Develop Your Interviewing Agenda and Get the Job
by Tom Washington
In his classic, Sweaty Palms, (http://www.careerempowering.com/recommended-resources.html) Anthony Medley reminds interviewees that while they do not control the questions or flow of an interview, they most assuredly can and should control the content, that is, the responses to questions and the examples given. The main part of controlling the content is to sell your agenda. Those with agendas know exactly what they want the employer to know about them and they know how they will sell the right skills, experience, personal qualities, and accomplishments. Being so well prepared will put you in the top one percent of interviewees. Creating an agenda begins with learning what employers are seeking in a successful applicant and then determining what makes you uniquely suited for that position. For the prepared person being asked, “Why are you the best person for this position?” is the perfect opportunity to nail the job. Creating an agenda takes hours of preparation, but if you really want to score big in interviews, nothing less will do.
Creating an agenda requires that you assess your greatest strengths and are prepared to sell the strengths you believe will have the greatest impact on the hiring manager. This effort includes determining how to describe those strengths in such a way that the interviewer consciously or subconsciously accepts those strengths as highly desirable, even though they may never have been considered during the company’s job analysis process.
Such candidates cause their skills and qualities to become the standard against which the other candidates are measured. These interviewees do not rely on having the perfect questions asked. Instead they look for open-ended questions which enable them to sell their key strengths as early in the interview as possible. They sell their ability to turn around organizations or create new corporate cultures that are better suited to changing markets. They sell their ability to build teams that develop hot products or create systems that increase productivity. They may also sell less tangible qualities such as enthusiasm, integrity, leadership, and vision. When I use these terms I do not mean common enthusiasm or common integrity, but these qualities at such a high standard that the hiring manager is able to see beyond any lack of technical knowledge or industry experience. These key qualities are sold primarily through the use of stories—specific examples that come from both work and nonwork experiences.
Creating an agenda is just as crucial when you have the perfect background, as when you clearly are missing some of the desired experience. Determining which experiences you have that display the critical skills, and then practicing those stories until you can describe them so vividly that visual images are imprinted in the interviewer’s mind, is critical to success. The growing popularity of behavior-based interviewing, where almost every question demands that an example be supplied, is a reminder of why this practice is so essential. Telling stories about key experiences is important, even when the question does not require an example. Telling vivid stories causes you to be remembered and is the primary way to fully convince people that you have the necessary skills and qualities. Interviewers intuitively know that the best predictor of future behavior is past behavior. That is why providing examples is so powerful.
Employers frequently hire people who at first glance were not the right candidates. If they can get past the initial screening, their energy, leadership ability, or the possession of a unique a combination of strengths, will keep them moving on in the interview process. Somehow during their interviews they reveal strengths that trump the more technical experience that others possess. This explains why the “most qualified” person often does not get hired. There are various reasons for that. The qualities that cause people to be hired are rarely included in the job description, written in the want ad, or given to the recruiter.
The agenda is based first on determining what skills and qualities the hiring manager is consciously seeking, and second, by determining which strengths or experiences will impress the manager once they have been effectively described, even when the manager was not specifically seeking them.
By having a plan—an agenda—you can take advantage of all opportunities that present themselves during an interview. By identifying the strengths and experiences that will best sell you, and by determining the questions that will enable you to describe them, you can take full advantage of each question. The questions that are most useful are open-ended questions such as, “Tell me about yourself,” “What is your greatest strength?” and “Why should I hire you?” Open-ended questions give you wide latitude in answering them. Cover the most important strengths first, based on your analysis of the job description. This is important since you may not get another chance to do so later on.
Answering the question and concluding with an example is the most powerful way to convince a person you possess the necessary skills and qualities. As you finish the story, state the specific strength you were emphasizing, and then add another strength. For example, if the interviewer had asked a manager whether she was a good team player, she would first describe what makes her a good team player and then would back it up with an example. Once she finished telling the story she might state “I think that experience demonstrates that I am a very good team player. It also demonstrates that I’m a person who comes up with unique marketing ideas.”
Notice what the person did. She answered the question regarding being an excellent team player and provided a very good story to back it up. She then reminded the interviewer of what she had sold to him—proof that she was an excellent team player. Having restated the strength, it was then appropriate for her to mention from her agenda, at least one other strength that the experience demonstrated.
The reason this technique works is that as soon as you mention the other skills that were being demonstrated in the example, the interviewer will instantly agree. This technique requires practice, so when you’re rehearsing, be sure to add those additional skills. You’ll get weight added to your side of the scale every time.
