Hit a Home Run in Every Interview (Part 1)
From Career Tips, 2004 Volume 2, February 2004
Interviews are critical to career success, both when seeking a new job and for internal moves at your current employer. The internal interview can sometimes be the trickiest, because we are lulled into a false sense of security by the fact that it’s “among family,” when in fact a poor performance in that situation can reduce your long term career potential with your employer.
Long before the actual interview, you need to develop compelling accomplishment stories that sell your achievements. The key to a compelling story is to show both challenges and results. Tell what challenge you were faced with, and how you overcame it: what you accomplished to reach your goal. And make sure to show the result you achieved for your employer. This is where many job seekers fall down. They talk about how they developed a new product, or managed a project, or designed a system. While this may be important, it’s not what makes the hiring manager sit up and take notice. What an employer WANTS to know is whether you can produce results: that you developed a product that increased revenues, or delivered a project on time and under budget, or designed a system that saved time and resources. And perhaps just as important, communicating results demonstrates that you understand the broader implications of your work. We teach our clients a template for developing these stories that we call To Care, because the goal of the story is to get the hiring manager to care about your achievements.
Even if you don’t plan to seek a new position any time soon, get in the habit of preparing accomplishment stories for every significant project. It’s much easier to write a compelling story shortly after the fact than to try to remember and reconstruct it months or years later. This can also help you make a great impression at a company cocktail party, when a senior officer asks what you’ve been working on lately.
Boil the key stories down into 1 or 2 line bullets for your resume. You need to have a resume that is a strong sales brochure to back you up. Often, it’s the resume gets you invited to interview in the first place. And it’s the leave-behind that reminds the hiring manager of what set you apart from the other candidates. Many times people neglect to create a high quality resume for an internal interview. This is a fatal error. If you really want the best shot at that internal promotion, you should have just as professional a resume for that situation as if you were seeking a job with a different employer. And since so many neglect to do so, this can set you head and shoulders above the internal competition.
Review the company’s website and read the annual report to get familiar with its market and the issues it is facing. Use your networking contacts to try to find out everything you can about the company and its culture, the position, the department, and issues facing that particular area of the market. Get any materials you can from the employer or recruiter in advance of the interview, particularly a job description and organizational chart. Review the job description carefully to see what specific skills, qualities and areas of experience they are most interested in. Then think about which of your accomplishment stories will best illustrate those. Make a mental checklist so that you can be sure to find ways to weave all of the key stories into the interview.
Now you are prepared for the interview itself. We will talk about that and what to do afterwards next time.