The GREAT JOB SOONER Blog

How to Stand Out in Interviews – Focus the Interviewer’s Attention!

In job interviews you’re typically competing against several other people. How can you stand out and be the one who gets the job?

Is it a matter of gimmicks or tricks? Nope! It’s a matter of making it very clear to the employer that you’re the best candidate. And that clarity comes from focusing attention – yours and the interviewer’s – on the right things.

Less Is More: The Importance of Focus in Job Interviews

Educators know that if you hit someone with a huge bunch of facts willy-nilly, they may not learn anything. People learn better when the presentation is focused and organized around a few core concepts.

In sales, these are often called “key selling points.” (This is closely related to the idea of a unique selling proposition or a personal brand.) These points are where you want to focus the interviewer’s attention.

In an interview, the “product” you’re selling is you. If that sounds awful, let’s remember that you’re not selling your soul – just clearly communicating the skills, expertise and personal strengths that will make you valuable to an employer.

In fact, let’s get away from sales terminology. I call these your “REV Points,” because they work best if they’re Relevant, Exceptional and Verifiable (REV).

Ask yourself, what would my co-workers and managers say if I asked them what makes me uniquely valuable? What do I do better than others? Jot down a good long list.

Now identify which of these possible selling points really have that “REV” that’s going to make you stand out.

Choosing Selling Points that Really “REV”

I mentioned that REV stands for Relevant, Exceptional and Verifiable. Here’s what I mean by these terms.

Relevant: A relevant qualification is in demand by employers. Study several job postings for the type of job you want, and underline the important skills, qualifications and qualities the employer is looking for. Which seem to be the top priorities?

Think about the likely pain points of your target companies – the problems that are eating into their profits or making them look bad. Skills that can help solve these problems are powerfully relevant.

Exceptional: An exceptional quality or qualification is one that stands out. Probably all of your competitors have experience in multi-tasking. But can they all speak Mandarin with the company’s Chinese clients.

Maybe you are exceptionally hard working, extremely intelligent, or a superb people person. Well, lots of people say these things about themselves. If you are truly exceptional in a soft skill like these, you’ll need to make it more convincing – it needs to be verifiable.

Verifiable: By this I mean that the item is not just a claim or opinion. It’s something you can prove or give evidence for.

Facts are naturally verifiable. Let’s say you believe your graduate degree is a key selling point. No problem, this is a fact and it can be verified with a background check. Likewise, your work experience is a collection of facts that can be verified.

Skills can be tougher, especially soft skills like communication. Most job applicants claim to have excellent communication skills. By itself, this claim is so subjective – such a matter of opinion, really – that it’s almost meaningless. Until you give evidence for it. Your evidence might be something like this:

  • The skillfulness of your spoken and written communications with the interviewer. (Thus, you’re demonstrating these skills rather than just claiming to have them.)
  • A story about the time when you diplomatically sorted out a misunderstanding and kept a client from leaving.
  • The fact that you wrote documentation that reduced service calls 50%.

Now your claim of exceptional communication skills has credibility!

You’ll notice that we’re using these terms – verify, prove, evidence – a bit loosely. We’re not talking about proving your skills with legalistic or scientific precision. The point is to be able to back up your claims enough to make them reasonably convincing to the interviewer.

Example: One Candidate’s Interview REV Points

Denise Williams is a sales manager looking for a new job. The most relevant, exceptional and verifiable reasons she’s the right person to hire are:

  • Track record of consistently over-achieving goals and earning awards in Fortune 500 companies
  • Exceptional talent for effectively anticipating and navigating change through cross-functional collaboration (with stories to “verify” this and make it real)
  • Learns quickly and positively impacts the bottom line within the first few months on any job (again, verified by stories)

Using Your REV Points

Now that you know the top 3 or top 5 things that will make you stand out, how do you use them to get the job?

