May 15, 2012
Interviewing success: a riddle to ponder
Eons ago, in the decade known as the '90s, I was lucky enough to learn the career-counseling trade at the hands of an incredibly wise mentor. This individual came from a blue-chip sales and marketing background, and he drew heavily upon his in-the-trenches business expertise to teach people how to sell themselves more effectively and win job offers.
On this latter note, every time my boss would finish an in-depth interview training session with a client, he'd conclude the session by asking: "If I were waiting outside in your car after your next interview and got to ask you a single question to determine how well you did in the meeting, what question do you think I would ask you?"
Over the years, I've shamelessly co-opted this technique in my own coaching practice. In fact, I've probably asked this question over a hundred times to clients in an effort to get them to fully understand modern interviewing dynamics and how to most effectively beat out their competition in the hiring process.
The most common guesses people make when asked this question:
• "Did you get the offer?" Sorry, way too obvious; let's assume the interviewer didn't just come out and offer you the position on the spot.
• "Did you ace the questions you were asked?" Nope; anybody focused on that area is likely concentrating too much on their own performance instead of their "customer" sitting across the desk.
• "Did you ask good questions back?" That's always an important part of the process, but it's still just a small part of the overall puzzle.
• "Did you build strong rapport?" Again, a good guess, since building trust and rapport is a critical part of getting hired, but this element alone isn't a 100-percent-reliable indicator.
• "Did you ask for the order?" Interesting thought, but that's coming on too strong in most cases, especially when dealing with passive-aggressive Northwesterners who hate being put on the spot.
So what diagnostic question (in my opinion) best indicates that somebody likely did a bang-up job of conducting themselves during the interview process? Here's what my mentor would always ask: "What did you learn about the needs, challenges and expectations of the hiring manager that you didn't know before you walked into the interview?"
When you think about it, the answer is extraordinarily telling. Nothing is more important in an interview than demonstrating to the hiring manager that you can solve his or her problems. But you won't be able to demonstrate this until you actually KNOW what these problems are. In specific detail.
You need to place your focus on learning as much as you can from the people across from you. Engage them. Listen carefully to what they tell you (or even just hint at) in the meeting. Ask clarifying questions. Make educated guesses. Repeat what you think you heard them say -- and get them to validate it.
In short, do whatever it takes to deepen your understanding of the interviewer's needs during the meeting, versus spending the whole time talking about your own qualifications and exploits.
If you can acquire a crystal-clear picture of the pain points keeping hiring managers up at night, you'll have a distinct advantage in telling them what they want to hear: that you're the answer to their professional prayers and the one that they should invite onto the team!
Karen Burns is the author of The Amazing Adventures of Working Girl, a career guide based on her 59 jobs over 40 years in 22 cities.
Lisa Quast is a certified career coach, mentor, business consultant, former corporate executive and author based in the Seattle area.
Randy Woods writes about job-search tools, networking techniques and other tips to help you land your dream job.
Matt Youngquist is the president of Career Horizons, a career counseling firm.
Natalie Singer is a Seattle writer, editor and small-business owner.
Michelle Goodman is the author of "My So-Called Freelance Life" and "The Anti 9-to-5 Guide."
Paul Anderson helps professionals in transition find their desired employment.
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