Four months ago, I wrote an article that suggested a single question could help seal the deal during a job search, for both those doing the hiring, and those hoping to be hired.
“What did you do to prepare for this interview?”
Understandably, I explained, the more thoughtful and thorough the preparation, the better, for both parties at the table.
But what, exactly, does “thoughtful and thorough preparation” involve?
Surprise: It does not primarily involve knowing what you plan to say about you-marvelous-you – your accomplishments, your skills, and why you’d be the perfect fit for the job.
Sure, you need to sell yourself. You need to be able to answer the usual, “What are your strengths and weaknesses,” kind of queries. But in my experience, game-changing interview preparation is more than that. It involves digging deep, through research and self-reflection, to be able answer three altogether different questions.
Prepare for the Interview
First, what’s the score?
Look, business is a game, and the company interviewing you is playing it. It’s battling for customers, fighting for market share, and pushing to innovate. It could be soaring – with wildly positive results. Or it could be struggling to adjust to shifting industry dynamics. The point is: to be truly ready for an interview, you must know the context of the conversation you’re about to have.
After all, there’s no point talking about how good you are at hitting homers if the coach is looking for a defensive end. Make the case that you can play – and win—on their field.
Second, what’s the story of their life?
In today’s digital world, you can be pretty certain your interviewers have investigated you before meeting in person, by tracking your fingerprints all over Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and more. But hello, have you done the same?
I know a smart college graduate who, with a business major and computer science minor, landed an interview with an exciting start-up in Silicon Valley. Since he had hopes of being an entrepreneur himself someday, he was thrilled, and a preliminary phone call was set up.
The conversation could not have started off better, as my acquaintance and the hiring manager agreed on practically every strategic and tech topic they touched upon. But it came to awkward end shortly after my friend, braced by the friendly familiarity of the call, volunteered that one company in the telecom industry was “particularly idiotic.”
The hiring manager didn’t say so on the phone call – which ended soon thereafter – but if the grad had done his homework, he would have known what he discovered too late. The interviewer had spent 15 years at the “idiotic” company, and apparently he didn’t agree with the assessment.
Never, ever walk into an interview without knowing everything you can about your new BFF across the table or on the other end of the line. And not just so you won’t say something stupid, but also so you can say things that are sensitive and informed.
Third and finally, what happened in 2006?
Or make that 2007, or 2011, or whatever. The year isn’t what I’m focusing on here – the unexplained hole in your resume is. Maybe you don’t have one, but many people do, and if you are among them, you must be prepared to explain it. Candidly and fully.
True, such holes are usually the result of a job not working out. You were miserable and left on your own accord, or your former employer was unhappy with your performance and you left on its accord. Regardless, don’t leave the hiring company guessing with vague, noncommittal gobbledygook. Almost invariably, managers will choose a so-so candidate with no work history ambiguity over a strong candidate with a work history that makes you go, “Hmm.” It’s just less risky.
I once interviewed a woman who had a spectacular resume – with a two-year employment gap. When I asked about it, she answered, “I taught myself golf.”
Years later, I found out this candidate had suffered a nervous breakdown, and those two years were spent recovering. You know what? If she’d been honest, I probably would have hired her. She was that talented. Look, everyone has a story. Any decent manager knows that. The thing you cannot do in an interview is try to paper over yours.
Authenticity matters; managers who want it on the job – and most do – will check for it beforehand. Be ready to provide it, even if it means saying something you’re not proud of, or unhappy about. Your candor will balance the scales.
Ultimately, though, it’s tipping the scales that an interview is all about. Let your preparation do that for you.
Source: This article was originally published on LinkedIn.