  • Emphasize them throughout the interview process.
  • Start the interview with them. Make a great first impression by bringing up these points as you answer the first question in the interview, which is often “Tell me about yourself.”
  • Tell stories (examples) from your work that bring each of these key points to life. These stories can also help you improve your resume and LinkedIn profile.
  • End the interview with them. People tend to remember what they hear first, but also what they hear last. Include some or all of these points in your closing statement at the end of the interview, as well as your follow-up communications.

Want help figuring out your key selling points? Sign up for my FREE five-lesson course, Stand Out In Your Interviews.

What are your job interview selling points? (Podcast)

To really stand out in a job interview, you need to know your the top 5 (or top 3 or whatever) “selling points” – the qualities or facts that will make the interviewer’s eyes light up – and to proactively emphasize them right from the start.

In a new podcast on CareerCloud, I discussed how to identify your unique selling points and make them work for you, powerfully. Listen now.

 

How to Use Job Interview “Extras”: Portfolios, Presentations & Plans

How to Use Job Interview Extras: Porfolios, Presentations & PlansUsed correctly, job interview “extras” such as portfolios, presentations and 30/60/90-day plans can make your interview more memorable and convincing – and make you stand out as the candidate who goes the extra mile.

Portfolios aren’t just for artists.

Portfolios – whether online or physical – aren’t just for “creative” professionals like graphic designers and copywriters. If the quality of your work can be demonstrated by several of the following items, consider assembling them into a binder or computerized presentation.

You might include:

  • Samples of work or summaries of projects
  • Writing samples
  • Kudos
  • Awards
  • Letters of recommendation
  • Positive performance reviews
  • Graphs, charts or other infographics
  • Certificates, licenses or transcripts
  • Resume, cover letter and references
  • And what else? Use your imagination and good judgment.

Use an attractive binder – don’t skimp! – and place each item in a page protector, perhaps with copies to share behind each original. Or design the portfolio to be left with the interviewer. (Do not impose on them to return it to you afterwards! Keep a copy for yourself.)

If you have only one item or two extra items to show, for example a letter of recommendation and a list of references, you can simply provide these to the interviewer along with your resume.

Consider a mini-presentation with your tablet or laptop.

Some interviews require that you give a presentation – but if it’s not required, why not be the only candidate who prepared one?

This can be especially effective if presentation skills are relevant to the job, or if some of your skills – for example, web design – lend themselves well to online presentation.

Do not ask to use the employer’s presentation equipment. Keep your use of technology simple and seamless. A tablet computer may be the best choice, because it’s easy to hand back and forth. And make sure your battery is fully charged; don’t search around for an outlet to plug into.

Any unasked-for presentation should be very brief. It could be anywhere from a quick reference to one particularly telling infographic, or a multi-slide presentation the length of a typical interview answer (which you may recall, I suggest limiting to a minute or two).

Introduce the presentation as a way of answering a question that has been asked. “To answer that question, I’d like to show you a one-minute presentation I’ve prepared on my tablet. All right?”

Remember that applications like PowerPoint, Keynote, Prezi or Google Slides are only as effective as your use of them. Spend at least a few minutes reading up on smart presentation design in terms of font sizes, balance of text versus images, color, and so on.

Is a 30/60/90-day plan appropriate for you?

This tool is typically used by executives, managers and sales or marketing professionals, but it could be effective for others as well. The plan shows what you would accomplish in your first three months on the job, and the purpose is to demonstrate that you fully understand the role, have good ideas about how to perform it, and are highly motivated – driven – to excel in it.

Craft and present this toward the end of the interview process, after completing at least an interview or two, when you’ve gained detailed knowledge of the challenges, resources and expectations involved in the position.

Expect to spend a number of hours researching the company and its environment, writing the plan, and developing a polished document or electronic presentation.

Since you’re not yet on the job, the plan will necessarily be tentative, and may include mention of additional information you would seek or alternative courses of action to be considered. At the interview, engage the interviewer in discussion about your plan and invite feedback.

Be deferential in introducing extras into the interview.

Remember that the employer is in charge of the agenda for the interview and respect that. You want to bring your portfolio, presentation or plan into the meeting only with their permission, at the right moment and without disrupting the smooth flow of the meeting.

