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Don't Jump Too Soon In Interviews

From Career Tips, 2014 Volume 1, January

You work hard preparing for interviews, coming up with the best possible answers to common questions, how you are going to deal with difficult issues, and practicing your approaches.

So what happens in the actual interview?

After so much preparation, every question the interviewer asks starts to look like the chance to present one of your 'perfect' answers. As a result, it's easy to miss opportunities to create a lot more influence with the interviewer.

It's important not to get caught up so much in your own psychology that you miss these opportunities. Fair warning though - it's not easy to avoid this trap! You will likely need to practice extensively with a very good interviewer to build up your muscles for this!

Here's one simple example:

You are a talented project manager, interviewing for a leadership role in the project management office of a major corporation. The division vice president asks you about your background, and you deliver your carefully thought out HERO story.

The VP responds well, and you can see him leaning forward and getting truly engaged in your story. Then he remarks, "What you said about delivering projects on time really resonated with me. There's nothing I hate more than a late delivery!"

This clicks with you - you've got the perfect story that demonstrates how you took on a $5 million systems infrastructure project that was 6 months behind schedule and managed to deliver it on schedule, and without increasing the budget. You launch into that.

What could possibly be wrong with that?

Well, there isn't anything exactly WRONG with it, but it could be missing a much better opportunity to sell yourself.
How?

Think about this.

What do you really know about why this company has a problem with late deliveries, or why this particular VP hates them so much? Wouldn't your story be much more powerful if you knew the context for that? And is it possible that there might actually be a better story to fit that context?

What if the real problem is that they are woefully understaffed in their IT operation, and the steps you took to deliver that particular infrastructure project relied heavily on having a high quality systems staff available to you?

What if this VP has both a manufacturing and a systems project management group, and while he's frustrated by the late deliveries in the manufacturing group, he has such a talented systems operation that he can't conceive of a systems project coming in behind schedule?

What if he believes his systems infrastructure to be solid, and his real concern is that they are installing a new suite of accounting software, and he is hoping to find someone with serious accounting software installation chops?

What if the problem has nothing to do with how talented his project managers are, but is due to a 50% growth in their operations over the past 2 years, so that his PMO is woefully understaffed to handle it? And what if none of the projects involve any significant systems infrastructure issues?

How much MORE effective might a different story choice have been in one of these situations?

So how do you get there?

By really being curious about what the interviewer is driving for, why those particular questions, and what could be the issues behind them. And by listening carefully for any emotion words (in this case, "...nothing I hate more than...") and exploring that aspect more deeply before moving on to 'your agenda'.


For example, the project manager above could have simply responded, "I understand why you would hate late project deliveries." This would be an invitation to go deeper.

Later, "What do you find most often causes late deliveries?"

As you get further below the surface, "How do those late deliveries affect the rest of the business?"

And so on.

Next time you are in an interview (or any influential conversation), resist the impulse to jump in and be the solution before you understand the challenges as deeply as you possibly can!

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