Want to ace your next interview and land your dream job? Here are 20 interviewing tactics to help you prepare.
- Do 3 hours of research on your future boss, not just a quick Google search.
- Deliver a genuine compliment in the first 30 seconds of the interview. Genuine! As in, do your research, find something impressive about your future boss, then deliver a respectful and genuine compliment. Like, “I’m looking forward to being interviewed by the TechCorp Golden Spurs Award winner from this year.” Or “I read your book. It’s the best book on digital marketing I’ve read, so I got a few copies for my current team. They love it too. Thank you for writing it.” Or “You won the Buyouts Magazine best firm award two years in a row, right? It’s a great pleasure to be here interviewing for a job with the undisputed heavyweight champion in the private equity industry.” What this will do is three things: 1) it shows you do your homework, 2) it shows your “ego” is in check enough to identify and celebrate the good in others, and 3) it makes your future boss feel good, just like it will make you feel good when people come into your office and show respect or thanks for something you are proud of.
- Ask your future boss, “I’d love to hear more about your story.” Find out their story—where they grew up, how they got to where they are. You will understand three important things: 1) what motivates them, 2) the “hot buttons” or words or terms they use that you can use to speak the language of your future boss, and 3) it gives you clues about what management or business priorities are probably on the mind of your future boss today.
- Ask your future boss, “I’d love to know what your biggest priorities are for this chapter of your career. What are you trying to get done right now?”
- Ask your future boss, “Tell me about your team. Who are the key people and what do they do to achieve your goals?”
- Ask your future boss, “What are the relationships like here? The culture? What are the unspoken rules for how people work together to get results?”
- Use a tone of “humble confidence.”
- Answer number questions with number answers.
- Use a stat and a story to prove your points.
- Compare your results to the 3Ps—vs. peers, vs. plan, and vs. previous year.
- If it’s true, explain that you left your jobs after delivering great results, on your own accord, and that your boss tried to keep you.
- Don’t say the words “learning” (instead talk about results), “aspire” (because nobody talks like that in normal daily business), “transform” (nobody who earns over $100k uses that word), “endeavor,” (that’s what children think adults say during interviews), “have to/ought to/needed to” (you sound like a powerless, spineless sap), “keeping my optional open” (loser thing to say; winners focus), “I’m competitive” (nobody likes working with jerks), “outmaneuvered” (nobody likes someone who plays politics), “tried” (there is no try, there is only do, so says Yoda; or Mr. Miyogi would say there is do, or not do, there is no try. You cross street. Or you don’t cross street. If you merely try to cross street, you get squished like grape), “comply” (this implies you hate the system), any 4+ syllable word when a 1 or 2-syllable word works better (or else you sound academic or clueless or like you are posing like you are some big shot roller when in fact you are not; smart people use short words; dumb people and egomaniacs use long words); “reach out” (having meetings is not the same as achieving results), “dialogue” (this is not clinical psychology, this is a business), “My boss didn’t give me any goals to hit,” (well make your own, you passive pay-check casher), “I don’t remember what my performance ratings were” (well then estimate you average to below average performer!), “I’m a perfectionist/work too hard” (really? Perfect work is your weakness? Or working hard is a weakness? How is that a weakness?), answering a number question with a word answer, “good,” (good means lousy in business), “I don’t dwell on the negative,” (well winners do, you low-aspiring milquetoast candidate). Don’t say “rewarding” (it sounds like you are in it for the rewards you will receive, but employers want you to be in it for the impact you will deliver).
- Use the words “priorities,” “focus,” “goals,” “target,” “what matters,” “decided,” “did,” “talent,” “hire/fire,” “revenue,”, “EBITDA/profit/profitable/profit margins,” “segment,” “customer,” “achieve,” “deliver,” “obliterate,” “crush,” “mentor,” “generosity and gratitude,” “recruit,” “help,” “serve,” “perform/performance,” “leadership,” “listen/listened,” “discovered/found,” “running this team/business at full power,” “reliable/reliably,” “awesome,” “fantastic,” better than expected.”
- Don’t try to act “sexy” during an interview.
- Make your voice sound normal. If you are a woman or man, don’t talk with a high-pitched squeaky voice. You don’t have to. One successful female executing told us that she got some good advice during her MBA program, which is to speak in the lowest voice that feels comfortable to you. Talking with a squeaky “little girl” or “little boy” voice is just weird. Yet about 15% of people choose to. Do whatever you need—psychotherapy, voice coaching—whatever it takes to lose the high-pitched voice, and talk in a normal tone of voice of which you are fully capable.
- Be all about results. Some interviewing books encourage you to be all about enthusiasm and positivity. Nope. That makes you seem superficial and stupid. Instead, what we really want to know, is this—are you going to deliver the results for which you are being hired? Talk about results that were good. Talk about results that were bad. But talk about results. Dollars. Units sold. Percentage increases in customer acquisition. Percentage decreases in the cost per unit. Customer satisfaction rates. Team satisfaction or engagement rates. Revenue, profits. You get the picture. Results. Results. Results!!! Winners realize they are being hired to deliver results. This reminds us of the best line from a movie. Pardon the character who uttered it (the drug kingpin in Miami Vice with Will Farrell and Jamie Foxx). He says, “With me I do not buy a service, I buy a result.” And then there is the implication that failure to deliver the result will result in a “visit” to the two new employees’ families. OK, so your future boss won’t “off” your family if you fail to deliver a result. But results matter and winners know that and losers don’t.
