Monday, January 31, 2011

Pick me ! or How to Survive and Succeed at a Job Interview

I know someone who is waiting to hear if she’s landed the job-of-a-lifetime. She’s been interviewed, and thinks it didn’t go so well. She’s telling herself she messed up because she didn’t prepare properly. She’s a highly competent woman – internationally renowned, so expert she’s even addressed the United Nations. So why does a job interview cast her adrift in a sea of self-doubt?

For most of us an interview feels a bit like doing an exam. We’re being judged. Are we worthy? Our inner 8 year old is crying ‘pick me, pick me-e-e’. The fear of rejection can be profound. And no wonder. A lot hangs on the outcome - the stakes are really high.

Like any speaking situation the key to success is preparation. Answering questions is always easier when you have foreseen them and know what you want to convey. Work out your key messages for the interview and incorporate them into your answers.

Start with the audience. Do everything you can to find out about their priorities, concerns, interests etc. What is driving their decision? Where are they up to in their selection process?

When you make a major purchase like a house or a car, or new IT, you consider alternatives, choose one, get a good deal - and finally, you settle the loose ends like after sales service and spare parts. Your prospective employer is going through the same process. Are they considering options? Narrowing the possibilities down? Finalising a ‘deal’? With this understanding you’ll be able to prepare an approach that fits. Your aim is to talk to them about their needs and how you can meet them.

You should utilise the ‘three Cs’: Credibility, Connection, and Content. Long ago Aristotle picked 'ethos, pathos and logos' as the pillars of public speaking, and they remain robust and reliable two thousand years later.

Credibility is your professional status. Devise a succinct way of explaining your experience, skills and qualifications. Ensure you have examples of what you’ve done, as these make your case compelling. You may describe the approach you’ll take to the new role.

Connection is the rapport that’s essential to strong communication. Use your personal qualities - warmth, good humour, personal presence, clear voice and good eye contact. Also demonstrate your knowledge and appreciation of them, what they do, what they value, what they want. Be sincere and enthusiastic about this opportunity. There’s no limit to how much praise a person can take.

Content is the informative bit, the facts and the logic of what you say. It relates closely to credibility. Professional communication needs you to make sound points, explain them and support them with evidence and examples that prove the point. If you like acronyms, try PRE: Point, Reason, Example, to give your answers a structure.

You may use a ‘leave behind’ such as a portfolio of work to add more substance to your interview.

When you answer questions, don't feel like it's the third degree. There's often no 'right' answer. It’s alright to take a minute to prepare mentally. A well structured response can begin with a reflection eg ‘So we’re talking about….’ Or ‘yes that’s a major issue, I understand your interest in it….’ It gives you a minute to think about your PRE response.

A job interview is a pitch. It must be persuasive and therefore it needs an underlying argument. Don’t make the mistake of telling them everything there is to tell. You need a story, so cherry-pick. Serve up what’s relevant and meaningful and tasty for them.

A classic structure for persuasive speaking is Monroe’s Motivated Sequence. You can easily adapt its five steps to suit a job interview. Here’s the outline.

1. Attention getter: You need to hook them in. Impress them and establish rapport – you can do whatever is socially appropriate eg a warm greeting, saying something profound or insightful, or expressing your enthusiasm or pleasure and being called to this meeting.
2. Explain the need: Show your knowledge and understanding of their situation. Politely emphasise the harm that’s being done and the fact that it won’t get better without (your) intervention. ‘I understand you have a problem/need help. Here’s how I see it. It’s pretty significant and there’s damage/harm being done unless you fix it’.
3. Satisfy the need/solve the problem: ‘I have a solution (eg employ me, give me the scholarship etc). My solution is better than anyone else’s because I alone offer ….can do…...have experience of …..’
4. Visualise the change: Paint a picture of the new order…‘With me in the role, this is what will happen…. Or, if we don't implement my solution, this is what will happen’.
5. Action: State the next steps for them to take and what you’ll be able to do immediately in response. ‘If you decide to engage me in the next week, by May we can be…..’.

Incorporating all these elements in your interview makes it powerful, especially if you can do it in the sequence just outlined.

Finally, give them the chance to air their concerns. It's a disarming move but can be decisive. It shows you understand their process, and gives them an opening to raise things they may have been reticent about. Better to have everything on the table than lying hidden and unaddressed. Ask 'What's on your mind, what concerns do you have, now that we've spoken about these issues?' If you've planned ahead you'll be expecting the sorts of things that come up, and it gives you a chance to allay any fears and reassure them.

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