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Interview Advice

Candidate Advice

How to Knock ’em Dead at the Interview

Interviews are a two-way street. The hiring company is seeking information on your basic skills, personality and cultural ‘fit’ into their organization. You should be interviewing for the specific job responsibilities, the personality of your prospective boss and the cultural ‘fit’ of the organization with your personality.

The good news is that neither of you are typically experienced at interviewing. There are hundreds of books and articles on interviewing and most of those books are designed to get you to buy the book. As a mental exercise a few months ago, we added up the number of interviews our office has conducted since we began in 1999. That number was 150,000! In 18 years we’ve conducted over 3,000 searches and on average we interview, qualify and disqualify over 50 candidates for every search. Often, that number exceeds 150 for a search.

So, our insights into interviewing are a bit different than most ‘experts’. Here’s a short collection of tips and ideas for a successful interview:


  • Mindset. Remember that you are typically one of 3 or 4 candidates vying for the position. Hiring is like shopping; even if the perfect candidate walks in the door, most hiring authorities want some validation of ‘perfect’ by seeing a sampling of the industry. Knowing that you made the Final Four should be a confidence booster. You’ve climbed over 50-100+ other potential people and you’re now down to making your own presentation of your merits for the job. So, go in confident. No one wants to hire someone who is nervous, weak or un-confident.
  • Goals. You have two goals for an interview. Those goals could be boiled down into two fundamental questions:

1. Why would they want to hire you?

2. Why would you want to work for them?

Your presentation answers the first question. Let’s be honest, if you can’t effectively explain why they should hire you, then you’re the wrong person for the job.

The questions you ask help to both answer the second question AND provide significant insight into questions number one. The quality of your questions demonstrates your command of the vernacular of the industry, or of your expertise. As an example, if you’re responsible for product development, then your ability to speak of  tooling, lead times, hurdle rates and market research demonstrates that you ‘get it’. If you’re interviewing for a sales position then your ability to ask questions about revenues, product categories, channel strategies, targeted accounts, etc demonstrates that you understand sales.

  • Level of interest. The internet has given us the opportunity to become mini-experts on nearly any company in a fairly short time. Your ability to effectively present your credentials starts with you demonstrating that you care enough about this opportunity to invest some research time into both the company and the people you’ll meet. Go to their website, google the company name and read blogs about them, google the people or check them on Facebook or LinkedIn. Get familiar with the territory. Hopefully you’ve been adequately briefed on the position requirements; but oftentimes those briefings are limited or subject to interpretation by the people you’ll meet. Don’t take that as a negative; it’s just ‘people’ with their personal impressions of what the position involves. The best source for the definition of the position is the future supervisor. He/she should be able to describe what their expectations are for the new employee.Do your own research or plan on finishing in 4th place!
  • Interview process. Interviews can come in a variety of shapes and formats. There are panel interviews of several company employees firing questions at you. There are interviews with only one person, personal interviews with multiple people and a variety of levels of authority can be involved as well. We’ve had numerous instances of employees interviewing their new boss. Many companies are introducing Skype interviews as a way to meet “face to face” with long-distance candidates. As best as possible, ask for an itinerary of whom you will meet, with names, titles and brief bios. This would allow you to be prepared for each interview.
    Click here for list of tips!
  • Introduction. Most interviewers ‘break the ice’ with an opening, vague question like. ‘tell me about yourself’. Regardless of how the question is phrased, this is the opportunity to deliver a SHORT professional summary of your background and why you’re here. As an example: I started in this industry right out of college, over the past 15 years I’ve had 3 promotions, worked for two companies and as I was preparing for this interview, I actually had the chance to look backwards and I’m really proud of the fact that I was able to do XXXXX. It’s that X that will launch the interview. So make sure your X is something that’s interesting, a significant professional accomplishment that will beg for them to ask.. how did you do that, or tell me about that. This allows you to start the process with telling a story about you that is honest, interesting and a proud moment or achievement for you. This will relax you and engage the interviewer. That’s where you want to be.
  • Interview protocol. A ‘good’ interview is one that encourages a professional, cordial and friendly dialog between the two parties. Answering a question has three very important components:
  1. Directly answer the question!
  2. Provide a short explanation or expound on how you did that.
  3. Give an example!

