If you don’t go, you’ll never know. You have to not look at it like a rejection. There are so many reasons you’re not picked that you can’t even worry about it. Robert DeNiro, actor
Lots of people seek out advice before going on a job interview, as it is a critical step in the job search process. At the Five O’Clock Club, we advise members to think and act like a consultant when on a job interview.
Pretend for a minute that you own a small consulting company. When you first meet a prospective client, you’ll probe to better understand the problems that this person is facing.
You are also there to sell your company. Therefore, as the manager talks about company problems, you reveal your own company’s experience and credentials by asking questions or by telling how you have handled similar situations. You want to see how your company fits in with this company.
If the conversation goes astray, as a consultant you would lead it back to the topics on your 3×5 card—the work you would do for them and your abilities. That way, you can make your points in context.
It is your responsibility, as a consultant, to reassure the hiring manager that everything will work out. The manager does not want to be embarrassed later by discovering he’s made a hiring mistake. It is almost as if you are patting the manager on the arm and saying, “Everything will be just fine. You can count on me.”
You must display self-confidence in your ability to handle the position. If you are not confident, why should the hiring manager take a chance on you? If you want the job, take a stand and say that you believe it will work.
If the manager has no problems, or if you can’t solve them, there is no place for you.
If you are asked how you would handle a situation, there are several approaches you can use to reassure the manager that:
- It won’t be a problem. I’m good at these things. I can figure them out.
- I’m very resourceful. Here’s what I did as company controller . . .
- I’ve been in that situation before. I can handle your situation even though I don’t know the specifics (since I’m not on the job yet).
Let the manager air doubts about you. If you are told what these reservations are, you can reassure the manager on the spot or you can mull it over later and reassure the manager in writing.
Do not appear to be shopping around. Be sincerely interested in this particular organization, at least during the interview.
Follow up on your meetings. Address the important issues, stress your interest and enthusiasm for the job, and state your major selling points—especially since you now know what is of interest to the interviewer.
Thoughtful follow-up will dramatically increase the number of job offers you get. It is one of the most powerful tools you have to influence the situation.
We’ve been preaching the consultative approach since the mid-1980s. It will make you much more powerful and calmer during the interview process—instead of sitting there like a grubby job hunter pleading, hoping that they’ll hire you, and passively trying to answer the questions correctly so that you’ll win the big prize.
With the consultant mentality, you’ll be much more proactive. A consultant is trying to land an assignment—an assignment that pays $40,000, $60,000, $100,000—whatever your salary is. You know that a consultant doesn’t expect to breeze through one meeting and then get handed a $40,000 or a $100,000 consulting assignment.
What do consultants do at a first meeting? Imagine one right now, holding an 8-1/2 x 11 pad of paper: “I’ve got a pen in hand and I’m thinking—thinking really hard. Thinking the way a consultant thinks. I’m not just sitting there answering questions as if I were on a quiz show. I’m trying to understand the situation and what the organization’s needs might be, maybe even squinting because I’m thinking so hard.” The consultant is thinking and asking questions that reveal:
- What’s going on with this organization?
- What’s the flow of work? Who does what exactly?
- And what’s handled by this department vs. what’s handled by that department?
- Have you thought about perhaps needing a person who can handle this thing and that thing?
Let’s be more specific. Pretend that you really are a consultant on the job truly trying to advise this manager. Pretend you have no stake in the outcome of this meeting. That is, you’re not trying to land an assignment. You’re just trying to think about what is right for this organization, not what’s right for you. What do they need to have done, whether it includes you or not? What’s the political situation in the organization? What are the things that are holding them up? You may ask the hiring manager, “What’s your vision for this department going forward? What’s keeping you from having this department work the way that you want it to work?” Ask questions that help you to help this organization.
The secret of science is to ask the right question, and it is the choice of problem more than anything that marks the man of genius in the scientific world. Henry Tizard, chemist/rector
Let’s pretend, for example, that they have an opening for a marketing management position in a subsidiary of a company. You may want to ask:
- Exactly what’s your relationship with the parent company?
- Do any of their marketing people get involved in the marketing efforts here?
- Are you forced to use any of the marketing solutions that they might have at the parent company?
- Are you allowed to do pretty much whatever you want to do here?
- What is this division’s sales volume right now?
- What would you like your sales volume to be?
- What do you think is stopping the division from getting there?
- What is your time-frame for getting the sales volume to that new level?
- Is there a problem with your marketing literature, or are you satisfied with it? · Is there a problem with your sales force? Are you satisfied with them?
- Who exactly on staff is doing whatever affects marketing right now?
- Do you feel like you’re understaffed or overstaffed? (What do you think is going on?)
- Do you think your employees are stars or not stars?
- Who are your major competitors? How do you see them in comparison to you?
- Have you been gaining ground or losing ground?
