By BRANDY MILLOWAY
Many job seekers traditionally focus on their resume, referrals and general interview preparation. Unfortunately, this is all too often not enough, especially when job seekers apply for highly competitive and attractive positions.
These days, an Ivy League University degree or impressive referrals alone won’t secure you a job; often times, the competition has equally high qualifications. The question isn’t so much what an interviewee can do better than the competition, but rather what the interviewee can do differently. If that question stumps some job seekers, then they should revise their interview preparation strategy.
“Many of the most attractive positions have audition mechanisms to evaluate candidates. Performance interviews are becoming more common, and most candidates are unprepared,” said Dan Avenick, an employer whose corporate work experience spans working for corporations such as Coca-Cola and McKinsey & Company, a consulting firm.
The Interview is an Audition
Many would argue that the most terrifying and stressful part of the job-seeking process is the interview and for good reason, as it is generally this make-it or blow-it moment that determines who gets the job. An interview is essentially an audition, which many job seekers fail to recognize.
What is an audition? Well, from an actor’s point-of-view, it is giving a convincing performance of a particular role, where the casting director no longer sees, say, Matt Damon, but instead sees Jason Bourne. In the business world of consulting, you don’t want the interviewer to see candidate number three; you want him or her to see the strategic consultant the company is looking for.
How does an audition relate to a “performance interview”? Would Matt Damon have won the role of Jason Bourne by reciting memorized lines, without any conviction or proper research into the role? It’s unlikely, and job-seekers can’t expect to impress potential employers with stock questions and answers. Employers want to be convinced that an applicant can do the job they are trying to fill; they don’t want to watch the interviewee recite a well-rehearsed script that they’ve seen a hundred times before.
Go off Script – But Stay in Character
What to expect during an interview differs from entry-level to the more coveted positions for seasoned and experienced job-seekers. Don’t expect the top interview questions listed in numerous articles online to be asked for many positions that are above entry-level. Although, if one is asked “What are your weaknesses?” don’t answer with a generic answer, like “I work too hard.”
“Being honest about a particular function of a position that an interviewee doesn’t excel at is good, but they just need to make sure to not suggest that their skills are limited,” Avenick said. As long as the weakness admitted is something that can be fixed within a reasonable amount of time while working for the company, then it is an answer that will give an applicant a competitive edge; therefore, setting them apart from the rest.
Ask the Right Questions
One frequently cited tip to follow is “ask questions.” Just make sure they are the right questions. The questions asked show employers whether or not the applicant really understands the field of work and position duties. Interviewees need to demonstrate a professional level of knowledge of the position being applied for as well as the company.
Don’t ask questions like “What sort of growth can I expect with the company?” A professional would already know that. An Oscar-winning performance would include, asking questions that would express specific knowledge of the company and its business ventures like, “How much of a consulting role will I have overseas in the company’s expansion into Southeast Asia?” or “Will it be more of a managerial position from the home office?”
“The most important thing to remember is to stay calm,” said Andy Wolk, writer and director of shows such as “The Sopranos,” “Gossip Girl” and “Necessary Roughness.”
He admits seeing some of the most seasoned and talented actors get flustered under pressure. Being able to stay calm after messing up part of an audition is essential, because it provides the clarity needed to problem-solve; hence, turning the audition around back in their favor.
This advice also applies to interviews. If an interviewer asks a person applying for a consultant position, “How many cars were sold last year?” he or she likely doesn’t expect the interviewee to immediately know the correct answer, but instead expects to see whether the interviewee can stay calm and possesses the analytical, problem-solving skills required for the job. The person should be able to work out an educated answer by reasoning it out: There are x amount of people in the U.S., and Georgia has probably x amount; therefore, if it estimated that each household has one car, etc. The point is to stay calm, and not get out of character.
Staying in character is what will make a lasting impression on an employer; the person who can do just that will be seen as the only viable fit for the position and the company. Rehearsing is important – but only if it is done right.