Gain a Competitive Interview Advantage
“Whenever you find yourself on the side of the majority, it is time to pause and reflect.” - Mark Twain
Interviewing can be terrifying. My goal is to teach you to bend the old interviewing rules and stomp your competition. By the end of this article, you will learn to change the course and tone of your interview. Your interviewer will probably break script, which can give you an unfair edge. Interviewing, like life, is all about exploiting competitive advantages.
Nobody Likes Spam
"The opposite of courage in our society is not cowardice. It's conformity.” - Earl Nightingale
I’m a huge fan of contrarian thinking. I believe that moving away from the crowd doesn’t assure success, but staying in the crowd assures mediocrity. In an interview, mediocrity is a death knell.
Let’s define the crowd. The classic approach to interviewing concentrates on preparing for a great number of typical interview questions, and formulating the best possible answer so that you may say “all the right things” without making any mistakes. This results in a spectacularly boring interview where canned questions meet canned answers and live together like Spam and jelly.
The crowd is focused on their job functions. This does not differentiate them from their competition. Salespeople view the world through benefits. In other words, how has your company benefited from having you around?
The crowd thinks, “The purpose of the interview is to assess whether my skills are a good fit for the job. If I am a good fit, I’ll get the job.” Job descriptions are inaccurate and tell incomplete stories.
The problem with this old paradigm is a high level of passivity. You eagerly await the next question like a dog playing fetch. Run out. Bring back the stick. Do it again. Let me show you a better way. Let me teach you how to sell.
Keep Your Pants On
Think about the last time you bought a house. You started with a checklist. You visited the first home and compared it to your list. You visited the second home and compared it to the first home. The second home actually changed your opinion of the first. Interviewing is more like a sales competition, where the participants are compared to each other, not to the job description.
If interviewing is a competition, your goal should change from giving the "right answer" to eliminating your competition. If something gives you an advantage, add it into your presentation. If it bores the pants off of people, take it out.
“But I’m not a salesperson”, I can hear you saying. Relax. Anyone can sell. I’m not asking you to pile on the extra cheese. The good news is, selling is 80% listening,and the other 20% is asking really smart questions and telling a few strategic stories that match experiences to needs.
You have one more responsibility. Raise your energy level. I don’t care if you are laid back. Pick it up a notch. Low energy people are unfairly categorized as lazy people.
Where Does It Hurt?
Superficiality kills interviews. If you take one thing from my article, remember this. Nothing opens up a tightly-wound, straight-faced, cards-to-the-vest interviewer like a pain question. Here’s one that I really like, “What is the biggest challenge facing your team right now?”
This is what psychologists call a “breakthrough”. Revealing vulnerability creates a closer bond. Most candidates just aren’t brave enough to ask a tough question. From those brave few, I've been privileged to hear about some fascinating interview turnarounds. “She was pretty uptight until I asked that pain question. After that she opened up, put down the interview questions, and it was like we were friends.”
Here's the catch. You have to ask these questions at the beginning of the interview, otherwise, your story-telling won't be effective.
Tell a Story
Everybody hates cheap sales talk. Your hiring manager opens up and tells you that the employee that they fired was not a team player, and you say, “Well just so you know, I’m a team player”. A smart interviewer will think, “hmm”. Stories are more credible than general statements. Instead follow this formula:
Define the Problem: Tell the what, where, and when. Two years ago, at XYZ Corporation, we were working on a major implementation project. We were behind schedule and the client was threatening to terminate our contract.
Solve the Problem: Even though I wasn’t asked to do so, I took the initiative to sacrifice my weekends during the summer. Others joined in, and we completed the project on time!
Resulting Benefit: As a result of my work on that project, we secured a $10 million contract extension.
The magic of this formula is that your interviewer will think to herself, "Wow. He's a really good team player."
Learn From the Experts
The most sophisticated interviewers aren't attempting to be the center of attention. They aren't trying to dominate the conversation. They ask highly intelligent questions and use that information to their advantage. Ask better questions, connect with your interviewer, listen, tell stories and eliminate your competition.