These are not the standard interview questions you might find in some other interview books. These are real questions—as if you were working with a job-hunter client who was preparing for a meeting. You’re thinking, “Well, what are some of the things that I’d like to know if I were meeting with these people, if I wanted to get a good feel for what’s going on?”
Ask yourself what you would really like to know if you were actually about to get a job there — rather than repeating generalized questions job hunters always ask in interviews.
Now, don’t just shoot all those questions out one after another. Write them on your notepad, and as interviewers are answering, make comments and tell them something about your experience. “Gee, that’s interesting, because when I worked with ABC International, we had the same kind of problem with the parent, and here’s what we did about it.” Or you can say, “The staffing problems seem to be an important issue here. Let me give some thought as to how jobs could be combined.” Ask questions that are appropriate to the job you’re going after. Give them ideas and suggestions that are appropriate to the job. All this gives you a chance to talk about yourself. Have a consultative mind-set—probe to really understand what’s going on so you can figure out the kind of solutions they need.
Now what does a consultant do to follow up? They don’t just ask questions and shoot the breeze as if it doesn’t take any brainpower. It takes brainpower. After the meeting, you’ll do your homework. At the very least, your homework includes doing Internet research on other organizations that are in the same situation and finding out what they’re doing. In the case of one Five O’Clock Clubber, it meant going far beyond that. He visited all of the company’s car dealerships and talked to the manager of each about the insurance coverage they had, then went back to the hiring manager and said, “Since I last met with you, I’ve stopped by a lot of your dealerships and I talked to each manager to uncover their attitudes about the insurance they use. Here’s what I learned.”
Of course, he got the job. He was able to do intelligent follow-up because he found out during the interview what was of concern to the hiring manager and others with whom he was meeting. He had a consultative mentality.
Consultants ask questions, they take notes, and then they go away and they work on the problems.
Help hiring managers to define the job: Remember that most jobs are created for people. Some job hunters come away from a meeting and say, “They don’t even know what kind of job they want filled here.” Most companies don’t know. You’re the consultant. Help them! Of course, don’t be an arrogant know-it-all. Show some humility in your suggestions. After all, you couldn’t possibly know as an outsider what they know as insiders, and you can admit that to them.
Uncover any political problems. It may affect whether or not you want to work with them. Get the offer, and then decide later if you want to take the job.
That is the essence of science: ask an impertinent question, and you are on the way to a pertinent answer. Jacob Bronowski, scientist
Consultants also find out about their competitors. Consultants know that others are being considered. So, a consultant asks:
- How many other consulting firms are you talking to?
- How far along are you with them?
- How do you see our firm comparing with the other firms you’re talking to?
Consultants try to measure how they stack up against their competitors. You, too, need to find out how you stack up against your competitors. Otherwise, you go away dumb and happy, thinking, “They liked me, they really liked me.” Well, they liked you, but are they going to hire you? And how do they see you vs. your competition? So you have to ask:
- Where are you in the hiring process? · How many others are you talking to?
- Now that you’ve met with some of these other people, how do you see me compared with them?
- What kind of person might you be tending toward hiring and why?
- Can you think of any reason why you wouldn’t want to have someone like me on board?
You could also ask, “What kind of person would be your ideal candidate, and how do you see me in comparison with your ideal?”
What convinces is conviction. Believe in the argument you’re advancing. If you don’t, you’re as good as dead. The other person will sense that something isn’t there, and no chain of reasoning, no matter how logical or brilliant, will win your case for you. — Lyndon Baines Johnson
Even experienced job hunters need practice. Each interview smooths out your presentation and responses. As you get better, your self-confidence grows.
By now, you’ve had networking or information-gathering interviews. You will have practiced talking about yourself and will have information about your area of interest and the possibilities for someone like you.
A job hunter reported, “When I was unemployed, I had lots of interviews, but I was not doing well. I was under so much stress that I kept talking about what I wanted to do rather than what I could do for the company. I knew better, but I could not think straight. An old friend, who belongs to The Five O’Clock Club, helped me to develop my lines for my 3×5 card. Then we practiced. After that, my interviews went well.”
Be sure to record every networking and job interview on the Interview Record.
People who are in The Five O’Clock Club small groups do better on interviews for a number of reasons. One is that they get to hear the experiences and the blunders of those who are ahead of them in the job search so they don’t make those same mistakes later. But another reason is that they’re practicing every week how to speak, keep things concise, and get to the point. When it’s your turn in the small group, you tell other people what is happening in your search and what you need help with.
The way you seem in the small group bears some resemblance to the way you are in interviews. It’s better to get feedback from friendly peers and your career coach rather than lose one job offer after another and not know why. Every Five O’Clock Club session gets you readier for your meetings with prospective employers.
It may sound like a contradiction, but you achieve spontaneity on the set through preparation of the dialogue at home. As you prepare, find ways of making your responses seem newly minted, not preprogrammed. — Michael Caine, Acting in Film