Despite countless technological advances in the recruiting industry, one puzzle piece has remained largely untouched for the last 50 or so years: the interview.
The interview is where you land the job or don’t, where you get called back or get the call you don’t want. Since this part of the process has remained the same for so long, both sides have become complacent, succumbing to the siren call of the status quo. It’s ironic that the part of greatest importance has gotten the least focus.
Let’s change that. Here’s how to shake things up and stand out in the sea of candidates.
The proven approach that follows is linear and sequential, meaning it goes through the same stages in the same order each time. Sometimes the cadence is different, and sometimes you’ll repeat a step. Sometimes there are multiple ways to tackle the same step. The important thing is to see the path from the employer’s perspective. If you look at the interviewing process through their eyes instead of your own, the answers become clear.
Most candidates are stuck in their perspective. From the employer’s side, I can tell you it’s truly painful.
3 Ways to Lose the Job
1. Talk About Yourself. A Lot.
I know it sounds counterintuitive. Isn’t the whole point of an interview to talk about yourself? Yes and no.
Obviously the potential employer has to get to know you, but research by Dr. Diana Tamir shows that the pleasure center of our brain lights up when we talk about ourselves. It’s delightful — and addictive. So be careful about hogging the pleasure center for yourself. Focus on the interviewer first.
2. Create Boredom
Use lots of jargon and buzzwords so you sound just like everyone else. Don’t ask questions about the interviewer. They might actually enjoy talking about themselves or the problems they need to solve! For gosh sake, don’t let them do that!
Blabber on. If you do ask about the employer, please use generic questions so they know you didn’t do any homework, like “What keeps you up at night?” Never heard that one before.
3. Pester Endlessly
Keep on sending the same follow-up email. “Mo, did you get my email following up on my other seven emails, two nervous-sounding voicemails, and three texts that followed up on the open position? Mo? Mo? Mo?” Sorry, Mo isn’t here right now. He moved to the San Juan Islands and accidentally on purpose dropped his phone into the mouth of a killer whale.
This is an exaggeration, but I’ve sat through many interviews as an employer myself that skirted unbelievably close. Whether or not you’ve been through an ordeal like this, I hope I’ve made my point: The employer’s experience comes first. Focus on that, and you’ll crush your next interview.
3 Crucial Steps to Interview Success
Here are the same steps done right:
1. Listen and Learn
Give the interviewer an opportunity to talk about themselves and the position they’re trying to fill. Focus on their personal views. Here’s a starting point: “I’ve read the role description and understand it well, especially the heavy emphasis on project management, but I was wondering: From your unique perspective of CFO, what would you say is the No. 1 success factor in the first 90 days for the person you hire?”
Ask thoughtful questions based on your research that establish your expertise and get them talking. Remember Dr. Tamir’s research: Get their pleasure center fired up!
2. Create Curiosity
Now, turn the spotlight on yourself. Specifically, explain how you can help the employer and their team solve the problems they have shared with you. Use their words, reflecting the situation from their unique perspective.
Research from Dr. Mathias Gruber found that people are motivated to dig in and ask questions when they are curious. Curiosity is an intrinsic motivator. Create some curiosity about how you would approach the situation and fill the duties of the role. Let them see your big brain in action. Transition from talking about what you do to doing what you do, right there in the interview. Back to the conversation: “Wow, that’s an interesting perspective. Based on that priority in the first 90 days, what would you think if we …”
3. Follow Up With Value
Instead of following up with the typical (and boring) “Thank you for your time” email like everyone else does, find a way to add value to the interviewer based on the conversation you had.
Be unique! Value can take many forms — a business book, an introduction to someone in your network, a link to a relevant talk, an interesting article. Start doing the job. You’ll stand out. You’re the one who asked them meaningful questions. You’re the one who was helpful. You’re the one starting to do the job.
Example: Send a handwritten note, along with the book The First 90 Days by Michael D. Watkins, and a well-thought-out one-page draft 90-day plan, tying back to the CFO’s thoughts. This would blow them away, even if they had some ideas for improvement. They’re engaged, and you’re standing out. Why? You’re starting work, making it easy for them to see you in the role. This is the kind of impact you’re looking to make.
This approach might feel uncomfortable, and it likely won’t come naturally. It might feel risky, but it’s actually less risky than being boring like everyone else. This approach values quality, interactivity, and helpfulness. Focus on those three things, and you can’t go wrong. The worst case? You don’t get the role, but people remember you for the next one.
Mo Bunnell is the founder and CEO of Bunnell Idea Group. He is the author of The Snowball System: How to Win More Business and Turn Clients into Raving Fans.