If you hope to get hired to your dream job, you need to ace the interview.
The problem is, there is a lot of bad advice out there about how to interview. We see the results of it every day.
I usually sit on the other side of the table.
One of the things that my colleagues and I do is to help CEOs solve their #1 problem. Their #1 problem typically includes making a few key hiring decisions in any given year.
Unfortunately for employers and employees alike, many great candidates are not that great at interviewing. So they blow themselves up as candidates for their dream jobs—jobs that are a great match. I hate it when that happens.
The world would be a much happier place if more people found themselves in their dream jobs.
That’s what is motivating me to write this blog, and what is motivating my coauthor Randy Street and me to write our next book about managing your career better. To help great leaders put their best foot forward, and get hired for the dream jobs they deserve.
My colleagues and I have interviewed over 15,000 candidates for jobs. We wrote the #1 top-ranked book on hiring on Amazon.com (Who: The A Method for Hiring). I earned a Ph.D. in hiring two decades ago and have personally interviewed over 1,000 people for important jobs. Marshall Goldsmith calls us the world experts on hiring. We have advised dozens of Fortune 500 boards, CEOs, all 10 of the 10 biggest private equity firms, three current sitting U.S. Governors, and entrepreneurs of every type of company you can imagine. Billionaires have mentioned my firm in their memoirs as being a key advisor in their career success. And Harvard Business School wrote two cases about ghSMART as a pioneer in our field. I tell you those facts, to hopefully earn your trust that the 10 non-obvious interviewing tips about interviewing, which you are about to discover, are useful and worth following.
Who is hiring me?
A company is not hiring you. A person is hiring you. Who are they? Don’t show up to an interview without having read everything you can about the person interviewing you.
What are they proud of?
Show that you know, and respect, something you would guess they are proud of, based on your research of their career.
What do they want to achieve in this chapter of their career?
This is to know which stats and stories to select to talk about during the interview.
What’s the scorecard for this job?
Mission, outcomes, competencies. If you guess right, it’s like having the answer key to the test. You are going to crush the interview.
What are my 10 most relevant stats and stories?
What are the 10 most important data points from my past that I absolutely, positively, must communicate during this interview, to link my past performance to the scorecard?
Your tone should be “excited to help your bosses achieve their goals.”
That’s it. Don’t be overly serious, thinking it makes you seem professional. Being too serious makes us think you are either highly insecure, or super boring. Don’t be overly informal. Being overly informal makes us think you are dumb, presumptive, or undisciplined. Don’t use “power gestures” (steepling your hands, etc.) because those look hilarious and cheesy. Actual leaders don’t use power gestures during meetings. We have advised CEOs of the biggest companies in the world, heads of state, and the CEOs of multinational organizations. Trust us. Real leaders don’t “act” powerful with gestures.
Use “tie-downs” to build an airtight your case for being hired.
In comedy, this is called the “set up.” Jokes are not funny unless you set them up.
Likewise, the reasons to hire you are not that obvious unless you set them up. Like this:
You ask, “Is it more important to sign up new hospitals, or to grow revenue within existing hospitals you serve?”
Your boss-to-be says, “Definitely signing up new hospitals. We are only 3% penetrated in the Northeast. Your job is mostly to sign up new hospitals, I’d say.”
You say, “So you are wondering if I can land new hospitals, yes?”
Your boss says, “Yes.”
You just set this up. Now you deliver the knock-out blow.
You say, “That’s probably the 1 thing at Healthcore Tech that I’m known for. In my first year, I was awarded the “Sales Rookie of the Year Hunter” award. That one was out of 120 peers. (Always state an accomplishment relative to the 3Ps—vs. peers, vs. plan, or vs. previous year. Without doing this makes it hard for your future boss to understand how awesome you are. Make it easy).” You go on, “And during the award ceremony, the VP said that this award was given out based on landing new customers vs. growing existing ones. There is a different award, the “Fertile Farmer” award, which is for growing existing accounts. I was a runner-up for that one. But the one I won was for landing new accounts—new hospitals.
Your boss asks, “How many did you land?”
“I landed 34 new hospitals. My peers averaged 12 new hospitals. And the #2 sales exec behind me landed 20. The plan was 10. And the previous year, in my territory, the guy got only 8.”
Your boss will write something down at this point. It will say something like “OMG HIRE THIS PERSON IMMEDIATELY.” That’s because this “tie-down” way of communicating your accomplishments is extremely effective in getting you hired.
Always answer a “number question” with a “number answer.” It drives us nuts when we ask a very specific numerical question, and the person starts saying a bunch of words. We don’t want to hear words if we ask you a number question. We want to hear a number, then followed by words if you must.
Be prepared for “What,” “How,” and “Tell me more” questions.
A nice cadence for answering interview questions is to report the “what” that the boss asks. The numbers. The results. Answer the question. If they seem unconvinced, or if they seem to want more information, then start to talk about “how” you achieved those results. And if the boss is either super impressed, or super skeptical, he or she may ask you to “Tell me more.” Just keep explaining the results, calibrating them vs. peers/plan/previous year, sharing what you thought and what actions you took, and explain it with a tone of “I’m really proud that my boss was happy we crushed the goals that were most important to her.”
