Smart and Memorable Interviewing

July, 2013

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It is so much easier to remember important ideas with an acronym. You’ll learn three really good ones in this blog. As a frequent presenter and storyteller, my all time favorite acronym comes from the Heath Brothers’ book, Made To Stick. The authors suggest that the most “sticky” ideas are attached to the word “SUCCESs” (only one S at the end of this version of success). People remember best when what you present is simple, unexpected, concrete, credible, emotional and includes great stories. This acronym can provide an easy to recall checklist for your next speech, and offers great advice for making presentations of all kinds more memorable and engaging. When it comes to your future presentations, few match the significance, or pressure, of job interviews.

Strong and memorable job interviews must include great story telling. Prospective employers want to know you have “been there, done that”. Stories reveal our past actions and results, offer compelling evidence that we are effective in our work. You can prepare many of those stories in advance by doing a needs/qualifications/stories analysis:

What are the top 10 needs of the employer for this job?

What are your specific qualifications for each of these 10?

What are your stories that prove these qualifications, framed in a challenge, then actions, then results structure (a second acronym for you, “CAR”)?

After you prepare and rehearse your best stories, always remember that while it is very helpful to do so in advance of the interview, you don’t want to just line up those songs (stories) in your jukebox (brain) and start playing them in sequence (a natural tendency) at the interview. The reality of job interviewing is that it is more like improvisational theater than a solo concert. You need to connect quickly and powerfully with the unique needs of your audience. You are asked to think on your feet as you respond to prompts (sometimes coming out of left field!). You have some idea of what is ahead, but you never know exactly what is coming your way, so you have to be present in the moment, confident, engaging, and quick (but not too fast).

Always remember that most of the agenda is set on the other side of the table. They are the customer, and need to be understood first before you launch into your stories. Probe often for what they really need. Be sure to choose the right stories. Don’t sing D7 when they really want to hear A9 (back to the jukebox metaphor).

When all is said and done, you will be evaluated in three primary ways; your ability, motivation and fit:

Can you do this job effectively?

Are you highly motived to do this work?

Will you fit this work role, culture and boss better than our other options?

Of these three key factors, the first two have likely already been answered affirmatively or you wouldn’t have been invited to the interview. That third element, fit with the role, culture and the boss, will be very big factors that will be revealed in the job interview. Even if most of the interview questions are about the job itself, make no mistake. The evaluation of your candidacy is largely about “fit,” culturally and stylistically.

When preparing for that upcoming job interview, here is a third helpful acronym for you to consider, “SO SMART”. Psychologist Karol Wasylyshny, an emotional intelligence expert, created this memory aid. So smart refers to self observation, self management, attunement and relationship traction. Each represents a key element of emotional intelligence, and can lead to greatly improved interviewing techniques and strategies.

Now imagine that you were secretly being videotaped during your last job interview. Let’s review that tape and jot down answers to a small sample of these “so smart” questions:

SELF OBSERVATION

How efficient and engaging were you with your words and presentation when offering
your stories/answers?

Overall, how well did you connect with the interviewer?

How effective, engaged and engaging were your words, tone and body language?

Some of my clients have really struggled with interviewing. I have at times seen these clients bomb in a pretend interview in front of a camera or audio recorder, then shine after reviewing the footage and making adjustments. If you are really concerned about an upcoming interview, consider recording yourself beforehand. Play it back. Pause frequently when reviewing, noting how you would react if it was you across the table.

Give yourself a mulligan or a do-over if you need to. Step outside yourself for a while, and see how you come across. It is ok to bomb in the scrimmage, but not the actual game. Remember the old adage, with a different twist at the end; “practice makes permanent”. Check for yourself, and ask others what they see as your communication strengths and challenges. Unless you ask, they likely won’t tell, and without the benefit of feedback, we are each prone to repeat our mistakes. Ask for honest feedback, and take it graciously.

SELF MANAGEMENT

Were you able to make adjustments to your body language, tone and words when the conversation shifted, or were you almost “robotic” at times, just wanting the get the right words out?

Were you both authentic and prepared, not overly polished or caught off guard?

Were you able to quickly forgive yourself if you made a mistake?

If you are in transition, one important perspective offered by local retained recruiter Marcia Ballinger is to be prepared while also remaining authentic and natural during the interview. Recognize that you are mostly competing with candidates who are currently employed, and usually those candidates are not overly prepared for the interview. Their less rehearsed/less scripted answers can lead to the perception of a more natural, “trustworthy” candidate. Because employed candidates usually need to be convinced that this is a better opportunity than the one they currently occupy, they are going to be quite discerning. They will have tough questions. They won’t “puff up” their experiences. They are far from convinced that this is a “perfect” opportunity. If you appear to be overly-anxious for this job, especially before you know all the particulars about it, your judgment could be held in question.

Especially if you are in transition, Marcia also suggests a focus on time management. Candidates in transition give far longer answers, she says, making client companies wonder about their time management and organizational skills. She even recommends setting up a meeting for shortly after your interview. That way, you have a reason to be somewhere else at a certain time. You will need to be succinct. You will seem more balanced, less intense, and likely more authentic.

You and your competition always have options, so be discerning. Be careful not to appear judgmental, however. Ask good questions, and when you get to a problem area, position yourself as a problem solver, not a critic. Getting at challenges creates an opportunity for you to tell stories of successfully addressing such challenges in the past. Always remember too why the interview is mostly about story telling; The best predictor of your future performance is prior performance in similar circumstances.

ATTUNEMENT

When unsure, did you clarify what was meant, or did you just try to guess?

Did you try to create chemistry with your interviewer, or did you usually go straight to the point?

Would you say that there was a fit between you and the job/interviewer/culture, and did you communicate that during the interview?

RELATIONSHIP TRACTION

Could you imagine a healthy and productive future partnership with this person?

Will this person likely tell others that he or she could imagine a great partnership with you, and thinks you would be a excellent fit for the organization?

If you didn’t get the job or advance in the process, did you try to take the high road and make an effort to preserve relationships? Consider the advice of local retained recruiter David Magy, “It’s a small world and a long life.”

In summary, I hope this blog will help you become a more memorable and engaging communicator (think “SUCCESs”), effective story teller (think “CAR”) and “SO SMART” at your next job interview!