You go for a job, and you don’t get it.
The feedback is something like, we didn’t think you had enough experience running big projects.
And you think, &£@“ I’ve had loads of experience doing that!
It just didn’t come up in the interview so I didn’t get a chance to talk about it.
Probably because you were too busy talking through the pointless stuff on your cv!
This happened to me a few times.
And each time I blamed the system. Or the interviewer. It was their fault.
And then one day I discovered the secret of smashing interviews.
I moved from finance into sales and started learning all about the selling process.
And realised that at a job interview you are selling yourself.
So I wondered how could I apply the sales techniques I had learned to a job interview.
What is the sales process?
Selling is a simple formula at its heart.
First build rapport with the other person.
Second, find out what someone needs. What their problems are. What is causing them pain.
Third, provide them with the solution to the need, problem or pain.
Poor sales people talk a lot about the product or service they are selling.
Great sales people ask lots of questions to find out what the other person needs.
Then they show them how their product or service meets those specific needs.
What does this mean in a job interview?
How do most job interview starts?
A bit of small talk to build rapport.
You can learn to do this better here.
The then interviewer asks something like, talk me through your cv.
And we start talking through our cv.
This is a scatter gun approach.
We talk through all the stuff on our cv we can remember, hoping that some parts it the spot.
This is the equivalent of a poor salesperson telling you all about the features of their product.
You’ve missed out the second important step of the sales process.
Before you start selling yourself, you want to find out what the hiring manager (and ultimate decision maker) needs.
I know what you’re thinking, well I’ve read the job description. And the recruitment agent has talked me through what the client needs.
Well compare what you actually do in your job right now and your formal job description and you’ll probably see big gaps.
So I personally wouldn’t rely on the JD.
Also most of them are so long. They cover almost every eventuality. So how are you supposed to know the 3 most important needs?
And as for recruitment agents, again do you want to rely on them?
Some are great.
Others aren’t so great.
And however good they are, things inevitably get lost in translation.
So what’s the answer?
You want to find out from the hiring decision makers the 3 most important things they are looking for.
Then once you know these you filter your cv and experiences to bring out those things.
You find out their need.
Then tailor your experience to present yourself as the solution.
No more scatter gun.
You’re now a sniper.
How do you do that
Internal jobs are easier.
Just grab a 1:1 coffee with the hiring manager and any other key decision makers or influencers.
No selling, yet!
Just ask questions.
Specifically ask them what are the 3 most important things they are looking for in the successful candidate.
Ask for clarification if they say something too high level, like ‘a good communicator’.
Say ‘in what way, could you give me an example’. Or ‘how specifically?’
You could also ask a direct question about you. Something like ‘when you think about me for this role, what concerns do you have?’
You can then find out what you want to overcome in the interview.
These are probing questions direct from the sales textbook to give you something detailed enough to work with.
Write them down word for word.
This is important, you’ll see why later.
Remember, no selling at this point.
Resist the urge to start saying how great you are in those areas.
That comes later.
What about an external job, I can’t do that?
It’s certainly a bit harder with an external job, but not impossible.
Firstly ask your recruitment agent the same questions.
If you’re not satisfied with the answers ask them to go back to the client.
Better is to hear it direct from the horse’s mouth.
You could ask the recruitment agent for a quick call with the hiring manager before the interview.
If they are genuinely interested in you, most will be happy to do this.
If all else fails, you can do it live in the interview.
When the hiring manager asks you to talk through your experience, say something like this:
“Absolutely, just before I do it would be really good to just hear from you what you’re looking for and what’s important to you. I’ve read the job description and spoken to the agent about it, but nothing beats hearing it first hand.”
It would have to be a pretty aggressive interviewer to refuse that request.
And even if they did, you haven’t lost anything, you can just do the standard scatter gun. So really there’s only upside potential giving it a go.
And you might want to question whether they’re the kind of person you want to work for anyway.
You now know the 3 most important things the hiring a manger is looking for.
Now get a piece of paper and fold it into thirds.
Each third is a need.
Find 3 great examples for each need to show how you absolutely smash that need and are the perfect solution.
Each example follow this sales formula and turn logic features into emotional benefits for your interviewer.
A 5 star NCAP safety rating is a logical feature. The emotional benefit is your kids will be safer in a accident.
A 64Gb flash drive is a logical feature. ‘1,000 songs in your pocket’ is an emotional benefit (this is how Steve Jobs sold us the iPod).
People buy mainly on emotional benefits.
Your cv however is pure logic.
So for each of your examples turn the logic into a emotional benefit:
EXAMPLE + WHAT YOU DID + BENEFIT TO THE COMPANY + WHAT YOU LEARNED
For example, you know the hiring manager needs someone who can come in and invigorate the team.
So you say something like:
When I was Head of Commercial finance I took over a team that were disengaged and poorly performing.
I spent time getting to know each person as an individual – what they liked about the team, what they didn’t like, and what they wanted to see change. I then made the changes that most people wanted to see.
The benefit was almost immediate. The team got right behind our new team structure and performance improved fast. The following year our engagement score improved from 3.2 out of 5 to 4.6 out of 5.
What I learned was that the best way to lead change is to engage people from the beginning, listen to them, and make them responsible for making the change happen.
When you asked the interviewer what was important to them, I suggested you write down word for word what they said.
The reason is that in the interview you want to use these exact words back to the other person.
If they said they are looking for a ‘dynamic and enthusiastic’ person – use those words, backed up by examples.
If they want someone who is ‘calm under pressure’ – use those words, back up by examples.
As if by magic they’ll think you are exactly what they are looking for.
Going into a job interview not knowing exactly what the decision maker is looking for is like trying to put up Ikea flat pack furniture without the instructions.
You might get lucky, but why take the chance?