Four Critical Steps to Acing a Job Interview

Published on 08 April 2010 in Blog

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By Jack Molisani, President, ProSpring Technical Staffing

Most candidates do not have interviewing strategies—they just answer the questions an interviewer asks and then leave hoping they did well enough to get a second interview.

This article explains four critical steps you can take to proactively control a job interview and lead it where you want it to go.

Four Critical Steps

Have you ever interviewed for a job that you thought went well but didn’t result in an offer?  If so, chances are you lacked an interview strategy that accomplishes four critical objectives:

  1. Understand the job requirements.
  2. Establish that you are an expert at what you do.
  3. Establish that you really have done what you claim.
  4. Show how you can solve the problems they are experiencing

By achieving each one of these objectives in order, you show a potential interviewer who you are, what you’ve done and why you are the best candidate for the job.

Objective 1:  Understand the job requirements.

The first critical objective in any interview, understanding the job requirements.  This is critical because more often than not the job description that was advertised is not even close to what the hiring manager is really looking for.

Asking the interviewer what he or she is looking for also gives you insight into what this interviewer thinks is important (and thus address those topics as you proceed).

Ask interviewers about the job, how the position fits in the overall development process.  If you know the position has been open for awhile, ask what they have not been finding in other candidates interviewed and then make sure to address those points.

By really understanding what is needed and wanted, you can position yourself as the perfect match as you move the interview forward.

Objective 2:  Establish that you are an expert.

The next objective in the interview process is to establish you are an expert in your field.

Please note that when I say “expert” I don’t necessarily mean someone who has 20 years experience in the field.  To me an expert is some who understands and can competently apply the tools and technology of their field to the level to which he or she has been trained.

For example, I wouldn’t expect contract technical writers to be experts in project management, but I would expect them to be experts at asking what procedures need to be documented and then documenting them.

So how do you establish that you are an expert in your field? Show a sample project plan you have created.

Your plan will vary based on your industry.  For example, a programmer may show a high level design document, a technical writer would show a document plan, a construction project manager might show a project plan and the blueprints for the project.

Use the plan to walk the interviewer through your development methodology.  How do you go about tackling a big project? How do you manage risks and issues? Request and allocate resources?

This was always a critical step when I was interviewing, as it set me apart from other applicants.  By the time I finish walking the interviewer through a detailed project plan I had created, the interviewer knew I knew what I am talking about.  Thus, I achieve the second objective: The interviewer recognizes I am an expert in my field.

Objective 3:  Establish that you really have done what you claim.

Once you have walked an interviewer through your development mythology (and thus established you are an expert in your field), show what resulted from the plan.

Have helped develop consumer electronics? Software? Skyscrapers? Training materials?  Show off your accomplishments!

Caution: Don’t fall into the trap of showing “sample pages” from a manual, “sample code” from the system, etc.  Interviewers want to see what you will do for their company, so find marketing data sheets for your products, cut ads out of magazines, find glowing product reviews.  Put those in your portfolio and then proudly point to each item and say, “I helped develop this!”

By the end of showing your samples, product reviews, etc., you will have achieved the third critical interview objective: establish that you are an expert and really have done what you claim.

Objective 4:  Show how you can solve the problems they are experiencing.

By now in the interview you have established that you are an expert in your field.  But how do you reach the ultimate goal, getting the job offer (or the contract or the outsource project)?

By using a before-and-after sample that shows no matter how bad a problem or need the interviewer has, you can help.

In my portfolio (from my contract technical writing days) I have a really messy engineering drawing that looks like it was scribbled on the back of a napkin.  From that really messy drawing I created a very professional illustration, and dropped the illustration into the document.  All three versions are in my portfolio.

Here is how I use the sample to land the job/contract/project: After I show my writing samples, I then say, “Let me show you how the XYZ system was explained to me.” and I show my really messy “before” sample.

Almost every time the person points and laughs and says, “That is EXACTLY how our stuff looks!!!”

An then, after the person stops their cathartic chuckling, I show the “after” samples—how I brought order to chaos.

At this point I sit back, shut up and wait for a go button. (In sales talk, a “go button” is anything the other person says that indicates they want to buy.)

After the person finally finishes smiling at the before-and-after samples, he/she usually puts them down and says something to the affect of, “OK, how long do you think the project will take?” or “I have one more person to interview but I’d like you to come back so the VP can meet you….” or some other statement expressing the desire to move forward.

You may not have a messy engineering drawing, but I’m sure you have some sort of chaotic source material to use as a “before” sample until you can save a suitably messy drawing from your next project.  While we may take for granted that it is part of our job to turn the utterly incomprehensible into beautifully clear and lucid, the point here is to show you can do that.

By showing radically different before and after samples, you can achieve the final interview objective: The interviewer decides you can help solve the exact problems the company is having (since you did it for someone else), and thus offers you the job/contract/project.

Summary

Never be a “passive interviewee.”  Have an interviewing strategy and actively lead an interviewer to the conclusion that the you are the person to hire because:

  1. You took the time to really understand the interviewer’s needs.
  2. By walking the interview thorough your project plan and development methodology, you showed you are an expert in your field.
  3. By presenting samples of your work, costumer reviews, etc., you showed you really have done what you claim.
  4. By showing an incredible before and after sample you showed you can solve problems, such as the ones the interviewer has.

Why would they hire anyone else?

About the Author

Jack Molisani has been a project officer in the Space Division of the United States Air Force, the manager of training and documentation of a multi-million dollar software company, and currently is the president of ProSpring, Inc., a staffing firm specializing in engineers, project managers and contract technical writers.

He also produce The LavaCon Conference on Professional Development: www.lavacon.org

He can be reached at 866-302-5774 or JackMolisani@prospringstaffing.com

One Response to “Four Critical Steps to Acing a Job Interview”

  1. Brian says:

    This is pretty good advice. The samples thing can go a bit overboard and potentially backfire though. I’ve seen some resumes which were.. 20 page tours of their previous work. Previous work is important.. but ultimately what I hire them to do.. despite being similar – will be something completely different. If they’ve over-specialized to the point where I can’t use them.. I don’t want them.

    Also in service industries such as IT though the actual ‘product’ is more of an intangible when it comes.. the specific details that actually makes it be a rock star versus mediocre. So for example while your messy-> awesome transition is a good one – an important bit is that you actually nailed it correctly and that it was actually what the customer needed – not just what they wanted.

    In other words, it’s not just about making a nice looking result – it has to be the correct one based on the actual requirements. So I would say it’s almost more important to have someone show me.. hey so when I talked to this customer initially they wanted XYZ.. after I understood their processes I realized they actually needed X & Y but A & B were actually more important to them.. so we delivered that and they were ecstatic.

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