"Managing your career is just the beginning?"

Strategic Partners:
Interviewing, Aug 2005, Financial Executive International
Positioning Yourself to Get the Offer

If you've ever studied the strategies of selling and marketing, you probably recognize a similar pattern in the steps of the sales process. The sales process goes something like this: First, you build rapport, then uncover needs, address the needs, probe for objections, overcome objections, trial close and finally close the sale. Although a board meeting, sales presentation and employment interview seem like three totally different scenarios, they are very much the same. In all three situations, individuals are positioning to influence others in order to reach a desired outcome.

In order to successfully influence, motivate or sell an idea, or concept, it is necessary to follow the basic steps of the sales presentation. To quote the influential media billionaire, Rupert Murdoch, In motivating people, you've got to engage their minds and their hearts. To properly position yourself in an interview, you must engage the interviewer's mind and heart. This is accomplished by asking strategic questions that uncover needs and identify what is commonly called hot buttons. If we can successfully address the interviewer's hot buttons, we are that much closer to getting the offer, or as we say in the sales process, closing the deal.

Before engaging an interviewer it is critical to be properly prepared. Preparing for the interview requires several steps. First, we need to become familiar with the company. Knowing their size in assets, geographic locations and other statistical data is important, but I also recommend understanding the corporate vision, history, culture, values, and how they measure success. In other words, know where they are today in their market, know where they came from, and try to understand where they want to be in the future. You can usually get most of this information from the company web site, company brochures or annual reports if available. Additionally, investor relations can be very helpful.

Secondly, it is important to know your resume, your career history and be able to tell your story. You should be able to verbalize where you've been, how you got there, and where you want to be in the future. Get comfortable with elaborating on your achievements as well as your challenges and how you were able to overcome adversity during your career. Roll play as if you were in an actual interview. Practice until you are comfortable answering specific questions regarding why you left a particular company, industry changes or specific changes in job focus. There should be a smooth transition and it should reflect sound judgment and continuous career progression. This is where a professional recruiter or coach can be invaluable.

The third and probably most important step is to create your interview questions. I can't tell you the number of times a CEO or key hiring authority has said to me, Hank, your client asked all the right questions, and we would like to make an offer. Your questions, though subtle, send a message loud and clear. Each question tells a story. It tells the interviewer many things about you. The questions you ask and even the questions you don't ask, indicate your motivation, experience, polish, education, agenda, ethics, values, attributes, work habits, strengths and weaknesses. Therefore, consider carefully what you wish to say about yourself when composing your questions.

Your questions should be open ended to encourage and stimulate conversation. They should tend to keep the interview flowing smoothly, like a waltz. A good interview is like dancing, although both partners cannot lead, they should complement one another. Stimulating conversation allows you to develop chemistry and connect with the interviewer. Connecting with the interviewer is the key to getting to the next stage of the interview process and ultimately getting the offer.

Our interview questions should accomplish two things. They should express our interest in understanding what the company wants to achieve and how we can assist them in reaching their objectives. Remember, in the early stages of the interview it is critical to build rapport and position us to get to the next stage. This is done by finding out what their hot buttons are. An example of a good probing question would go like this: Specifically, Mr. CEO, what could I do in my first year as your CFO that would exceed your expectations and meet all corporate objectives Notice the question is not me oriented. Me questions, will always get you in trouble if asked at the wrong time. You don't ask dad for the keys to the car right after he sees the F on your report card. On the other hand, you could probably get the car and even some spending money if you ask him right after you paint the house and mow the grass. Timing is everything.

In the beginning of the interview process, stay away from me questions. It's not about what's in it for you; it's about what's in it for them. Later, after you've won their hearts, you can ask for the car keys.

The final step of the interview is the close. It is perhaps the most difficult step in the interview process. This is where we separate the pros from the amateurs. Many interviewers fail at this juncture because they are fearful to ask the defining question. What concerns do you have regarding my ability to be an effective member of your team? The question obviously places us in a somewhat vulnerable position, however if we do not address it, we have no way of overcoming a perceived objection. An objection in the mind of an interviewer is like a wall we cannot get through.

Remember, we cannot close until we overcome every objection. Even if the objection is perceived and not valid, it will inhibit us from getting to the next step. In the interview, perception is reality. Therefore, if we can identify a perceived objection, we have a chance of changing a false perception by addressing it with the interviewer and overcoming the objection. It is critical for us to get the interviewer to share any concerns they might have regarding our candidacy, otherwise we won't get to the next stage. Once all objections have been addressed and the interviewer is satisfied that we are qualified, we can now move to the close and ask our final closing question. What is our next step?

The closing question will reflect confidence and demonstrate your interest in going forward. Additionally, it tells the interviewer you are a serious contender for the position and requires him or her to respond. Any answer other than, we would like you to meet the rest of the team or we would like to go to the next step could be an indication that there are some reservations about you. It is important that you validate this response, by asking for reassurance or probing for additional concerns that need to be addressed. Hopefully, the interviewer will open up and share why he or she has reservations and provide you with another opportunity to discuss the objection and possibly overcome it. Do not be afraid to ask for clarification. You have nothing to lose and everything to gain. Persistence never lost an opportunity.

Similar to a chess match, the interview requires concentration and strategic maneuvering. As an executive recruiter, I spend hours preparing my clients for these career chess matches. Today, many corporate executives are not properly prepared to professionally engage in an interview, many of which will spend too much time selling and telling, and not enough time asking and listening. Interviewing is an art. Surprisingly, the most qualified individual is not always the winner. Usually, the one who interviews best gets the offer. If you prepare properly, do your homework and utilize these techniques, you'll increase your odds of getting the offer.




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