How to succeed in a job interview

The New York Times today has a story about 75,000 layoffs announced yesterday worldwide.  And there doesn’t seem to be any way to spin that in a positive light. That’s just scary.

But for those folks who are now finding themselves without work, I hope that they will take the chance to do more than just polish off the resume and start the grind of interviewing for positions.  Interviews are a fine chance to work on honing communication and selling skills. And nothing will make you more successful in winning jobs and, just as important, succeeding at the job once you’re hired.

You need to improve both what you say during the interviews and how you say it.

In terms of what you say, it’s important to talk to prospective employers about your skills in terms of the value you provide.  You should enter an interview with a value statement followed by a plan to provide that value.

Here’s an example. I worked last week with a gentleman who had been laid off. He was a computer systems consultant. When I asked him what he did, he went into a long complex explanation of his expertise. I stopped him and asked him to tell me in simple terms the value he provided to a company.  After much discussion we settled on this, “I help design payroll systems that will save your organization money.”  

From there, he went on to lay out a simple plan for the value he provides.  He said there are three steps. First, he analyzes the existing system. Second, he prioritizes the challenges in light of business needs. And third, he executes a solution. He then had stories illustrating how he did each of the three steps. When prospective employers hear such clean explanations, they are able to say, “Wow, this person knows how to communicate.”  It’s impressive and unusual.

Another part of  preparing what to say in an interview is to prepare a list of questions you expect to get and rehearse the answers. We advise our clients to come up with no less than 20 possible questions.  Make sure that you’re ready with short answers, not long rambling explanations.  If someone asks you the time, don’t tell them how to build a clock. And make sure that you find a way to use the questions to tell the overall business value that you provide along with your plan for executing that value.

Next, you have to work on how you deliver your messages.  Most important is energy.  Most people speak in a rather flat monotone. But we urge people to interview with energy, smiling, gesturing and displaying excitement about the opportunity. Speak to your interviewer like you’re talking to a close friend about something you’re passionate about.  That style connects you with your friends. It will help you connect with prospective employers.

Layoffs stink and they’re frightening. But they also give you a chance to focus on how you present yourself and your value.  If you’re without a job, take this opportunity to hone how you present your ideas. You’ll enjoy the benefits long after this hard time has passed.

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