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  • A ‘Headhunter’s’ 8 Rules for ‘Acing’ the Job Interview

    Each and every week of the year, my executive recruiting firm,  The HTW (Hire to Win) Group, has candidates going in for face-to-face job interviews. The candidates we present, versus those who choose to do it alone, end up winning  the  job 70% of the time. What makes the difference? In short, it’s the fact that the candidates we present are thoroughly coached on and prepared to adhere to the EIGHT basic “rules” that will significantly improve their chances of “acing” the job interview and then winning the job!

    How did we come up with these eight basic rules? Essentially, through years of experience presenting candidates. As a result, we know what works, and equally important, what does not work, when it comes to a candidate branding himself/herself as the ultimate—and clear—candidate of choice.

    The Eight Basic Rules:

    RULE #1. Until an offer is actually made, the job interview is always, always, always about the hiring company, not about you – the job candidate! At the end of the hiring process, of course, you will need to be as sold on the company, your future boss, the team and the company’s culture as much as they are sold on you. However, until you actually become the candidate of choice, like it or not, it is your responsibility to do 100% of the selling. Until that time, it is about the company’s needs, problems and challenges and, and in particular, how you may be a solution to those needs, problems and challenges, not about your job needs/desires.

    RULE #2The objective of every interview is to get the next interview. Until the final interview, the objective of every interview is simply to get the next one. Only by doing that can your candidacy advance to the finish line. In fact, if a company ever wants to make you an offer after just one interview, proceed with caution. Why is the company so anxious? Is the job for real? In turn, at the end of each interview, don’t “close” on the job, either. The company will wonder why you are so anxious. Instead, at the end of each interview, close on the next step. For example, at the end of the initial telephone interview, ask a question along these lines: “Based upon our conversation today, is there anything that would prevent us from meeting face-to-face?”

    RULE #3Avoid casting “Shadows on the Wall.” Never, never say or do anything negative during the interview. This is what I refer to as casting “shadows on the wall.” Here is an example: Suppose the hiring manager asks why you would consider moving a thousand miles to take a new job, if it was offered, and your response was something like this: “I need to get as far away from my present job as possible because my boss and I are constantly at each other’s throats.” Ouch! You’d be eliminated on the spot, at least in the hiring manager’s mind. Remember, when it comes to a job interview, anything you say or do can and will be used against you!

    RULE #4 – Adopt the Boy Scout Motto. The Boy Scout motto is “Be Prepared,” and that is certainly what you better be when you go into a job interview today. Here is how most men and women go into a job interview: They hand over a copy of their résumé and then sit back waiting to be drilled with questions. Then, they answer the questions at “face value,” usually with answers that wander all over the place. In other words, as renowned author and motivational speaker Zig Ziglar puts it, they become a wandering generality instead of a meaningful specific.

    Be prepared to anticipate most questions you can expect to be asked during the interview and then answer those questions very succinctly, powerfully, and in a way that will clearly brand you as being a candidate that at least has potential value to the hiring company.

    Real life example: We were recently screening a potential candidate for a position with one of our client companies and we asked him this question (one of many we knew he would be asked in a real interview):

    “Why would you consider leaving your current job?”

    His answer was both genuine and quite typical, albeit quite self-defeating:

    “I have been with my current company three years and I no longer see the growth potential. My boss and his boss are just a few years older than me and they won’t be going anywhere any time soon so, as I see it, I will be doing the same thing five years from now that I am doing now. I am looking for a company where that same ceiling isn’t there.”

    On the face of it, you might think that this candidate’s answer really isn’t all that bad, but you would be wrong! I refer you back to RULE #1 above. At this point in the game the hiring manager doesn’t really care about you, the candidate. All he or she cares about at this point is what, if anything, you can bring to his or her company to address problems, concerns and challenges!

    Since this candidate clearly was a very strong performer and indeed probably wasn’t going to get promoted any time soon at his current company, we decided to work with him and present him to our client company. We coached him to rephrase his answer to this question (and others, of course) along these lines:

    “I have been at my current company for three years. During that time we have been able to strongly penetrate the food-processing market, with our disinfectants growing our market share from 12% to 27%. So it isn’t so much that I am looking to leave my current company as it is the opportunity I see with your company. In addition to having an effective product line of disinfectants, you also have the equipment available for ease of application. That is a powerful combination and one I am quite excited about. With my knowledge of the industry, I believe I could have a relative quick, positive impact on helping the team achieve its sales objectives for the year.”

