This is the second of a three-part series offering concrete, actionable ideas for how to separate yourself from the pack in today’s feverishly-competitive job market.
Part II: Treat the interview like you’re on trial. Or in front of a Congressional sub-committee. If you show up and elect to “wing it” because you’re so sure you know your material cold, or somehow you’re under the impression that the person/people conducting the interview are your “friends,” it’s probably over before it begins.
An Interview Binder can be the difference between killing or flopping at an interview. More on this in a minute.
In Part I yesterday, I shared the concept of a Sales Cover Letter (“Your Resume Won’t Get You a Job”) as a tool for rising to the top of the resume pile to get to the invitation to interview face-to-face. Congratulations, you got the call and the meeting. Today I provide an approach for creating a dramatic, compelling impression as a superior candidate…before the actual interview begins.
It’s very easy to fall into the trap of assuming you’ve got a crisp, well-considered answer for any question that might be thrown at you in an interview. After all, you’ve gotten this far in your career because you’re an expert in your field and at your profession. You’ve been in countless meetings and presentations with little more than an agenda and a notepad. And that’s probably worked out for you.
This new interview is not one of those times. You want to stand out from the other candidates because you get one shot. This interview is Pass/Fail. But your schedule is packed. You’ve got budgets, meetings, reviews, maybe a trade show. “I’ll be ready” you think. And maybe you will. The problem is that the interview is not about you…it’s about them. Have you done enough to be ready for them?
The typical candidate prepares by putting a fresh pad of paper in a leather-bound notepad holder, a nice Cross pen, a few copies of the resume, a printout of the Position Description, and a few pages from the company’s website. A quick scan just before entering the interview and “it’s ‘go’ time.”
The Interview Binder is a tool that accomplishes three of the most important objectives in an interview: 1) it gives you structure for optimal pre-interview preparation; 2) it creates an indelible impression with the interviewer(s) before the first question; and, 3) it sets the bar for any other candidates. The basic construct of the Interview Binder I’m suggesting looks like this:
The Binder: Buy a new one. A 1.5-inch binder is a good size because it can hold about 100 pages comfortably, including tab dividers. D-ring is key because when you open it all the pages lay flat. Don’t leave the front and back cover sleeves and spine unfilled. These are panels you can use to market your intention.
Tab Dividers: The 8-tab dividers provide enough sections for the scope of research and preparation you’ll need to perform. Clear tabs allow you to insert custom labels about each section’s contents. The sections most commonly used are found in #3-10 as follows:
- Answers to Their Questions: This comes first because it is the crux of the meeting. Write out the hardest, most awkward questions you can imagine being asked, then write out your answers. Practice answering these questions in front of a mirror or with a friend. Refine them until you are crisp, concise and compelling. “60 Minutes” built a franchise on top of people who thought they could handle any question thrown at them and got burnt. Key Point: the answers should be framed about them and their needs, not you and your needs.
- Your Questions for Them: This is your chance to uncover information about the position and the company you will use to decide if you want the position. Questions like: “Why is this position available?”, “What are the issues that keep you up at night?”, “What are the opportunities you want to go after now but can’t, and why?”
- Capabilities eBrochure: More on this tomorrow.
- Job Description/Correspondence: Just what it says. Print out and include here the description and all correspondence that has transpired between you and the company.
- Research on Interviewers: Know who is sitting across from you and what his/her/their hot button issues are. Google, Zoominfo.com, LinkedIn.com and the company’s website are great places to start this research. Break down your research into key talking points you can insert into your interview at opportune moments. It’s amazing how people open up and take notice when someone asks them to talk about themselves.
- Company Website/Research: Print out important pages from their website, find points of interest you can use in your interview and use Post-Its to make it easy to turn quickly to a particular page to reference a point as you’re making it. Use Google and Google Blogsearch to find articles and other commentary about the company you can reference to demonstrate you understand their “today” issues.
- Competitive Research: Do your homework on their top 3-5 competitors. Create your own competitive issues matrix document or print out and highlight web research.
- Research on Yourself: Nobody ever does this. Research yourself on Google and Zoominfo.com. Put yourself in their position and find the landmines and goldmines about yourself that exist online. Have those pages and notes that explain or exploit each major point.
Final Tip: Practice using the Binder before your interview. Develop a smooth, natural interaction with the material emphasizing eye contact with your interviewers. Use the material to support points you want to make, while maintaining the connection with them. If asked, it’s okay to show them what you’ve assembled. Never leave the binder behind. Unless they trade you for an offer letter.
Wednesday: Part III: The Closing eBrochure