Jackson was a newly minted grad with software engineering skills pursuing his first job. He was getting tons of interest from the right kind of employers, but it wasn’t leading anywhere. Frustrated that he wasn’t getting offers, he couldn’t figure out what was going wrong.
Prepping for yet another interview with one of his target employers, Jackson really didn’t want to blow it again. We debriefed on what he had been doing, and it didn’t take long to see that in order for him to get past this stage, we needed to completely overhaul his interview strategy.
You see, Jackson was making the unforgivable mistake I see so many people making. He was treating the process as a Q&A session. They pitched a question, he gave an answer, and then he waited for the next question. He cobbled together another response. And on it went, culminating in a rejection letter.
Maybe this sounds familiar, and you can even think of a couple of offers you were surprised not to get. You’ve always approached the interview as if it were an interrogation plain and simple. The employer grills you so she can see if you have the right stuff. Meanwhile, you wait for your turn to speak.
But this isn’t the way to land the gig, and, in fact, even if this old-school approach gets you the job, it can mean trouble a few months into your new position when you realize that you don't actually understand or know the company.
Indeed, a common regret I hear among my clients is, “I should have asked more questions.” Listen, if you dismiss the notion of an interview as interrogation, this won’t be a problem.
So let’s look at three strategies you can use to get away from the basic, out-of-date Q&A model to not only get the job but to also make sure it’s the job you really want at an organization you want to work for.
1. Speak to the Employer’s Pain Points
The interview is not just about what skills and experience you bring. It’s also about how your assets are going to help solve an employer’s business problems.
After ensuring Jackson was presenting his skills in a way that would make him a desirable candidate, we took it a step further. Investigating the employer and the competitive landscape, Jackson uncovered some interesting tidbits.
Competitive issues were brewing. A major opponent was planning a move into the employer’s market segment. On top of that, a new, recently implemented business model was getting great PR, but less than optimal results.
Jackson developed a line of questions to engage the hiring manager about how his work would specifically address the issues he’d identified. After he responded to a question, he added a question of his own. This deepened the conversation and helped him connect his skills to outcomes.
“As I mentioned, since I’m strong at design, planning, and testing, I see how I could support repairing issues with the new business model. Tell me more about what the team is already doing to fix that. That will help me share how I could help get to the solution.”
When you’re addressing the pain point of the employer, you’re showing how you can specifically help solve issues. When you provide specifics, the team can start visualizing you in the role. And that’s the first step in making a compelling case for your hire.
Which brings me to my second strategy.
2. Act Like You Work There
I asked Jackson to show up as if he was already part of the team. What this does is make it easier for you to engage the team in a bit of brainstorming and show them how you'd be an asset. Adopt the we approach: “Speaking of the business model, what is our plan to get to a better performance standard? What do we know about the what’s driving those issues?”
“Have we done a cause and effect on the software issues? If the most pressing issue in the timeline is X, what if we did Y to counteract that?”
If it works (if it doesn’t, no harm, no foul generally), you’ll begin to be viewed as a trusted advisor, who’s prepared to dive right into the issues and solutions the team’s struggling with. If you incorporate terms like we and us, you’re essentially saying, “I’m with you.” It’s an effective way to start building relationships with people at the company you want to hire you. Instead of a stiff “interview,” the conversation becomes an organic discussion of the issues at hand and how—together—they would solve them.
3. Have a Conversation About the Fit
Throughout the discussion, Jackson made it a priority to get the employer excited about him, and he also wanted to show that he was passionate about the position and organization.
You can do this by first drawing up a list of qualities that you want. Maybe that’s a culture that rewards good work, and a team that works well together, especially in times of stress. Then, you can take these ideas and use them as jumping-off points in the discussion when there’s an opening.
“I see your corporate culture is X, can you tell me how that specifically plays out in your part of the organization?”
“How does the team address conflict, and get resolution quickly when it arises?”
“What kind of behavior is rewarded in this organization and what does that recognition look like?”
Changing his strategy really turned things around for Jackson. He got a job at a company he’s really excited about.
“I did exactly what we discussed,” he explained. “I turned it into a conversation. I couldn’t believe what a difference it made.”
Not only did Jackson get the job, he also—fast forward three months—is happily employed. If you’re not getting the offers you want, and aren’t sure what you’re doing wrong, start incorporating these strategies. Sure, it involves a bit more preparation and upfront research. And you do need to let go of the idea that you are an invited guest in the interview. It’s really an important business discussion that not only allows you to showcase how you can add value. It’s also an opportunity for you to gather information about why saying yes to an offer is good for you. When you do, you’ll be able to avoid job offer remorse six months down the road.