The Steps To Developing An Agenda
Below are the four steps needed to develop your agenda and to ensure that you fully sell yourself.
1) Identify Your Accomplishments And Skills
Identify your top 20-25 work and nonwork related accomplishments—those experiences that you enjoyed, did well, got satisfaction from, were thanked or praised, or received an award. They might resemble 1) I made a large sale to a firm that had refused to business with us for 15 years, 2) I developed and implemented incentives that reduced company-wide turnover by 24%, saving over $250,000 in training and other expenses.
Spend a couple of minutes with each accomplishment and identify the 3-5 skills that jump out at you. It might look like this:
Worked closely with a programmer to develop a computer program that allowed for automatic reorders for a customer, a 38-store chaing.
Work effectively with computer programmers
Find more efficient ways to do things
Make things happen
Work hard for my customers
By doing this, you will now have 20-25 stories to share in interviews. You will then be able to choose which story would best suit a particular question.
To take your accomplishments and skills to an even higher level, review a chapter in Interview Power called Selling Yourself Through Accomplishments. (http://www.careerempowering.com/interview-power/selling-yourself-through-accomplishments.html) Use the chapter to thoroughly identify your “good experiences” and the skills you demonstrated in those experiences.
2) Practice Your Stories
Practice describing all of the accomplishments you think you might use in interviews. Practice so that for each accomplishment you have a one-minute and a two-minute version. With your longer version you can add details that reveal more about the experience and more about you as a person. With a one-minute version you have to work hard to determine the most critical points. It takes effort to remove all but the most important points from a story. Use the two-minute version when you believe it will best sell you and if the interviewer appears to have an adequate attention span. Hone your stories until you can tell them so vividly that images are imprinted in people’s minds. For example, some in the Pacific Northwest are able to describe climbing Mount Rainier, a feat that requires planning, establishing and achieving goals, determination, and great team work. Out here it is virtually impossible to mention Mount Rainier without a person having an image of the mountain flash in their mind. That person is then remembered as the Mount Rainier lady.
3) Match Your Strengths And Stories With Key Questions
There are dozens of commonly asked questions, many of which are open-ended, giving you great opportunities to sell your agenda. See the list of 30 such open ended questions at the end of this article. Determine which strengths and stories you would likely mention when asked these questions.
4) Assess What The Employer Wants
By analyzing a job description and by researching an organization you can determine with considerable accuracy what the ideal candidate will look like. To analyze the ad or job description, break out all of the duties of the position as well as the qualities and areas of experience they say they want. Write all of those points on one column and label it “They Want.” Label the other column “I’ve Got.” and list what you have for each item. If you don’t have direct experience in an area, indicate whether you have related education or training or even exposure to it. If you can’t score the full points on an area, get whatever points you can by selling what you do have.
Having done the analysis you are then ready to explain how you are uniquely qualified. It is your responsibility to help the employer see how you are the right person. Below are examples of open-ended questions that can enable you to cover critical agenda points.
1. Tell me about yourself.
2. What is your greatest strength?
3. What can you offer us that someone else can’t?
4. Why should I hire you?
5. What are your three most important career accomplishments?
6. How would you describe yourself?
7. What have you done to increase your personal development?
8. What was the most useful criticism you ever received?
9. What is the biggest change you’ve made in your life in the past ten years?
10. Can you work well under stress?
11. Are you a team player?
12. What have you done that shows initiative?
13. What personal qualities are important for success in this field?
14. Can you establish effective methods and procedures?
15. We need someone who is resourceful.
16. What has been your biggest challenge?
17. What is the most difficult situation you ever faced?
18. Describe a team project where you are proud of the team’s result as well as of your personal contribution.
19. Describe a difficult decision you’ve made and the process you went through to reach that decision.
20. What do you like most about this position?
21. Tell me about your duties at your present job.
22. What is the most important aspect of your job?
23. What jobs have you enjoyed most? Why?
24. What duties have you enjoyed most?
25. Why would you like to work for us?
26.What kind of recommendations will you get from previous employers?
27.How has your supervisor helped you grow?
28.What did your supervisor rate you highest on during your last review?
29.How would your subordinates describe you as a supervisor?
30. How have you improved as a manager over the years?
Once you’ve completed all four steps, you’ll be ready to ace your interviews. Take the time to put all of these pieces together. Yes, it will take time—5-15 hours is typical—but the quality of your answers will bring about better results than you’ve ever experienced.