Psychology Today: Here To Help

A Job Interview is Like A....."

Are these analogies familiar?

  • 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 audition puts the interviewee in a passive stance. The job search as tennis match implies an adversarial relationship.

We teach our clients that a job interview is like putting together a consulting proposal for a long term, expensive project.

A Job Interview is Like a Consulting Proposal

Marblehead career consultant Fran Mellone says that a job interview is only the beginning of the job hunt. All of the previous work (networking,dealing with recruiters, classified advertisements, etc.) were designed obtain job interviews. Mellone is a licensee of the The Five O'Clock Club Program, based in New York.

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 tofind out what prospective clients need. Spend time in asking questions about the organization. Use the jobdescription 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?
  • At the end of 12 months, I want you to say to me, "Hiring me was the best decision you made." What things will change in this organization as a result of that decision?

Kill the Competition

After the first round of interviews, Mellone recommends you not waste time writing bland follow-up notes. These letters typically describe what a "pleasure" it was to meet the inter- viewer. 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 todevelop 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 inter- views. When he asked how his background compared with that of his competition, he was told there was no competition!

Too Aggressive?

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 the 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.

Laurence J. Stybel and Maryanne Peabody are co-founders of Stybel Peabody Lincolnshire, a consulting firm which focuses on career effectiveness of senior executives. Lincolnshire offices are located in twenty five cities in three countries. Contact Larry or Maryanne at or 781/736 0900