Ten caveats of interviewing

Receptionist on phone: Strategic Search Corporation. Sir, we are an executive search firm. Our address is 205 North Michigan Avenue, Suite 810, Chicago, Illinois, 60601 and our website is strategicsearch.com You’re welcome, have a nice day. Sorry for the delay.
Ed: Oh that’s quite alright.
Receptionist: Can I help you?
Ed: Ah yes I am here to see Mr. Sargis.
Receptionist: Your Name?
Ed: My name is Ed Johnson.
Receptionist: Sir we have a Mr. Johnson here to see you. Okay.
Please have a seat he’ll be with you shortly.
Ed: Thank you very much
Scott: Ed, how are you doing today.
Ed: Great, nice to see you Scott.
Scott: Good to see you too. What we’re going to do is cover the things we didn’t have a chance to cover yesterday in your house. We’re going to begin this morning with the 10 caveats of interviewing and then later this afternoon we’ll get into some of the other things. You ready to go?
Ed: Let’s do it.
Scott: Okay we’ll use this conference room over here. Have a seat. As I mentioned there were 10 caveats to interviewing. The first is poor first Impressions yield poor interviews. Now you heard the old saying “your first impression is a lasting one”? Well, this applies to interviewing and that’s why I have four tips for you to help you make a winning first impression. They are – never be late for an interview, dress for success, always be well-groomed and make a sales greeting. Let’s take each in order. First and foremost never be late for an interview. It sends the wrong message. It says that you’re not a professional. As a rule of thumb, you want to arrive 10 minutes early for the interview. Gives you a chance to relax and gather your thoughts.
Ed: What happens if you get lost on your way to the interview? It happened to me on my last interview.
Scott: That’s why you want to study MapQuest and travel the route one or two days before the interview. This will allow you to better gauge your travel time. The second tip is dress for success.
Ed: And now of course I have heard that before but what does it really mean?
Scott: It means dress conservatively for the first interview.
Ed: But what if I am interviewing at a creative agency where everyone is in jeans?
Scott: That doesn’t matter because after the first interview you can ask the company how to dress. However, on the first interview you want to be conservative. This means navy blue or gray suit, it could be solid or striped. If it’s striped make sure the stripes are not pronounced. White or light shirt, conservative tie and black or brown dress shoes. Ed: How about my wife Jackie?
Scott: She should follow the same guidelines especially navy blue skirt or pants suit, white blouse. In general, keep it simple and understated. The third tip is always be well-groomed. This means recent haircut, your facial hair and beard well-trimmed and keep your makeup and jewelry to a minimum.
Ed: Well, I don’t have to worry about that.
Scott: Finally you want to make a sales greeting.
Ed: What does that mean?
Scott: That means look your interviewer right in the eye and greet them with a firm handshake like this. The second caveat is focus on your interviewers’ needs, not your own.
Ed: But what do I care about their needs? I just want to get a job.
Scott: That’s the wrong attitude. You may recall the key to interviewing is first uncovering your interviewers’ needs and then selling your background as a solution to their needs. Let me demonstrate with a negative example. Who’s a poor salesman that you encountered in the last few weeks?
Ed: Probably this idiot that tried to sell me a car last week.
Scott: And why didn’t you like them?
Ed: Well he tried to sell me all these junky cars I didn’t want.
Scott: That’s my point. A poor salesman doesn’t take into account your needs. They’re just trying to make the sale. A good salesman first uncovers your needs and then tries to find you products and services that meet your needs.
Ed: How do you do that?
Scott: By adopting a sales mindset.
Ed: What’s that?
Scott: It’s a state of mind that tells yourself that the interviewer is your customer not your adversary and your goal is to try to find their needs and meet those needs.
Ed: Well, how can I learn what they need?
Scott: There’s two ways to do it. First is to do your homework before the interview.
Ed: What sort of homework?
Scott: Research the company.
Ed: Oh you mean like check out the website, the company 10ks.
Scott: Exactly. The more information you can gather the better.
Ed: And what’s the second step?
Scott: The second step is gaining information during the interview.
Ed: How?
Scott: By asking probing questions.
Ed: Such as?
Scott: Let me demonstrate one for you. Mr. Johnson, I know this is a real important position for you at ABC Corporation and I know you want to hire the right person for the job. What are the most important attributes that will guarantee success on the job for you? You see what I did?
Ed: Yes, you put yourself into the interviewer’s shoes and then you ask a question with empathy to try to uncover their needs.
Scott: Exactly and you want to remember to do this throughout the interview.
Ed: Now after you find out what their needs are what do you do?
