As a leader, you’ve probably got the role of interviewer down pat. You know just what to ask, how to ask it, and how to make a quick assessment of the person sitting across the desk from you. And, whether you realize it or not, you’re also likely an expert at making snap, unconscious decisions about candidates, which will directly impact their progression (or lack thereof) in the process.
But what happens when you’re a leader looking for a new role? Are you prepared to be the one on the other side of the table?
Let’s get you ready to succeed as an interviewee.
1. Build Two Strategies
When you’re a busy exec, you don’t have time to waste. That said, you’ll save yourself all kinds of unfocused energy if you construct an overall strategy.
What are you trying to achieve? What skills do you want to use in your next role? What specific things do you have to offer? What companies or industries are you targeting?
Build out an overall vision first, so that you can readily articulate it when asked in an interview, “So, what brings you here? What are you looking to achieve?”
That’s your first strategy. Your second strategy?
The interview strategy.
Whether it’s an informal coffee meeting or a day-long session with multiple decision makers (aren’t those fun?), you’ll do yourself a huge favor if you create a game-day strategy.
2. Be Rehearsed (But Not Overly So)
I’m going to wager that you got to your current spot on the proverbial food chain, at least in part, because you’re always polished and prepared. You’re going to want to leverage these strengths in your interview—but not in an overkill fashion.
You probably already know what I mean. You’ve interviewed morbidly under-prepared people—who show up looking (and acting) like they just rolled in from an all-nighter. And, you’ve also met with the candidate who has painstakingly memorized every behavioral-based question known to man, and spends the entire interview robotically spewing out canned answers.
Your goal? Come ready for anything, but understand the value of an engaging, natural conversation. Prepared does not equal rote. And people can tell when you’re spending more time thinking about your next answer than participating in the discussion.
3. Nail the First 30 Seconds
My husband’s old boss used to always tell his team, “You speak paragraphs about yourself before you even open your mouth.”
This is, perhaps, my favorite all-time quote for those gearing up for an interview.
Your behavior as you walk into the lobby, your appearance, and your body language are going to give your interviewer(s) an immediate, sometimes unconscious, opinion of you. You want that option to be, “Holy cow, she’s amazing.”
Make that first 30 seconds count.
4. Be Ready for That First Big Question
Invariably, the first big question after the small talk, is going to be, “Tell me about yourself.” You’ve likely asked it 100 times, but are you ready to answer it?
To get ready, remember that they’re not looking for a rambling autobiography here. They’re testing your ability to perform through ambiguity, and they want to see how well you align well with their specific needs.
That said, come prepared to introduce yourself in a way that implies rather directly that your background matches what they’re looking for, and shares a few key wins. Your main goal with this question (and the entire interview) is to leave the decision makers with a clear feeling that you’re cut out for the job, you’re likable, and you’re a strong culture fit for the team.
5. Let the Interviewer Take Charge (But, Actively Participate)
I’ll keep this one short and sweet. As you settle in for an interview, remind yourself that—this time—you’re not the one conducting it. It’s sometimes hard for business leaders to shift into that alternative role, but it’s important that you do so. Let the interviewer do his or her job, but don’t be a doormat.
You certainly don’t need to talk only when asked a direct question or come off as a non-leader in the name of preserving someone else’s ego. Not at all. You’re there to actively participate in a conversation.
But do give the other person the privilege of leading the session.
6. Use Storytelling to Endear Your Audience
Storytelling gives humans a ready means to establish (often, quite quickly) an emotional connection with an audience. That may be the exact thing that clinches it for you.
Before and during your interview, think about where you might weave a story around your interest in that company, an explanation of a skill, or an account of your prior performance. And then captivate them it.
Say you’re interviewing to be an accounting manager at a publishing company, and the interviewer asks, “Why this job? Why us?” You might share a story that goes something like,
“When I was a kid, the Bookmobile used to come to my neighborhood once a month. I’d mark my calendar and count down the days. When it arrived, I’d grab my bag and make a run for the books. I knew I could fit seven in my bag, so I’d painstakingly select my top seven. Once I got home, I’d carefully stack my books in the order I planned to read them, and dive in.
“Looking back at what is now among my favorite childhood memories, it’s no surprise at all how I built a career around my love of counting and putting things in order. It’s also no surprise that I still love books. And yes, I still stack them.”
7. Thank Them Immediately
As a busy person, you may well be shoehorning an interview into a crazy, hectic day. Good on you for making it happen. Now, take it the distance and make time for an immediate, well-thought-out thank you note.
Yes, it can be an email. I’m guessing you agree that speed and authenticity matter the most when it comes this step.
Don’t let this one slide through the cracks. Get ‘er done, and quickly.
Changing roles from interviewer to interviewee may feel strangely foreign at first, especially if it’s been forever. But once you get into the swing of things, you may actually enjoy the interview from a new vantage point.
(Or, at the very least, you’ll have newfound empathy when that next round of recruits come sashaying through your office.)
Strategize, practice, and take this baby to the finish line.