A Headhunter’s Secret To Being A Great Candidate

Everyone, no matter their industry or level of position goes through the interview process. All of us are, at some point, candidates.

You might think there are magic interview bullets that apply to CEOs or vice presidents that don’t apply to the rest of us. That isn’t true. As a matter of fact, the basics of interviewing are just that, basics. For most jobs and positions, the basics will not only advance you through the process but will get you an offer. Most people suck at the basics.   

Here are some thoughts on how to be great at the basics, and some things that will take you beyond the simple steps and make you stand out in your next interview.

Your Phone Interview

The first call isn’t really an interview but more of a two-way conversation. At least it should be.

The first call is a chance for you to understand more about the company and the opportunity. If you are working elsewhere, it is important that you make clear to the person on the call with you that you have a job (and that you don’t need one) without coming across as cocky or uninterested.

You want to make it incumbent on the interviewer, right from the start, to show you a better opportunity than the one you have today. So, you still want to come off as flattered and intrigued by the company being interested in you, but you also want to make clear this is a two-way street. Set the tone that you are open to a better opportunity. The purpose of this first call is to determine if this could be that better opportunity.

Are you really ready to make a change?

If you like what you hear in that exploratory call, you need to get serious. Go look in the mirror and ask yourself if you are ready to make a change? If you aren’t, graciously bow out.  Don’t just stop communicating or stop returning calls or emails. Ideally, pick up the phone (yes, I said pick up the phone) and tell whoever it was you were talking to that the timing or fit isn’t right. Position yourself as the one that got away in your interviewer’s eyes. Leave the door open to be able to call them back when you are really ready to make a career change.

Ready? On To Step Two!

If you decide to move forward, here are some critical (and easy) winning strategies.

Time To Win The Job

First, get your head right. Regardless of your track record, company you're with, or the credentials you possess, this is where you tuck your ego in your hip pocket. When you decide to engage, you are making the conscious decision to do so.  This is now about you demonstrating why you are the best choice for this position.  This is about you winning the job and getting your offer.

Step 1 - Get Prepared

Do your homework on the interviewer(s), the company and the product or service offerings. This is the place where most people blow their chances; and it happens all the time. The number one reason I hear for people getting knocked out of the interview process is that they weren’t prepared.

I hate hearing comments from interviewers like:

“The candidate couldn’t tell me about the company or what we do.”

“He didn’t know anything about my background.”, etc.

It is just so preventable!

This background research isn’t hard, it just takes some time. Google the company, read some press releases, use LinkedIn to learn about your interviewer’s background, etc. All the while, make note of things you can interject into your interview conversations.  

Reference press releases, current company news, where people went to school, or other details that are relevant to your conversation. A mention like, “In Industry Journal X (name the article) you said, ‘______’”, can be very powerful in your interview.

Most people think prep work is done solely to demonstrate you prepared and did your homework for the interview.  

This is true, but more importantly, it demonstrates you care and illustrates this is important to you. Far fewer people prepare for interviews than you might think. If you’re one of the few, you’re already ahead of your competition.  

Step 2 - Show Some Common Courtesy

Be gracious and appreciative. I wrote an article awhile back about the lack of courtesy people demonstrate toward each other these days. I absolutely encourage all my candidates to write a thank you note after an interview. I encourage my clients to do the same.

No one is going to get a job because they write a nice thank you note, BUT lots of people stop being considered for jobs because they don’t.

It doesn’t take that long, you can write a simple email (though a handwritten note is very well received, unless you have horrible handwriting in which case go with email).

Step 3- Close For The Job

Clients want to hire candidates who actually want the job. Tell your interviewer you want the job.  Talk about why you are the best choice.  Don’t be shy here.  You want to put yourself in the position to be able to say “yes” or “no” and to do that you need to get the offer.  Remember, you can always say “no”.

The Important Stuff (I’ve Saved The Best For Last)

These are difference-making questions you really need to be prepared for should they come up. (These questions fall into the “know thyself” category.)

  1. What makes you really good OR what are you best at OR what is your greatest value add? (This is you talking about your personal value proposition.)
    1. These are all versions of the same question and you need to know the answer.  This is you not only knowing yourself but also how you articulate and talk about yourself. I’ve found this can be a more challenging question for women who tend to not take credit for their work or point out their personal contribution when it is meaningful and significant. This is the place where you have an opportunity to demonstrate confidence and contribution. You need to do this well. Your confidence, here, will actually instill confidence in your interviewer choosing you.
  2. Do you know what we do OR do you know what our value proposition is?
    1. I see this question a lot. They are asking if you did your homework. No one will expect a perfect answer but you need to be in the ballpark.
  3. Can you talk about the competition? (I’m asking you)
    1. This is your chance to ask about them and demonstrate again, in a different way, that you have done your homework. Want a tip on how to find who the competitors are?  Google “[name of the company] competitors”. [Viola!]

It does truly take some work to get a new job, but if you take the time to think through what you want, do the research on the companies where you could make a difference, and prepare to dive into the conversation, all that work will be worth the opportunity to do new and hopefully far better things in your new position.