- Be easy to work with. Nobody likes working with a jerk. 98% of corporate “values” can be summarized with “Don’t act like a jerk.” People act like jerks in interviews by doing silly things.
- Don’t “rebuttal” your future boss. Starting sentences with “No,” “But,” or “However.” [See Marshall Goldsmith’s What Got You Here book.]
- Don’t lie. Even a little bit. Some job-hunting guides encourage you to embellish information. If we catch somebody in a lie, we’ll smoke your candidacy instantly. Tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth. And by the way, we’re going to talk with your past bosses, peers, and subordinates. So you can stretch the truth all you want, but if we catch you in a lie, you are done.
- Don’t use reverse psychology. Telling your future boss you are so important, and in such high demand, that you don’t really want this job makes you look like a jerk.
- Don’t make a big deal about what you want to “learn” in this job. Who cares? Your future boss doesn’t care. Your future boss wants you to deliver results. And if you are talking a bunch about learning this and learning that, it makes you sound like you should go back to grad school and sit around learning all day long. If you want your dream job, your boss will expect you to perform. Don’t confuse the two concepts.
- Don’t crap talk your past bosses. That’s a huge red flag. It makes you look like a jerk. Be empathetic and respectful of your past bosses for employing you. Even if you worked for a jerk, you don’t have to be a jerk yourself by defaming them. See the good in your previous bosses. There is some good in there somewhere. And show appreciation. Those past bosses helped to make you who you are today. So don’t demean yourself by demeaning your past bosses.
- Don’t use power gestures. You’ll look silly.
- Don’t say that you are “keeping your options open” when asked about your career goals. That’s what lousy employees say. Smart employees think about what they want, how to get it, and they have a very specific, focused, prioritized plan they are executing.
- Don’t say my name every sentence. Sorry Dale Carnegie, you have polluted the minds of a generation of job-seekers who think that saying my name is going to make me like you.
- Don’t resist your future boss, when they want to move to another topic. Never say, “Wait, I wasn’t finished with that story.” Be agile, be flexible, and be smart enough to take the cue when your future boss is finished hearing about that story and is trying to make the most of your time together. Move on.
- Be 10 minutes early to the interview. Tell the receptionist you are early and just sit there and be polite. A “star” candidate for one of our clients showed up late. 2 hours late. And the candidate acted like, “You will make time for me.” The billionaire Founder & Chairman of the company thought this was not considerate, and killed the person’s candidacy on the spot. Bye-bye!
- Don’t ask stupid questions that have a “will you accommodate me” sort of tone. Can I bring my dog to work? Can I take time off to practice yoga? Can I walk out of the office in the middle of the day to attend my “Millennials for Immediate Gratification” chapter meetings? No. The answer is no, just assume it’s no. Your tone and communication strategy should be 100.0% focused on understanding your boss’ ideal career path, and goals for this stage of their career, and showing how you will help them be successful. You can ask about whether to take your dog to work in other interviews. This is the interview with your future boss and all they really care about is whether you will help them get what they want—to be successful in this stage of their career.
10. Describe your ideal career path.
“But this is the hardest thing. What if I don’t know?”
If you don’t know, you have not done the hard work to figure it out, and you won’t be happy in your career.
Do the hard work. Figure out your ideal career path. And then be able to tell somebody about how this job sits dead center on the path to experiencing your ideal career.
For example, “My long-term career goals? I appreciate your asking. So I’m 35 years old right now. By the time I’m 50, I’d love to be viewed as a thought leader and world expert on the topic of predictive analytics in marketing. It’s my calling. I just love the idea of getting people the products and services they want, without wasting their time with noise. I’d like to retire in my mid ’50s, serve on boards, and give speeches and maybe do some consulting with top brands.”
You go on, “That gives me about 20 years to really make my mark. What I’ve accomplished so far in my career that I feel good about is performing at the highest levels academically in the fields of marketing, computer science, and statistics. And my first two jobs worked out great—the first one being in the nitty gritty of coding and analysis at DOD (Department of Defense). The second job allowed me to manage several successful marketing campaigns globally, for a handful of top clients, at a top consulting firm. That felt good. I’d say my big to-do for this job, and the next stage, is to go big on the people management part within a global brand. I want to find a mentor who is considered to be an outstanding leader of people.”
Now for the “nothing-but-net” swish to finish your answer. “You have that reputation. I want to do my part to deliver the results you want to achieve, so you are successful in this stage of your career. And I’m going to be watching what you do and how you do it to successfully manage a complex organization at scale, and I would like to do what you do, as you continue to move up. That’s why this job fits perfectly into my ideal career path.” That is an A+ answer to the “what are your long-term goals” question.
Connect it to this job.
And use your vision for your ideal career path as another chance to reiterate how you are going to deliver results today. And show how your delivering results today help your boss-to-be achieve his or her career goals.
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