I was recently asked to assist someone in preparing for a job interview. This is nothing new for me. I routinely have people approach me, especially new graduates. This may be because of my interest in helping people achieve their potential, or at least move out of their current position into another. My role as a professor in an undergraduate program certainly put me in a position where I faced people looking for jobs I’ve seen a lot of success in this work. Not financially but that feeling of doing something good for someone else, especially when it works.
Through the years I’ve gone through many changes in my approach to working with people. I’ve done calls, lectures, webinars, podcasts, and sidewalk conversations. The approach that works best for me is the one on one conversation. I want to know what drives the person and what gets them excited. Sometimes that is obvious but other times I need to talk with them to figure that out. Once that is discovered, I can shape the client’s resume, their questions for the interviewer, and the responses to the questions. I can even shape the follow-up calls and the negotiations if a job is offered.
As for my recent call, this was a bit different. I could probably follow the same routine as in the past but it felt different. The person was in a position and slated for another promotion in the next 6 months but there was an opportunity to explore. My suggestion is to always explore opportunities. (reference back to a podcast on pivoting. This was also a very educated and credentialed professional with many years of experience and essentially a… well, a unicorn. (for those not familiar with this term, a unicorn is a person with such a diverse background and skill set, with the ability to interplay them into a position that calls for her to work with people from those different groups). This person is a unicorn.
So, I know… get to the point. Well, I needed to things up so this will make sense. Think of a role in any industry that is the resident expert on various topics and knows how to accomplish big things with lots of moving parts. Its bigger than a position and more about an individual mission. If you were being hired to be a respiratory therapist, the mission is already set based on the job. When the role is a bit more vague and the mission is too, the person is being hired to be “the” person, the only person in the corporation who can accomplish this task. Once it is accomplished the role will change because the need will change. That person is a … consultant.
A consultant is considered for a role based on their diverse experience. S/he is hired to accomplish at task and paid well for that. Once the task is complete the position is dissolved. Most people would never consider becoming a consultant and that is not what I’m pushing or suggesting to this client. But it is the mindset when you interview for the position.
So, as a consultant, you ask what is needed in order to size up the job. Can you, accomplish this? What will you need to accomplish this task? Are they willing to give you those resources? What hurdles are they going to face with or without you? What hurdles do you anticipate, for you and no one else?
Once the consultant has a handle on the job, they then need to focus on selling themselves as the best candidate for the job. Play the situation like there are several other firms looking to slip in and take care of this problem at a cheaper rate, quicker timeline, and better quality. They are the enemy or competition depending on how you view it.
Before moving forward, let’s dig into the size-up questions some. Consultant style interviews come in a couple of styles. One is like the situation in the Accountant with Ben Affleck. His character was an accountant (yeah, real original name) called into do a specific task, find where the money is going. Once that is done, the job is over. He met with the client, asked some questions about why they felt they had a problem and stated his needs. Another type of interviews, fall into the Lego Movie (for the lack of a better movie to use) category where the client really has a general idea of what they want and you are going to put their idea on steroids by expanding their vision. You can see the potential in their organization and want to insert your dream into their situation. Each have a place but if you walk into one and perform like you are in the other it will be a disaster. Imagine if Ben Affleck walked in and started casting an vision session when they only wanted him to find the thief… there would be no movie.
The careful consultant can see when the meeting needs to go the specific take route and when it may be possible to interject the vision of the possible. Be prepared for both. If they say, here is $10m how would you spend it, you better be ready to cast a vision. If they say, we need to get ourselves back on track with our current mission, you need to pull back and be an accountant.
So how do you organize this process now that you have an idea of the approach? Well it starts long before the interview. It starts when you see the job listing. Think of that as a want ad in the news paper… “good morning, we need help. If you can jump small buildings in a single bound… if you can see through walls… if you can control people with your mind… we need you.” Don’t get intimidated by the post, they just don’t the high school graduate applying for the job. They want you but they are playing hard to get. From here, start a portfolio and move to step two.
The dossier needs to have a general idea about the employer’s real need based strictly on the just listing, and what can be found about the organization on the internet. You need to get as much info as you can in a day so you can submit a letter of interest. You may think the letter does not this type of information, but it does. This is how you get through the screening process. You need to hook their needs, in a general sense, to your skills. This letter will remain with your record for ever so it must hook them and quickly. Then send it to the recruiter or whomever is on the listing. Follow the directions carefully.
Now, finish the dossier. You need to know everything you can about the organization and people with whom you will interview. I like to print the pictures of the people on the interview schedule so as soon as you get one, do some digging on them too. You don’t want to walk in knowing nothing about the people you are talking to… they know everything about you. Do your research.
Now, the interview questions. You need to ask a lot of questions. Questions are your only way to size up the job. If they have the moon in mind and you are only able to promise the sky as the limit, they will not take you. If you misunderstand their dream and you over or under shoot, you will be disappointed and not last long if you even get a call back. Also, I tell my folks this all the time, you should not ask questions that can be answered from a simple internet search unless it opens the door to you marketing something about yourself.
The actual interview, using the above ideas is pretty much the same. You are careful not to release your ideas. Your ideas are really the solution to their problem How you share them could result in them knowing how to fix their own problems and no longer need you. On the other hand, you need to give them an assurance that you are the solution to their problems. This is a two-edged sword so be careful. I’m working on perfecting this now but until that time… be careful not to solve their problems for free.
Follow-up is another conversation all together so I’m not going there yet. Just work on the above and see if you get to a point where you need to follow-up.