As an example:

How did you grow sales 18% in a down economy?

I looked for alternative channels to sell our products. I talked at length with our reps and with companies that make parallel products and discovered that they had begun selling to end-users through an alternative distribution channel.

Let me give you an example…I went to Dallas, met with an ESCO company and over the course of 6 months we talked about how our products could support their efforts in remodeling the JC Penney’s distribution center. It took a lot of work, but ultimately we were able to sell $2M in product at 40% GM and sold it through an industrial distributor we had never sold to before.

Why does this work?

  1. It uses numbers, which is the basic language of business.
  2. It cites a specific customer, which demonstrates familiarity with potential new customers and new business.
  3. It shows how you think about problem solving.
  • Questions. Your role is to demonstrate your capabilities, but it’s also to perform your own due diligence on the company and the opportunity. Changing jobs is stressful and has a level of risk to it: potentially relocating, different commute, meeting new people, learning new products, adapting to a new culture, etc. It’s risky and it should be evaluated against the reward of joining the new company. Here’s a partial list of topics or questions that are ‘fair game’ for you to ask:
  1. Company’s strategy for growth
  2. Company’s financial stability
  3. Career path for this position
  4. Tenure of the company’s staff
  5. Information on the direct reports into this position, their tenure, why they aren’t being considered for this position, whether there are any significant performance issues that will need to be resolved quickly.
  6. Information on your future peers; tenure, personality quirks, teamwork, etc.
  7. Where this position fits into the company’s organization and who it closely collaborates with
  8. Any industry rumors about the company
  9. Who the top competitors are
  10. What threats do you see to achieving your business plan
  11. Specifics about the position: territory, revenues, product line responsibilities, approvals processes, tools available, etc
  12. What brought you to this company
  13. What is it about this company that you feel is a competitive advantage
  • Bad questions. Avoid questions that take you out of the process of demonstrating your qualifications. So questions about the salary, working hours, benefits program, relocation details, vacation days, etc. Those questions imply that your motivation to move is solely money and moving for money is a sure way to imply you’ll move again. Changing jobs is about building relationships, expanding your reach and adding value. The money will come, but only if you demonstrate value.
  • Comportment. Demonstrate interest. Use humor. Take notes. Be attentive. And be honest. Starting a new relationship on a lie is no way to build a relationship.
  • Ask for the order! If you don’t ask, you won’t receive. A lot of people have difficulty asking for an order, so approach it in a non-confrontational way. For example: We’ve just spent the last hour reviewing my background and you’ve done a great job of explaining the position and the company. I’m genuinely interested in this opportunity. Is there anything in my background that would dismiss my candidacy from consideration? If they say no; then simply ask what the next steps will be. Always assume there will be another step in the process, so try as best as possible to set a date for the next interview. If they say there is a weakness; then that’s your chance to rebut that with additional history and work experience that may not have been discussed yet.
  • Follow up. Send old fashioned, hand-written thank you notes to everyone you met. If for any reason you can’t send a thank you note, then make sure you craft a short, professional email to each person the same day. Make those positive and ask for the next step again.
  • Follow up to the follow up. Hiring never moves quickly, so be patient. Don’t call or email every week. Be clear and concise: I enjoyed the meeting and I’m interested, when should I follow up with you? And abide by the timeline they suggest.


Interviewing is a learning environment… You made it to the Final Four. You’ve met some influential people, learned a lot about that company and you developed some experience on interviewing. There’s always a positive take-away so benefit from it. Your odds are 1 in 4, so don’t be devastated if you’re not the one and use the contact information to further your cause in the future. The people you meet today may help you later. Be professional, build your network.