Physical portfolio, plan or other document: If the interview is taking place at a conference table, you might say something like, “May I set this here?”, making it natural for the interviewer to ask you about it when they’re ready. Otherwise, wait until a topic arises that corresponds to what you’ve brought and ask, “May I show you something that relates to this?”

Electronic presentation: It may be distracting or seem inappropriate to have your device in plain sight before you’ve had a chance to explain its presence. It may be best to keep it in your briefcase until the right moment has arisen and the interviewer has agreed to view your presentation.

Be prepared for the possibility that the interviewer may not want to look at what you’ve prepared, either due to time constraints or a desire to be “fair” by following the same format with each applicant. In that case, you might offer a hard copy or attach it with your follow-up correspondence afterwards. Your effort was not wasted – you’ve still demonstrated your exceptional motivation, creativity and work ethic.

What will work for you, to make you stand out in your job interview?

“Why do you want to leave your job?” (Interview Question)

Why do you want to leave your job? (Interview Question)Why you want to leave – this interview question is a minefield if your mind immediately goes to places like: My boss is a micromanager. The politics are toxic. The company is broken.

How can you answer this question in a job interview without sounding like a whining bad-mouther?

Some reasons for leaving are easier to talk about:

  • You like your current job, and are only interviewing because you saw another opportunity too exciting to resist.
  • You are successful in your current job but wish to make a career change that your current company can’t offer you – e.g., a shift into a different industry.
  • There is no path for advancement from your current role.
  • You need to relocate to a different city or state, and your current company can’t transfer you.

It’s more difficult if you’re leaving because of a problem – that the company is poorly managed, your boss is difficult, or such. It’s ironic that while the number one reason most people quit jobs is because of their bosses, that’s the last reason you can safely talk about in an interview. And it’s poor practice to criticize your current company, especially if you would be revealing issues that are not publicly know

Here’s an approach that will help.

When you really think about it, there are probably several reasons you’re leaving, not just one. Look at the four examples in the bulleted list above – do some of those apply? And what else? Make a list of all the reasons – “Why will I leave thee? Let me count the ways!” – and then craft an answer focused on the reasons that present you in a good light.

Now, you’re still basically talking about a negative – that you want to leave your job – so surround it with positives: the successes you have had there, what you have learned, and the reasons why you’re excited about the new opportunity.

“This job was my first foray into tech, and that was a great step for me. I’ve learned a lot about what customers want in an app. And I’ve learned that while I’m good at project management, I’m even better at understanding the customer. I want to move into a customer success role like this one. This opening is ideal for me because…”

(And they never need to know about your boss’s lousy management style!)

Watch for future posts focusing on other tricky job interview questions such as “Were you ever fired? Why?”

How to Be Concise in Job Interviews

How to Speak Concisely at Job InterviewsLong, rambling answers – padded with repetition and irrelevant information – don’t win job interviews.

If the interviewer is bored, they won’t remember you afterwards. Or they might remember you as “the last person I want to listen to in staff meetings!”

We all know it’s better to answer interview questions concisely. Easier said than done. How do you do it?

Edit your interview answers.

To avoid verbal wandering, plan a clear path! Put together a good, long list of questions you’re likely to be asked, then write a simple, bare-bones “talking points” outline of your answer for each one. (Don’t write full sentences, because you’ll end up reciting a script and sounding phony.)

Then edit your outlines. Ask yourself, Which details will “sell” me as the right person for the job? Make sure you include those! Which details could be left out? Delete them.

Now, practice saying your concise answers aloud until they flow easily.

After going through this process multiple times over several days, you may find yourself speaking more succinctly even in answers you haven’t prepared!

Know how to stop.

Sometimes interviewees ramble for lack of an ending. Here are some ways to end an answer smoothly:

  • Refer back to the question: “So that’s how I’d describe my management style.”
  • If you’re telling a story, end with the successful results you achieved.
  • Relate what you’ve been saying to the job you’re interviewing for: “…and I imagine you’ve had similar situations here.” or “Does that sound like a strategy that could work here?”

