Psychology Today: Here To Help


Three suggestions for job candidates going off for the first round of job interviews:

  1. You Can’t Do Enough Research
  2. Structure the Right Analogy for What the Interview is All About
  3. Kill Off Your Competition..


It is shocking how many job candidates fail to conduct sufficient research when going in for interviews. MINIMUM requirements for a public company include: (1) review of 10Ks for the company and its key competitors. This information can easily be obtained from (2) conversations with current or former employees of the company and perhaps one or two competitors.

MINIMUM requirements for a private company include (1) review of D&B Credit Reports for the company and its key competitors. This information can be obtained from (2) conversations with current or former employees of the company and perhaps one or two competitors.

Other research ideas can be obtained from the HATE TO SURF website review, available at

For any substantive job, it is expected that job candidates not rely totally on the marketing literature that they have been handed out.

There is much to be gained from engaging in Coffee Shop Research: hanging around the nearest coffee shop to the company and making friends with the person at the cash register. That person can point out company employees to you. If it is not a violation of confidentiality, you can state your reasons for seeking the information you want about the company. Ask the following question: “What Is the Best Thing and the Worst Thing About Working for the Company?”

You are telling a potential employer that you are willing to invest considerable “sweat equity” in the company. Show the prospective employer that you are willing to do AT LEAST as much research as you would if you planned to spend $1,000 on purchasing a stock!


Do these analogies capture how you feel at this moment?

A job interview is like an audition for a play. Try your best, and then wait for the producer's decision.

A job interview is like a tennis match. Volley back the questions, and then wait for the return.

Analogies help simplify the world. But poorly framed analogies such as these both simplify and distort. The job search as an audition puts the interviewee in a passive stance. The job search as tennis match implies an adversarial relationship.

Try this analogy: a job interview is like putting together a consulting proposal for a long term, expensive project.

A Job Interview is Like a Consulting Proposal

And a job interview is only the first step in a lengthy negotiation. It is not necessary to be brilliant in the first interview. Much can be done with post-interview tactics to keep your candidacy alive.

Identify the Needs First

For key managerial and professional positions, the first round of job interviews should NOT result in an offer. Expect at least 1-2 more rounds.

Go into the first interview like a consultant. Good consultants spend most of the initial meeting trying to find out what prospective clients need. Spend time in asking questions about the organization. Use the job description as a platform to find out needs and constraints.

You want that information so that you can go home and work on something that will motivate employers to want to see you again. Examples of questions to ask during the first interview include:

  • Why is this position open?
  • If you were to list your needs in this position over the next 12 months, what would they be?
  • What internal or external problems do you perceive in this position?
  • What do you want to achieve over the next twelve months?
  • What do you want to preserve over the next twelve months?
  • What do you want to avoid over the next twelve months?

For a list of other great questions, go to Check out the Board of Directors Resource Center. Go into the QUESTIONS section. The focus of this section is on questions that Board members ought to be asking CEOs. But you may find some great questions for you to use as well. These questions will help position you as a business professional first....and a functional expert second.


After the first round of interviews, avoid following up with bland “Thank You” letters. These letters typically describe what a "pleasure" it was to meet the interviewer. Find a way to capitalize on what you learned in the first interview to blow away your competition.

One law firm was seeking a marketing specialist to develop a monthly newsletter that would be mailed to clients. While other candidates were sending letters of thanks to, Gloria obtained the newsletters of the five leading Boston law firms. She wrote to the managing partner that she had obtained these newsletters. Based upon her preliminary discussions with the firm and her review of the competitors' newsletters, she had a preliminary concept of how the firm might have a different approach. Would it be appropriate to have another meeting to discuss these ideas?

With one bold stroke, Gloria maneuvered herself to a second stage job interview. She also managed to eliminate her less aggressive competitors.

A job hunter interviewed at a major money center for the position of Senior Vice President, Marketing. In the first round job interview, the individual was told that a key issue facing the organization was the role of marketing in the new corporate structure. That role was essentially blurred with other functional areas. Following the interview, the candidate wrote a four page proposal outlining his view of how marketing should fit into the new structure, based on his research into the company's history and philosophy. He sent it to the hiring authority via overnight delivery. Copies were sent to others he had met during the first interview.

The executive was called back for a second round of interviews. When he asked how his background compared with that of his competition, he was told there was no competition!


In these two cases, the job candidates had superficial knowledge about their prospective organizations. Suppose the proposal had focused on inappropriate or trivial issues? In drafting a proposal, however, it is not necessary to score a "bulls eye" solution. It is only necessary to demonstrate that you are capable of achieving it.

It is not even necessary to commit yourself to your own proposal. Call your proposal a "draft" designed to serve as a vehicle for future discussion.

The proposal format best positions you as an executive-level "problem solver." And it makes the first round of a job interview less a "do or die" proposition.

The proposal format positions yourself as the person who is the least risky option.

When companies are looking at candidates, are they really looking to find the absolute best person for the job or are they looking to maximize the probability that they avoid hiring the wrong person?

A draft helps insure that prospective employers will not be hiring the wrong person if they hire you!

Laurence J. Stybel and Maryanne Peabody are co-founders of Stybel Peabody Lincolnshire, a consulting firm which focuses on helping companies achieve “Smooth Transitions” for very senior executives: core services include retained search, coaching, and retained search. Founded in 1979, Stybel Peabody Lincolnshire has been selected to be strategic partner with the following organizations: (1) The Financial Executives’ Institute (2) The Associated Industries of Massachusetts and (3) the Massachusetts Hospital Association. Lincolnshire offices are located in twenty five cities in six countries.


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CONTACT: Maryanne Peabody