By Wendy S. Enelow
Can you think of a more stressful situation than an interview? Companies want to hire competent, successful, articulate, and accomplished executives, yet the candidate's very first encounter often places them in a particularly stressful and uncomfortable situation. You might find yourself in a "panel-style" interview where it's you on one side and five company executives on the other side, each armed and ready to assault you with questions. It's a pretty threatening situation, the exact opposite of the type of environment that should be created to allow you to demonstrate your best.
However, the reality is that you must deal with the hiring process the way that it exists. And, to accomplish that, you must learn how to comfortably manage and control your interviews. To help you with that process, here are five key strategies for interview success.
1.) "Sell It To Me, Don't Tell It To Me" Strategy
Interviews are not the time to "tell" what you've done. Rather, interviews are the time to "sell" what you have accomplished. For example, if you're asked how many people you managed in your last position, you might just answer with a quick, "I had a team of 35." However, it's a much strong presentation to respond with, "My staff at IBM included 35 professionals and support personnel. Not only was I responsible for managing those individuals, I also directed all recruitment and hiring activities, set salaries, designed bonus plans, facilitated the annual performance review process, and projected long-term staffing requirements. What's more, my team increased annual sales by more than 35 percent within just one year!" When you respond in this fashion, you've "sold" what you have achieved, and not just "told" what you were responsible for.
2.) "Transition Every Negative To A Positive" Strategy
What do you do if your interviewer asks about your experience working with Excel spreadsheets and you have none? Your first inclination would be to say that you don't know Excel. Don't do that! Instead, use related experience that you have to answer the question and make it appear as though you have some relevant knowledge. For example, you'd answer the Excel question with, "I have extensive experience designing Lotus spreadsheets, so I'm sure getting a handle on Excel won't take any time at all." Then, even though you've been honest (you never said you knew Excel), you've positively positioned yourself and your knowledge.
3.) "Big To Little" Strategy
Someone asks you if you have any experience with mergers and acquisitions. To organize your thoughts, make your response flow seamlessly, and make it easy for your interviewer to understand your specific experience in that area, use the "big to little" strategy. Start with an overview of your experience in M&A transactions; just a few sentences to describe your overall scope and depth of experience (that's the "big" part). Then, follow up with two to four specific achievements, projects, or highlights that are directly related. You might talk about your involvement in due diligence, negotiations, transactions, and/or acquisition integration (that's the "little" part). In essence, you're communicating, "This is what I know and this is how well I've done it."
4.) "Remember, You've Already Passed The First Test" Strategy
You're nervous. You're sitting in the executive conference room with the President, CFO, and two Executive VP's. Take a deep breath and remind yourself that you've already passed the first test, generally a phone screening to determine if you have the "right" stuff for the position. And, if it's a job at the level where you're first interview is with the top executives of the company, you know that they're interested or they wouldn't be committing the time to you and your interview. Therefore, go into the interview knowing that you've already got them on the hook or you wouldn't be sitting there. Be confident, yet not boastful.
5.) "Take The Initiative" Strategy
You're nearing the close of an interview during which you had wanted to share your experience in supply chain management. However, the topic was never brought up. Now, it is YOUR responsibility to introduce it into the conversation. You might comment, "Before we end, I'd like to share one more thing with you that I think is quite important to the position and to my fit within your organization." Then proceed with sharing the information. You must take the initiative during an interview to be sure that you have communicated all that is of value, whether or not the interviewer addresses a particular topic.
There is no doubt that interviewing is a stressful and often difficult situation. However, it's your professional life on the line. You must walk into each interview with an agenda -- the information you want to communicate to demonstrate your qualifications -- and you must "quietly" control the interview to be sure that you paint a picture of knowledge and success as you position yourself as the "right" candidate.