See my article Interviewing: 5 Good Ways to Wrap Up Your Answers for more help with this.

Still wandering off into the verbal weeds?

It’s a habit. To break it, practice giving answers that are actually too brief, followed by a question, such as: “Would you like me to go into more detail?”

If you catch yourself rambling, practice “bottom lining” your answer: stop yourself with a statement like “To get straight to the bottom line…” or “The most important part of this story is…” Then get straight to the point.

Practice.

It’s one thing to read tips, but quite another to build skills you’ll use when the pressure is on. Practice, practice, practice – with a mirror, a buddy or a job interview coach. Practicing turns tips into skills – and winning interviews.

Job Interviews & No Offers – Why?

Job Interviews and No Offers?You’re an intelligent, talented professional. You’re no beginner – you don’t make the obvious job interview mistakes like being late or leaving your phone on. But you’re not getting offers.

Let’s check your interview skills. Chances are good you’re not doing all of the following. Are you…

…emphasizing your key selling points?

Do you know the top 3-5 facts about you that are most likely to make you stand out from the competition?

Clue: They aren’t basic requirements like having the required number of years of experience (unless that’s truly hard to find in your field), or having outstanding ethics (which is essential but assumed). A key selling point is something more, better or remarkable – the things job postings sometimes list as “desirable” but not required, or that special talent you were known for at your last job.

Or sometimes it’s just being a “purple squirrel,” that rare candidate who matches an unusual or exhaustive set of qualifications.

Once you know what makes you stand out, make a point of emphasizing it throughout the interview, especially at the beginning when the interviewer says something like “Tell me about yourself.”

…backing up intangible claims with evidence?

An interviewer will probably believe you when you say you have a master’s degree (although they’ll also do a background check). But they can’t take your word for it when you talk about your skills – especially those intangible soft skills like communication.

Don’t just claim it – prove it, demonstrate it. Refer to LinkedIn recommendations or letters of recommendation that vouch for it. And of course, a good example or story helps make any claim more believable.

…coming to the interview with plenty of stories?

I often encounter job seekers who feel they’re all set because they have five good stories about their accomplishments. Not enough! In a behavioral interview you could go through all five in the first 10 minutes. And what if there are multiple interviews?

This is a time-consuming but crucial part of your interview preparation. List and rehearse at least a dozen stories, preferably far more. Think SOAR: Situation, Obstacles, Actions and Results.

Mini-quiz: Which two of those four parts do you think most people neglect?

…being very specific about results?

Bingo. Most job seekers short-change themselves by neglecting to say enough about the results of their work: that the project was successful, that it saved money or time (how much?), that the boss loved it, or that their solution was copied in other departments. Be very complete about this – it’s the juiciest part of the story!

…telling how you overcame obstacles?

Let’s say you thought up a better process and you launched it with X marvelous results. Great. Was it easy? If you had to deal with huge resistance from staff, a ridiculously aggressive deadline or a shoestring budget, say so – and describe the skillful way you overcame the difficulties.

…being concise?

Do you digress, repeat yourself or waste time on unimportant details that don’t add value? (If you’re not sure, record a mock interview and listen to yourself – or work with an interview coach.) Overcome rambling tendencies by planning out the key points of your answers to likely questions.

…asking good questions?

When the interviewer asks “What questions do you have for me?”, you must have several good questions to ask that show that you’ve done your homework and have a serious interest in the job. You need to prepare about 10 good questions (written on a notepad or memorized), because several of them will probably be answered before you get a chance to ask.

…(at least) 100% ready to wow them?

Employers expect dedication. They’re looking for star employees who go above and beyond what’s required. Be more prepared than the competition. Nail every detail. Know more about the company and its environment. (Do your research not just online but by word of mouth as well. That takes time, and it’s one reason why you want to identify target companies and have these conversations in advance.)

