Job interviews are sales calls, or what our friends from Glengarry Glen Ross would call, “sits.” Professional salespeople make naturally good job interviewees (not all, but most) because they understand that the principles of good selling apply to an interview situation.
For anyone without formal sales training, here’s how you can think like a salesperson to master the ever-confounding job interview:
1. Use the 80/20 rule
Sales professionals (with the proper training) learn this early on: speak 20 percent of the time, listen 80 percent of the time. Instead of telling your prospect how great your product or service is, ask them questions in order to understand the problems they have. Then, tie those problems back to your product/service and how it can change their life.
But in a job interview, you’re being asked questions that will help the prospective employer evaluate your skills, background, and personality. How can you possibly speak only 20 percent of the time?
2. Flip it
Larry David famously advised his friend Leon in the popular HBO series in Curb Your Enthusiasm that, in order to get the job he was interviewing for that day, he would need to “flip it” – or, as Leon put it, “topsy-turvy that mother (expletive).” Sage advice from a great comedian, and the foundation of practicing the 80/20 rule. Watch the scene below – but warning, the language isn’t safe work.
In order to “take control” or “flip” the interview, you must get the person interviewing you talking. He/she who talks least, wins. Flipping is easy, if you know how.
After some initial small talk, the interviewer will segue into the formal part of the conversation, where they’ll ask some meaty questions. This is where the interviewee (you) swallows hard and prepares to step up the plate.
You must answer their question succinctly. Get to the point and keep it short – your answer should take no more then two minutes. Then stop – don’t try to oversell your answer by expanding on it – and ask an open-ended question back to the interviewer, something like, “How does that relate to how you do things here?” or “What approach would you take in that scenario?”
Asking a good open-ended question here will do a few things:
- It will catch your interviewer off guard and force them to come up with a brilliant response.
- It will completely change the dynamic of the conversation. Now, the interviewer ha sto start talking instead of just listening.
- It will convert the “interview” into a dynamic conversation. Once the interviewer starts talking, you can steer the conversation by responding carefully to their thoughts.
3. Ask for objections
Just like a smart salesperson knows not to try to close their prospect on the first appointment (but they often will if they do their job right), you are not asking to be offered the job during the interview (and you should be highly suspicious of any company that does offer you the job on the spot). However, you do want to leave the interview knowing exactly where you stand in your prospective employer’s eyes.
How can you do this? Simple – just ask.
“Am I someone you would hire for this position?” might be a bit forward (and demands a yes/no answer when you should be asking open-ended questions). A better way to phrase the same question would be: “What concerns do you have about me as a candidate for this position?”
Money question! You’ve basically asked the interviewer to be completely transparent with you and tell you where you stand. You also know what will keep them from buying your product (you) – their objections. Once you know these objections, you can work to overcome them.
Warning: Do not attempt to overcome objections during this conversation. Thank the interviewer for sharing their concerns with you and give yourself 24 hours to think about them. You’ll attempt to overcome the objections in your follow-up/thank-you email, which you should send the next day.
In sales, asking your prospect why they wouldn’t buy your product is good form and highly strategic, because you’ll know exactly what stands in the way of you closing the deal.
Rarely, if ever, will the interviewer not appreciate your candor and give you a fresh, honest response to your question.
In summary, you don’t have to take Zig Zigler’s sales training to become an effective interviewee. Before your next interview, roleplay these scenarios with your spouse, friend, or even pet, and remember that the interview is a performance – a scene you act with another actor, not a monologue you give under the spotlight, alone.
A version of this article originally appeared on Scott’s LinkedIn.