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The Smartest Candidate in the Room

No matter what the candidate’s resume says, it is the one-hour interview that defines success in securing a new position. The answer to winning the interview comes down to a number of specific steps. When done well these steps can greatly increase the potential for securing a key position. From years of providing executive search services, and interviewing more candidates than we can count, we have found that the following Five Steps in interviewing can make you “the smartest candidate in the room”.

  1. The Boy Scouts: The scouts have it right, “Be prepared”. In many ways the interview is like an entrance exam, remember those? The better you know your subject the better you will be at mastering the interview. Be prepared about being prepared. Learn all you can about the company – it’s history, what’s in the news, what’s on the horizon, the people you’ll meet and the people they report to (even if you won’t meet those people).  Also, prepare to give very specific examples of things you’ve done during your career that will show you can do the job (hiring, firing, building teams, creating processes, implementing systems, identifying and fixing problems, etc.) The more information you have available, the more likely you’ll respond with a complete and comprehensive answer. You can have notes in the interview, but a sustained pause to remember a point can be seen as not knowing the answer.

  2. Set the Agenda: Remember the interview is a two-way street. It is as much your interview as it is theirs. You need to know going into the interview what questions, issues, and information about yourself you want to get across. Have a checklist with you. You should also control the time of the interview. At the beginning ask how much time is available so that you can judge the pace of the interview. Near the end of the interview take the initiative to end the meeting. It is amazing how many interviewers do not know how to end the interview.

  3. Master of THEIR Information: This may be the most important point in establishing your position with the company. Do your homework. The website can provide an amazing amount of information on the company, its mission, products, business strategy, partners, clients, competition and even why they are offering the position for which you are applying. You can know more about their company than the person interviewing you. There is nothing like being able to answer a question about you by integrating information about the company.

  4. The RIGHT Answer: The right answer is the one that delivers the information the interviewer is looking for. If you don’t know what is being asked before you answer, how can you provide the right answer? The right answer is the one that delivers information about your ability that links to the position’s requirements and needs. The right answer is the one that leads to the interviewer saying, “Tell me more”. The right answer is the one that lets the interviewer see you in the position and that you will excel in the role. The right answer can be the right question from you so the interviewer is drawn into a discussion. The right questions from you are, “What other questions do you have or information you need?” And, “I’m very interested in the position. When would be a good time to check back with you”?

  5. Things that go Bump: As sure as you should be of providing the right answer, practice is also needed to prevent making a mistake. Make sure you are ‘listening’ at all times during the interview. Excessive talking or taking an overly confident position can negate your strengths. Be sure to be realistic in your answers. Responding with a ‘stretch of the truth’ or false information WILL catch up with you. Misunderstanding the interviewer or making incorrect assumptions of the questions being asked can lead to an ineffective interview. Not allocating enough time for the interview or arriving late can lead to not being ready for the interview and a poor showing of your professional best.

The Best Interview Ever: The candidate had worked to clearly understand the position requirements and the key social and organizational issues for the company. He had visited the company lobby to get a feeling for the dress code and style of the company. He did his research on the company to be able to talk about many aspects of the company operation. He had figured out from the information available that the position he was applying for was for a new international channel marketing position and that it was not common knowledge. He took time before the interview to write-up a brief summary of an international channel program and what he would do to be successful. He had talked with their sales and service group. He talked with the assistant to the manager who was going to interview him to gain knowledge of what was expected and how the manager conducted their interviews. He practiced his questions and was well prepared to answer the range of questions that might be asked. He was confident, assured of his information. He had a clear picture of how he would integrate and become successful in the company. He got the job over five other candidates.

Interviews are yours to win or lose. Be prepared; know yourself, the position, and the company. Practice to make sure you are ready to manage the interview, so that you and the interviewer have all questions answered. The more you know, the more qualified you are going to be for the position.


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