Is there something extra you can offer to bring – a portfolio, a presentation? Some executive candidates prepare a 30/60/90-day plan to show how they would add value quickly after hire. What will you do to show you’re more motivated than the rest?

How many of these interview skills are you consistently applying? Nail them all and your job interviews will start resulting in offers. It’s challenging, I know! If you’d like an expert partner in all this, contact me. Interview coaching is an investment that pays off generously in career success.

10 Interview Questions to Assess the Boss

10 Interview Questions to Assess the BossThe #1 reason people quit jobs is their boss. So in your job interviews you need to interview your prospective manager and get a feel for whether you’ll like working with him or her.

Hmm … how to do that?

It’s fine to ask “What is your management style?,” but the answer won’t tell you the whole story.

Here are 10 good questions to ask at interviews to dig a bit deeper. Use your best judgment in deciding which questions to ask and how to ask them. Remember, you’re not interrogating the manager – you’re having a friendly conversation!

Questions to Ask the Hiring Manager:

What are your goals for this position and your department?

You want to understand what’s important to this manager and how you can help achieve those goals. Ask this question as early in the interview as possible, so you can relate your other questions and answers to what you learn.

What do you most enjoy about working in this organization?

What are your frustrations working here?

These questions may give you insight into the manager’s values as well as the strengths and weaknesses of the company culture.

How will you and I work together make me successful in this role?

This may tell you a lot about the manager’s style.

In order for us to work well together, what should I always do, and on the other hand what should I never do?

This question must be asked with a smile! It’s a way of inviting them to air their hot-button issues, the things they feel strongly about – and the wording is very frank, which may encourage a frank reply.

What are some good ideas you’ve gotten from your direct reports, and how did they make a difference?

This may tell you how interested they are in such ideas, whether they act on them, and whether the company provides a fertile field for innovation.

What recognition, training and development have your direct reports received in the past year?

If they’ve received none of the above, this may not be a very motivating environment!

How much do you typically interact with your direct reports?

Many a new hire has been unpleasantly surprised to find that their manager is rarely available.

How do you like to communicate with your employees? By email, phone, texts, popping in with a question, weekly meetings, or some combination? What about when you’re traveling or in the field?

This is also a good time to find out what percentage of the time he or she will be out of the office.

May I ask about the person who was in this job before me – did they advance within the company or leave for a job elsewhere?

This may provide clues not only about the boss but about the company and paths for advancement.

Of course, it’s easier to know what to ask if you’ve done some research on the boss ahead of time. Click this link for tips for doing a “reference check” of your own.

If the answers to these  questions raise any warning signs about the boss, you may want to look elsewhere – or proceed to the next job interview with your antennae up. If you decide the job is worth the downsides, at least you can start planning for how to work effectively with this person who will be so influential in your future.

Quick Tip for Easier Eye Contact in Online Interviews

Quick Tip for Easier Eye Contact in Online InterviewsOnline interviews / video interviews can feel unnatural and unfriendly. The main problem is the lack of eye contact.

If the person you’re talking to is looking at the image of you in the middle of their screen, they appear to be looking away, as though they’re not interested in you. This lack of eye contact is likely to be off-putting for interviewers.

One solution is to look at the camera, but then you can’t see and react naturally to the other person’s facial expressions and gestures.

Here’s a better solution, which works in Skype and some other platforms as well: Minimize the window in which the person’s image appears, then move it up as close to the camera as it will go. Now, when you look at their face you are virtually “looking into their eyes.”

For more tips on video interviews, see my post “Video Interview? Get Ready to Ace It!”

Interviewing: 5 Good Ways to Wrap Up Your Answers!

Interviewing: 5 Good Ways to Wrap Up Your AnswersWhen you’re answering a job interview question, do you find yourself meandering at the end, repeating yourself because you’re not sure how to stop?

As an interview coach, I often hear mock interview answers that wander around in circles or trail off into something like this:

“… and, uh, yeah, that’s about it.”

(That’s one of the worst endings you could use, because it implies that the good things you were just saying were all you have!)

