualifications for the job, at least fifty percent of the equation is CHEMISTRY, rapport. Usually the beginning of interviews are small talk. The more you know about the person interviewing you the more successful and engaging are your questions. Whether you ask about her recent trip, his golf game or ...

Also, since you are in the driver's seat you can segue into your questions about issues that the company may be facing now, or recent successes, etc.. ENGAGE your interviewer in what is important to him/her.

After a few minutes of small talk, the interviewer may ask you all sorts of questions from why you left or plan to leave your present position to your accomplishments, your strengths, your weaknesses, your salary, etc.. So, you reactively answer. Now, suppose you were to flip this exchange by YOU ASKING him/her questions -- their challenges, expectations for the position, opportunities going forward, growth and competition, CEO's and President's style, your potential bosses' style, etc.? Try to get them to talk about themselves and their company. And, positioning yourself early on with this additional information will enable you to answer their questions more intelligently and successfully.

The critical ingredient is to ASK QUESTIONS. Asking questions usually gives you more power than the respondent since you are guiding the conversation in the DIRECTION you wish by the nature of your question.

Also, when you are asked a question, always remember that LESS IS MORE. That is, clear, concise answers are always the best. If the person wishes more information or elaboration, they will ask a follow-up question.

Next, how to make your answer become your question. Conclude your answer with your FOLLOW-UP QUESTION. When you are asked a question, it sets up an opportunity for you to follow-up with a question. E.g. Tell me about your relationship with your boss at X Company? After you have answered the question, you can follow-up with one of your own. Does that sound similar to how ______ likes to interface, or, how does his style differ?

Even the SALARY question sets you up for a question, only in this case you want to immediately follow their question of, "What was your salary in your last position?" with "What are your salary parameters for this position, high-low"? Or, "What would be fair for someone with my skills and experience who can make a contribution to your company's success?" (Besides, your salary can be complicated with bonus, other performance rewards, 401K, car, etc. and would take time to explain, so why spend time on this when we can focus on the future.)

You should also be prepared to discuss why you are the PERFECT FIT for this position and company, and what interests you about them. But again, you are better prepared to make that statement if you have done your homework about the company's needs and the type of person they are looking for to fill the position.

Before leaving the interview be sure you are clear about the NEXT STEPS with a time frame.

3. Be certain that you promptly FOLLOW-UP with a 'thank you', 'pleasure meeting you' note or card. Be sure you do it hard mail, not email. Email has become the quick and easy way, but you want to distinguish yourself vis-a-vis the other contenders.

Also, again in HARD COPY, try to refer to and expand on an issue or challenge that came up in your meeting. You can state that it is an interesting area and that since the meeting you have given it further thought, and here is an additional idea, or a suggested solution.

And, yes, you are INTERESTED in the position because of the challenges, your experiences and fit, the culture and company. You are confident you would do a great job, make a contribution, etc..

Finally, even if you do not take the position, whether through a better opportunity or losing out to someone else, this is not a loss, but a NETWORKING OPPORTUNITY gain, You have made new contacts at the company, from HR to the position's report. It is to your advantage to stay in touch. In conclusion, PRO-ACTIVE interviewing is about showing your interest in and knowledge about the company by asking questions, and in so doing, by guiding the conversation. Think of the interview as a peer-to-peer information gathering meeting, where you are the perfect fit, and are looking forward to being part of a winning team and making a contribution to the company's success.

Marshal Backlar is a Motion Picture Academy Award nominee and a highly accomplished Career, Business, Executive Coach/Consultant with a track record of success with senior executives and individuals from diverse business sectors who want to change, accelerate, progress and manage their careers. His focus is on results -- maximizing career success and leadership excellence. Marshal has created and managed successful businesses. His extensive experience as a senior executive and entrepreneur, coupled with strong international experience enables him to successfully coach professionals for maximum long term results.


Marshal Backlar
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