Scott: Then you’re ready for the third caveat of interviewing.
Ed: Which is?
Scott: Don’t forget to always sell yourself as a solution to the hiring companies’ needs.
Ed: Well how do you do that?
Scott: There’s two tips. You may recall the mantra sell, sell, sell.
Ed: Yes you mentioned that before.
Scott: Right. But now you want to remember to put it on your mirror and your refrigerator in your house so that you’re constantly reminded to sell yourself in the actual interview Ed: But I don’t want to be too pushy like that used car salesman I encountered last week.
Scott: And I don’t want you to either. However, good salesmen know when to stop
selling and when they continue to sell.
Ed: How by popping a thermometer in the customer?
Scott: Close.
Ed: Really?
Scott: That leads me to my second tip which is to employ trial closes.
Ed: What are those?
Scott: Trial closes are powerful questions top salesmen ask of their customer to gauge what their interest level is.
Ed: Like what?
Scott: Two good ones are “is that important to you”? And “how does that sound to you”?
I recommend writing those on a three-by-five card one on one side and one on the other.
Ed: What are those two again?
Scott: How does that sound to you and is it important to you.
Ed: All right. What do I do with these?
Scott: Remember the three steps of the real benefit exercise?
Ed: Of course COP.
Scott: Well in the prior practice session you’ll want to remember to employ trial closing. Once you master trial closes you’ll have a secret weapon that will allow you to know when to stop selling and when to continue to sell. As a result, you’ll sell more like a top salesman and you will increase your chances of getting your next job.
Ed: What’s next?
Scott: Related to the second and third caveat is the fourth caveat, which is facts don’t get you hired, benefits do.
Ed: I thought you said, “sell, sell, sell”.
Scott: That’s one thing I had mentioned however top salesmen don’t just talk in terms of facts about their product or service they emphasize the benefits to the customer.
Ed: How?
Scott: Well there’s three things I recommend. One is the mantra numbers, numbers, numbers. Second is the rule of thumb to include as many examples as possible in your presentation and third is the use of sales bridges to emphasize a point.
Ed: And now we are going to build a bridge?
Scott: That comes later. However to start with we’re going to talk about the mantra numbers, numbers, numbers. In fact you want to put that on your refrigerator with your mirror next to the mantra sell, sell, sell.
Ed: Well there’s not going to be any room left. Really all kidding aside, what does this mantra really mean?
Scott: It means to emphasize your quantitative accomplishments related to the job
Ed: Like?
Scott: Anyways you’ve made money or saved money for your past employers.
Ed: Well, that would be easy for me because I’m an accountant. But what about my wife Jackie? She’s a secretary. I think it would be a little harder for her to come up that information.
Scott: For some professions that won’t be easy. That’s why you want to guesstimate the best you can how your contributions impacted the bottom line. The more numbers you can include the better your presentation will be.
Ed: What’s the second technique?
Scott: The second technique is to include as many examples as possible in your presentation. This can be pictures or products you’ve developed or machinery you worked on or just bringing in some letters of recommendation nicely bound like this. These are all powerful tools that will help reinforce your sales presentation.
Ed: Now tell me about those bridges you were talking about.
Scott: The third technique is sales bridges they help emphasize a point.
Ed: How?
Scott: They really gift wrap your presentation for the interviewer’s needs. Let me demonstrate. Once again you want to get a three-by-five card like this. What you want to write on one side is what that means to you is blank. And then in a big blank in parenthesis, you want to say gift wrap. On the other side, you want to say the real benefit of that to you is blank and in the big blank in parenthesis say gift wrap.
Ed: Now what am I going to do with these?
Scott: In your practice session you want to alternate using both.
Ed: How will I know how to use them?
Scott: That’s a good question. You want to have your practice interviewer write the words “so what” on a piece of paper like this.
Ed: So what?
Scott: Yes and periodically have him raise “so what” and when you see the words “so what” you want to counter with one of those two sales bridges and specifically target a benefit to the customer.
Ed: So it is like a boxing match. Every time you see the word “so what” it’s like a punch and then you want to block it using one of the two sales bridges.
Scott: That’s right for the practice interview but in the actual interview sales bridges are used to really target your presentation to the interviewer’s needs.
Ed: What’s next?
Scott: The fifth caveat is skillfully dodge an illegal question.
Ed: Like a question like age, race, marital status, sexual orientation or religion?
Scott: Right.
Ed: But shouldn’t you just come out and scold them for asking an illegal questions?
Scott: You can do that but it may cause a problem for you. Instead, I have a two-step approach for you. First, with a smile you want to say that’s an interesting question but I fail to see how that’s relevant to this position. Most people will back off.