- Be all about helping people be successful. Only 10% of leaders love to help others succeed. 90% think more about how they “get ahead.” Our research suggests that if you are so talented that you have spare capacity to help others be successful, you are more likely to succeed than people who just care about themselves. So think about the last 3 people you mentored. Who were they? What did you help them learn? How did they perform?
- Don’t act snobby, act grateful. Sometimes people in interviews try to “impress” the interviewer. “I only drink French wine. California wine is too floral for me.” Oh, wait, let me write that down; that’s so profound. “I was at an HBS reunion the other week and met Mark Zuckerberg.” So what? I doubt Mark Zuckerberg could pick you out of a line-up. “I bought the new hybrid BMW and was driving it to work the other day.” Snooze. I don’t care what new car you just leased. Bragging in a snobby way is not impressive in interviews. It makes you look insecure. Instead, be grateful. “I met with my mentor last week. I’m so grateful that the Chairman of our firm, somebody four levels up from where I sit, is willing to meet me for breakfast once a quarter and mentor me. I’ve learned so much from her.” Or something like, “I felt really grateful last week. One of our biggest clients called and wished me a happy birthday. That is not really common, for an accounting client to call someone from our team to wish them a happy birthday. It made me feel good that our work is valuable.” Or maybe you are grateful for an unexpected success. “We finally allocated $1.2m into developing this new product that I had been pitching for a year. Nothing is for certain. I had a knot in my stomach the first six months of product development and testing with customers. But I was so grateful to have had a chance to innovate this new concept in my business unit. That is one great thing about my employer’s culture that I will miss if I leave. Anyway, the budget was to spend no more than $1.2m, to achieve breakeven within 24 months, and earn $3m per year in pre-tax profits in year 3. I’m happy to report that we only spent $500k out of pocket on a max budget of $1.2m. We achieved breakeven within 6 months because one of our big clients came in with a monster order. And in year 3, we were earning not just $3m as planned, but $7.2m, which is 2.4x our goal. One of my favorite memories from this past year is the special celebration dinner we held for the product team. They all seemed so proud; and their significant others who were invited to the dinner also seemed so proud.”
- Don’t act formal, act normal. We were advising the President of the World Bank. Other advisors were called into help Dr. Jim Kim solve his most important business challenges. I noticed one guy, who looked nervous to be in the presence of greatness, sat erect in his chair. His suit was immaculate. His pocket square must have been folded by a special machine—it was so tight, so perfect. He chose his words very carefully. Not quite newscaster. More like “I’m going to represent myself as a professional.” We watched him crash and burn. His formality got in the way of building rapport with Dr. Kim. Dr. Kim was main-lining coffee the whole time this other guy was talking. And there was no invitation for a follow-up meeting. In contrast, there was another person at that table who sat with a relaxed, but confident posture. That other person said, “I really respect your goal. To end extreme poverty by 2030. My concern is that you don’t have the right goals, or the right people, to achieve that goal.” There was a vigorous Q&A. And Dr. Kim came away from that interaction instructing two of his key leaders to follow up with the normal-acting, confident, caring person while the pocket square guy sat there looking upset, with steam lines of frustration wavering above his well-coiffed head.
- Don’t talk a big game about the future; instead sell your track record. In the thousands of job interviews we’ve conducted, we very rarely witness great candidates talking big about the future. Master interviewers know that speculating about the future is of limited value. And great candidates know that speculating about the future is of limited value. So don’t find yourself saying, “Your sales target for Cleveland is only $1m? If you hire me, we’ll do $10m!” or “If your typical consultant serves 3 clients at a time, I’ll serve 6!” or “I’m going to turn this business unit around from worst to first within a year!” Bravado. Chest-pumping machismo. Alpha male or alpha female bragging about the future is not predictive of performance. Instead of making a big deal about the future, make a big deal about your past. There is a communication tactic that we find effective when candidates talk about their past. It’s called “Feel, felt, found.” Say your future boss says something like, “We are spread way too thin. We have like 50 priorities in that department. It’s chaos. Tell me about a time when you walked into a chaotic environment.” You can say, “I understand how you feel. You see a department with too many priorities, which is the same thing as having no priorities.” “Yes,” your future boss will say. “Two jobs ago was similar. My boss then, Margaret Valas, felt the same way. She did not have time to fix the IT problems in one of her businesses. She told me she wanted me to go in, diagnose what was wrong, and fix it.” Your future boss will say, “Yes, so what did you do? And what were the results?” You say, “I did three things. I first interviewed every member of the department to find out what they thought should be a priority and why, and what the chance of success of each priority was. We met as a group and ranked them from most important and do-able, to least important and do-able. We found that there was consensus around the top 3 priorities. So we decided to focus on doing those 3 things really well, and push other priorities off the calendar. Second, I interviewed the top 6 people. I found that 4 of them were high performers and were excited about being there. 2 people hated their jobs and felt they were in the wrong place. So I told the 2 that they could look for another job during work hours if they wanted. Both of them found another job within 2 months, and then I hired 2 more rock stars to that team. We revamped our meeting agendas and focused on the 3 results we wanted to achieve. And we crushed them. My boss sent me a half dozen emails of thanks and congratulations during that time. She subsequently gave me two other departments to fix, and she found I was able to do so, following largely that same process of prioritizing, hiring, and building relationships focused on results.”
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