    See the difference? The “typical” answer before coaching was all about the candidate, not what he could possibly offer the hiring company! Conversely, the “coached” answer clearly demonstrated the candidate’s potential value to the hiring company.

    (He ended up being offered—and accepting—the position.)

    RULE #5 – Everyone—and I do mean everyone—listens to radio station WIIFM. Yes, the most popular, most-listened to “radio station” is WIIFM, “What’s In It For Me?” You would be wise to keep that in mind when dealing with other people, especially hiring managers! Show genuine interest in the hiring manager (and the company he or she represents), and the way you can accomplish that is by having done your homework. Did you, for example, Google® the hiring manager? Did you research him or her on LinkedIn® or ZoomInfo®? Did you read the latest press releases from the company?

    The candidate who shows interest, knowledge and curiosity during a job interview is the candidate most likely to be branded new, different, better, and you should know the positive implications of that kind of perception.

    RULE #6 – Amp up your energy! It’s certainly not necessary (or desired!) that you appear to be “over the top” during a job interview, but clearly you should be at your very best and on high alert! After all, in a sense, you are the “main attraction” here, and no hiring manager I’ve ever known wants to hire a dullard or a bore.

    RULE #7 – Never appear “stand-offish” or play “hard to get.” Demonstrate genuine interest in and commitment to getting the job by immediately sending a “Thank You” note to the person who interviewed you. If possible, make the note both personal and professional, by picking two to three points from the conversation and highlighting them in your “Thank You” note.

    If time is not of the essence, your note should be handwritten and sent via USPS (“snail mail”). Email should always be your second choice for sending the note.

    Remember, though, once you send the “Thank You” note, any immediate, additional follow up attempting to “nudge” the process along, such as leaving a voice mail and saying something like, “Just calling to follow up on where things are in the process,” etc., weakens your position. Seven to ten days after the interview, if you still haven’t heard anything, an appropriate follow up could consist of an email in which you mention something about the company, e.g., “Pam, I don’t know if you saw the attached article on the new disinfectant XYZ company is coming out with or not. Here’s the link in case it is of interest. . . .”

    RULE #8 – Practice, practice, practice, and then practice some more. Look at a job interview the same way an actor or actress looks at a play or movie audition because, after all, that is precisely what a job interview is, an audition to see if you can “get the part”! Record your answers to anticipated interview questions and then play them back. Video yourself and then watch how you will appear to others. If you’re like most people, you won’t believe how you sound and look before practicing and honing your skills.

    I’m sure you are familiar with the saying that goes,

    “You only get ONE chance to make a good first impression.”

    Certainly that is true when it comes to a job interview. Incorporate the principles inherent in the rules I’ve outlined in this blog into your repertoire and you will be branded as an “A” team member. And believe me, those are the only team members being considered for the good jobs in today’s brutal job market!


    Skip Freeman is the author of “Headhunter” Hiring Secrets: The Rules of the Hiring Game Have Changed . . . Forever! and is the President and Chief Executive Officer of The HTW Group (Hire to Win), an Atlanta, GA, Metropolitan Area Executive Search Firm. Specializing in the placement of sales, engineering, manufacturing and R&D professionals, he has developed powerful techniques that help companies hire the best and help the best get hired.

    Skip Freeman is the author of “Headhunter” Hiring Secrets: The Rules of the Hiring Game Have Changed . . . Forever!  (http://portal.sliderocket.com/BFDSG/Find-Your-Dream-Job), an international bestselling job hunting book on Amazon.com, and Career Stalled? (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AEZD-bqj4bE), his latest book in the "Headhunter" Hiring Secrets Series of Career Development & Management publications. He is the President and Chief Executive Officer of The HTW Group (www.hiretowin.com), an Atlanta, GA, Metropolitan Area Executive Search Firm. Specializing in the placement of sales, engineering, manufacturing and R&D professionals, he has developed powerful techniques that help companies hire the best and help the best get hired.

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