Here are 5 better ways to wrap up your answer to an interview question.

Relate your answer to the company and/or the opening.

“So that’s the accomplishment I’m most proud of, and it shows one of the approaches I might take in marketing your products in Latin America.”

Summarize or refer back to the question.

Let’s say the question was “What would you be looking to accomplish in your first 30 days on the job?” You might end like this:

“… so these relationship-building and planning activities are what I’d want to accomplish in the first 30 days, in order to build a foundation for achieving the longer-term goals.”

If you’re talking about an accomplishment, specify the beneficial results.

“… so I was able to complete the project right on time despite the challenges I mentioned.”

“… and my plan resulted in a 20% increase in revenue.”

“… The division manager said the new process was ‘brilliant’ and invited me to present about it at a leadership meeting.”

Briefly add something positive beyond what was asked for.

For example, if asked to name your greatest strength, you could add another.

“… so that’s my greatest strength, and if I may add one more, a close second is …”

End with a question to encourage dialogue and to gain useful feedback.

“Is there anything more you’d like to know about what I’ve just said?”

This is especially useful in answering an initial request like “Tell me about yourself.” If there was something you said that particularly intrigued them, a chance to say more about it is bound to be beneficial to your cause. On the other hand, if they have concerns or confusion about anything you’ve said, it’s useful to surface that right away and respond to it.

Try out all of the above before your next job interview, and don’t over-rely on any one type of ending. With a little practice you’ll find that most of your answers come to a natural, effective close.

Good endings like these can help turn what could be a stiff, awkward job interview into a smoothly flowing conversation – leaving the employer impressed with your communication skills and wanting to talk with you again!

Job Interviews: Don’t Just Tell – Sell!

Job Interviews: Don't Just Tell - Sell!Many job seekers miss the boat in job interviews, because they forget that the purpose of answering every question is to market themselves for the job.

You never forget that, right?

You’d be amazed how many questions you may answering is a less-than-strategic way. Most job seekers, at least occasionally, answer interview questions as if they were filling in a form: providing information by rote.

Let’s look at an example.

Question:

“What are the three most important skills for a human resources generalist role like this one?”

Answer:

“Organization, communication and interpersonal skills like empathy and diplomacy are absolutely critical.”

Okay, that answer shows you have some understanding of the role you’re interviewing for. But do you have those skills? That’s the part where you sell yourself!

Better Answer:

“Organization is really important. I couldn’t have handled my role at BCD Co. as well as I did – as you saw in my LinkedIn recommendations – if I hadn’t been very methodical and organized. For example, I developed a system to track resolution of issues with our new EFG procedures. My manager often said things like ‘I love it that you’re so systematic.’

“Then there’s interpersonal skills like empathy and diplomacy, which may be even more important. For example, we had a conflict between two employees who …”

Is this too long? It may look long on paper, but if you take an organized approach to your answer – including relevant key points without rambling – it would probably take about one minute. A concise but complete answer can take some preparation, but this is a common question so you would be likely to have it on your interview questions list.

Let’s look at another example.

Question:

“What do you know about our company?”

Of course if you’ve looked at the company’s website you can clearly explain the company’s products, market niche, and so on.

But how can you go beyond just answering the question to really sell yourself with your answer? Here are some examples that might work, depending on your situation.

  • Dig deeper. Read news articles. Talk to people. (If you’re really savvy and interested, you may have put this company on your target companies list and you’ve been following them for quite a while. Say so, and demonstrate your knowledge.)
  • Offer ideas for new approaches, solutions or products. Be humble, but show that you’re already thinking about how you can add value.
  • Tell what attracts you about the company. Don’t wait for them to ask “Why do you want to work with us?” Bring your enthusiasm for their company into the whole interview.
  • Point out how your skills or interests relate to the company, e.g., they sell outdoor equipment and you’re an avid backpacker.

Using every question and answer to sell yourself for the job will really light up your interview. Instead of an interrogation, it becomes an engaging and persuasive conversation that’s much more likely to lead to a job!