Ed: But what if they don’t?
Scott: Well then you move on to step two which is to say something to the effect I don’t feel that’s an appropriate question and may even be illegal. But under no circumstances should you get all riled up because it will only reflect poorly on you and most of all practices these responses because they may come up in the real interview. Are you ready for caveat number six?
Ed: Yes.
Scott: The sixth caveat is systematically handle a negative.
Ed: What kind of negative?
Scott: Something like the employer asking you why you were fired.
Ed: Like in my interview at ABC steel they asked me why I was fired and I froze. It’s probably why they didn’t call me back.
Scott: That happens to a lot of people. In fact, often employers will ask you curveball questions to either test your analytical ability or see how you handle stress.
Ed: But how should you handle such questions?
Scott: We have a three-step formula. Admit it, diffuse it and turn it around. Let me demonstrate this for you by having you ask me a question.
Ed: Why were you fired from ABC company?
Scott: I was let go from ABC company because my boss and I did not see eye-to-eye on the strategic plan for the new 1D2 project. However, after 15 years with the company, I have lots of awards and references including two of my other former boss’s. Furthermore, I have all the skills you’re looking for in this position including strategic plan development, systems development and internal costing. Did you see what I did?
Ed: First you acknowledge the fact that you were fired but in a very gentle way. Then you diffused the situation by bringing forth the fact that you had some very good references from past managers. Then you turned the whole thing around and did a great job of selling how you fit the requirements of the job you were interviewing for.
Scott: Exactly. You can also modify the formula to handle situations where you’re stumped by difficult questions.
Ed: And how do you do that?
Scott: By admitting that you don’t know something and requesting time to research the question and then turning it all around by emphasizing other skills you have related to the job.
Ed: Scott, I wish I would have known this technique before.
Scott: The seventh caveat is never make a specific demand for money at the first interview.
Ed: Why not. I mean don’t I have the right to know what I am going to make?
Scott: Yes, you do. But when you ask for a specific amount on the first interview,
our research shows that it’s either too high or too low. If it’s too high you may knock yourself out of consideration. And if it’s too low you may cheat yourself out of some extra money.
Ed: But what should I do when the question comes up?
Scott: The best answer is – I’m open on the money, the key is the opportunity.
Ed: But now what if they push me on the question?
Scott: You can state what your current or last salary is but do your best to stay open on the money.
Ed: What’s next?
Scott: The eighth caveat is never talk badly about others.
Ed: But what about my last boss. He was a real jerk. You know he fired me two days before Christmas and that’s after I put in 20 hours of unpaid overtime. That’s the way he rewards me?
Scott: Ed, do you remember the old saying “when you point your finger at someone you have four fingers pointing back at you”?
Ed: Well of course. But how does that apply here?
Scott: Your interviewer does not know your last boss. All he or she will see is that you are a complainer and a possible problem to the organization. That’s why you want to remember not to bad-mouth others no matter how horrible they are because this will only reflect poorly on you. You also want to remember that your main objective is to sell yourself as a solution to the interviewer’s needs.
Ed: I’ll try.
Scott: The ninth caveat is don’t make the interview a one-way communication. Your goal is to sell yourself but it’s also to find out more about the job. The key is to ask questions about the company and the job. Find out all that you can.
Ed: Now what are some good questions to ask the interviewer?

1. Why is the position open?
2. (If a replacement position) Why did the last person leave?
3. (If a replacement position) What did you like about the last person?
4. (If a replacement position) What skills did the last person lack?
5. How long has the position been open?
6. (If open longer than two months) Why has the position been open so long?
7. What are your expectations of this person in the first:
(a) three months, (b) six months and (c) one year?
8. How large is the department?
9. What are the promotional opportunities beyond this position?
10. Historically how long has it taken to get promoted beyond this position?

Ed: I’m ready for the last caveat.
Scott: The tenth and final caveat is never let your guard down. One of the classic mistakes many candidates make is they assume when they start a new job they can stop selling. Nothing is further from the truth. As a rule of thumb, you want to continue
until after the probationary period is over.
Ed: Why is that?
Scott: Because you are still under the microscope and by definition, you’re still on probation. Remember your job is to sell yourself. Put yourself in your best light. It’s not to be brutally honest. When you get to know your coworkers very well and find out who you can trust then you can share your intimate details.
Scott: Scott, these were all very helpful. I wish I would have known these techniques before.
Scott: Now that you know them don’t forget to incorporate them in your practice interviews. In fact this afternoon you’ll have a chance to do just that with two of my top clients.
Ed: Great. I look forward to it.