Thinking Me, Talking Them

by Perkins, Judi Wednesday, February 28, 2007
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An interview is about you. Your skills, your impression of the company, your likes and dislikes, your previous experience, what you're looking for.....you, you, you, you, you.

But let's be honest. Who cares about their new marketing program - unless you're an employee -- and the program’s success means your job is secure? Who cares about the magnificent president of the company, unless his magnificence (a distinctly, non-universally defined word, by the way) is going to impact you as an employee?

Except you're not employed. And you want an offer. So you need to care about all that if you want the choice of having it impact you. Thus you pay attention, answer questions, put on your interested face and hope you come up with intelligent answers.

But here's the irony - the interview is so “about you” that you must talk about how you can impact them, which makes the interview about them, not you. Get it?

There are myriads of answers for any interview question -- not all of which are equally effective. Spin can make the difference in being passed over—or in being asked back. Keeping this in mind, remember that while the interviewer’s job is to sell the company to you, your job is to sell yourself to the company. You don’t do this by being “me” focused, and answering off the top of your head can certainly result in that.

Compare these two answers to “Tell me about one of your most significant accomplishments.”

JOE BLOW: Well, I’m a really good Business Office Manager. With Maplewood Community Hospital, I decreased bad debt by lowering the AR days from 98 to 64. That significantly enhanced our revenue, and I got a bonus for it.”

DAN THE MAN: When I began as Business Office Manager for Memorial Medical Center, AR days were 98. I restructured the Business Office by adding another person to the collections team and also re-wrote the Policy and Procedures manual so there was more emphasis on up-front deposits. I worked with the staff to implement a payment program for mothers-to-be, so that during the term of the pregnancy, they were paying off the bill in advance. This resulted in lowering the AR days to 64, bringing us $XXXX amount in revenue over a period of XXXX time frame. You mentioned that you’d like to become more aggressive in bringing revenue in through the business office. I’d enjoy looking at existing policies, department set up and pulling the team together to assist (client hospital) in achieving its revenue goals through the Business Office."

The latter example is what sales people call a feature/benefit statement. Take a pen and its cap, for example. The feature is the cap. The benefit is that it prevents the pen from getting ink all over you. In this example, the feature is Dan the Man’s skills. The benefit is how the hospital will be able to bring in additional revenue through the business office if they hire him. Notice a few other subtleties about his answer:

  • Dan the Man not only said what he did, he told how he did it.
  • There are only two “I” statements
  • He says “team” twice, and also mentions he worked “with the staff”
  • He ties it together by bringing up a problem the interviewer had indicated exists
  • He doesn’t say how good he is–he lets his accomplishments speak for him
  • He uses the word “enjoy” to describe his responsibilities
People want to know what’s in it for them. Help your interviewer–and yourself–by spelling that out. The interviewer wants to know why he should hire you. He wants to know what you can do for the company. He wants to know what makes you different or better than any other candidates he’s interviewing. If you don’t tell him that, who will? Another candidate! After all, even though an interview is a two-way street, your goal is to want the company to give you an offer so that you can decide if you want the job. If the company isn’t interested in hiring you, what you want becomes irrelevant.

Some people are uncomfortable selling themselves. I’m not recommending you lean on his desk, pound your fist, and tell him that if he doesn’t hire you his company will be bankrupt in one year. Nor am I recommending you brag endlessly about how stupendous you are, never ceasing to talk about yourself. But an interview is no place for false modesty. If you don’t tell the interviewer about your accomplishments and how you can benefit the company, someone else will tell him about their accomplishments and how they can benefit the company.

And you know what? That’s the person that will get the job, not you.