Guest post by John Fawkes
Here’s how job interviews usually go: you (the applicant) spend most of the time answering questions about yourself- what you’ve done, what you’re good at, what your biggest weakness is. The interviewer drives the conversation, and you follow her lead. In answering their questions, you either talk about what you’ve done at past jobs, or speak in general terms about what a great worker you are.
Here’s how sales meetings usually go: the salesperson researches the buyer beforehand and prepares a pitch customized for that buyer. He drives the conversation, asking probing questions in order to understand the buyer’s needs and tailor a solution for the buyer. The conversation ends up being mostly about the buyer, and instead of speaking in general terms about his product or service, or focusing on past customers, the salesperson emphasizes how his product or service can help the buyer, specifically.
The salesperson, in short, succeeds by being well-prepared. He does his research to understand the buyer’s needs like the back of his own hand, comes with a pitch customized to the buyer, and controls the flow of the conversation. The people who are most successful in their careers treat job interviewing the same way, and you can too by following a three-step process of researching, preparing, and interviewing.
Step 1: Become more informed than the other applicants
Before you can prepare your pitch, you need to know the company almost as well as its own employees do. To start off with, read everything you can about the company, and particularly try to get a feel for what the company is doing in the particular department you’re applying for. (Check out my video about informational interviews here)
Next, you want to talk to current and former employees at the company- ideally one of each, but either one will put you light years ahead of most job seekers. There are two good ways to do this: first off, you can ask all of your friends and contacts if they know anyone who works at your target company, or used to. Second, you can use LinkedIn to reach out directly to people at your target company. If you take this route, it helps to select people who you have some connection with, such as a mutual contact, or a person who went to the same school as you did or used to work at a company you’ve worked at.
In either case, ask the person to meet with you for 20 minutes; for tea if possible, or otherwise over the phone. Use this meeting to ask them questions about the company, acquire an inside perspective that most job applicants won’t have, and learn what challenges the company is currently facing and what skills are most in demand. You can explain that you are exploring the possibility of working at that company in the future, but don’t ask your new contact for a job or any other favors yet; just ask for information.
Step 2: Prepare a sales pitch
Now, thinking over what you learned at your meeting, identify the main challenges faced by the company, and the department you wish to apply to. Then, figure out how your skill set and desired role would intersect with those challenges.
Next, prepare 5-10 good questions to ask during the interview. These should be questions which you honestly don’t know the answer to, and ideally questions you only know to ask because of what you learned from your contact(s).
Finally, prepare 2-3 ideas for addressing the challenges and opportunities that you’ve identified at the company. These ideas should be specific, they should be things you can do, or at least contribute towards, and you should have fleshed them out somewhat, with a rough timeline and action steps. Print these ideas on a single sheet of paper to take to the interview.
Having done all this, you can now apply for the job you want. After doing so, let your contact know that you’ve applied for a job at their company, and that you’d appreciate if they would put in a good word for you. This will dramatically improve your chances of getting an interview.
Step 3: Take control of your interview
Now, as soon as you get the chance, start taking control of the direction of the interview by discussing what you’ve learned about the company, and asking the questions you’ve prepared. Answer any questions you’re asked, but don’t wait for them; instead, spend the first half of the interview showing that you understand the company’s needs.
About halfway through the interview, tell them that you actually have a few ideas for the company, which you’d like to discuss. Pull out the sheet with your ideas written on it, and start discussing them with the interviewers- discuss what you’d like to work on for your first few months, the benefits you think your ideas could bring, and ask for the interviewer’s feedback.
This is how top performers land their dream jobs: while everyone else is spamming out resumes and saying how they’re “highly motivated and skilled,” the best are building a network, over-preparing, and selling employers not just on themselves, but on a specific vision for their role at the company. Not only will this get you the job (or even multiple offers), but in many cases this strategy, properly executed, can net you an immediate £5000 raise, as the hiring manager is practically salivating at all the money you’re going to make him.
About the Author
John Fawkes helps professionals find their dream jobs by rapidly building a network and tapping the hidden job market through his blog, where he provides unconventional advice on job searches, work-life balance, and career advancement. He also coaches a select group of clients seeking better jobs, and has published a free ebook, “The 12 mistakes keeping you from your dream job.”