Prepare for each interview with the audience in mind
This month’s article is born during a fishing trip I recently enjoyed with my family. After a day in gold medal waters there are many stories to tell: the big one, the monster that got away, the fierce fighter, you get the picture. So as I sit down to write about interviewing, I’m inspired by hearing differing versions of the same story. Let’s explore….
One particularly beautiful catch happened as I was watching a member of our group in the middle of the river. He was using a dry fly and his new rod. The trout jumped and snap! He was on the hook. I was shooting photos of the event – definitely good marketing material for a local outfitter. OK, so he caught the fish. The illustration is in hearing many different versions of this single catch depending on who was listening. The kids got the “hero” version, the buddy got the “Hercules” version, the girlfriend got the “almost got away” version – you get the idea.
The process of preparing for an interview is much the same. Many job seekers prepare their standard answers, rehearse them and recite them during each interview. Unfortunately, instead of coming across genuine and enthusiastic, the responses often sound sterile and boring. The books, blogs and videos talk about preparation and practice to make sure you interview well. They are right. But to really distinguish yourself you must prepare for each interviewer uniquely.
First let’s explore interviewing with different levels of people within an organization. Generally speaking, executives like punch lines. The more senior an individual is in an organization, the less focused on details he is. Short answers that talk about results are effective. He wants to hear about how you’ve saved money, generated revenue or improved business operations (including quantifiable measures). Conversely, a mid-level manager will be interested in how you execute on assigned tasks and how productive you are. A peer or subordinate will be more interested in who you are as a person. Answers here should focus on your ability to work with team members, collaborate and listen effectively.
In preparing for these interviews, the foundation of the answer is the same. It’s the focus that will change. Your examples will highlight the areas that are important to your audience – helping make you memorable in the interviewer’s mind.
You also need to keep the functional discipline of the interviewer in mind during your preparation. Each function (accounting, HR, engineering) will have different hot buttons. You can probably guess what they are; accounting wants to hear about saving money and improving margins, HR wants to hear about how you work with others and how well you follow rules, engineering wants to hear about your technical skills and your ability to grasp new concepts quickly. Again, using your core answers and emphasizing different facets will distinguish you from your competition.
Here are a few thoughts to consider when preparing for an interview:
- Find out who you are interviewing with and what each person’s role within the organization is. Do you research on each person – Linked In, ZoomInfo and the company website are a few useful sources.
- Prepare custom answers for each interviewer. The interview team will compare notes, so the core message should be consistent with highlights on what is important to each individual.
- Be yourself – don’t try and use words that are unfamiliar or out of character for you. If you need to illustrate a concept don’t sound like a thesaurus – use the same words you use in your daily conversations.
- Crisp and concise. In stressful situations, like interviews, people tend to over-answer or ramble. This is because thoughts are racing and the output gets scrambled. So, in an effort to make sure you get your point across you use too many words. Keep your answers short – 1 or 2 sentences max. Let the interviewer know you can elaborate if necessary.
- Remember that what is important to you is not necessarily important to the interviewer. Keep your audience, not your personal needs the focus of your effort during the interview. Be engaging, be interesting and be interested.
The interview process is the path to your next position. By preparing for each individual uniquely, you will render yourself memorable and set yourself apart from the rest of the candidates.
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