Intellectual preparation is understanding interview strategies and preparing for the content point of the interview. This type of preparation entails complete knowledge of your skills and abilities, and it is our focus in this section. The thoroughness of your preparation determines the quality of the conversation you’ll have with the interviewer. Presentation is also extremely important, but, without content preparation, presentation cannot carry the day.
Preparation is an enigma. On the one hand, job seekers acknowledge the importance of preparation. On the other hand, many of them spend a minimal amount of time analyzing their skills and accomplishments, saying that it’s unnecessary because they know themselves and don’t need to spend much time in preparation. This is the old “pay me now or pay me later” dilemma. Time spent in preparation clearly pays dividends in the job interview and cuts the time in landing a new position. And, just as critically, preparation dramatically increases the probability that it will be the right job.
If lucky, the unprepared job seeker meets a knowledgeable, professional interviewer early on who shatters the idea that knowing oneself intuitively is synonymous with preparation. We say “lucky” because it is better to learn the lesson very quickly and not lose a great deal of time. The tough questions come with a specific focus that demands direct answers. For example, “What are your two or three critical abilities that will distinguish you from the other candidates I will meet?” What’s really being asked couldn’t be clearer! “Why should I hire you? What makes you different?” Some people say that a question like that isn’t so tough. They rattle on about “new business generation…my ability to manage people…and my marketing and research background…producing quality products at a profit.” Wrong answer.
Two to Four Key Competencies (or “Skill Sets”)
What’s wrong with that answer? It just isn’t that easy. For one thing, you better be sure that the two to four competencies you highlight are your best abilities. There is no second chance. Next, be prepared for the interviewer to continue the line of questioning. “That’s interesting. Can you give me some specific examples that illustrate each point?” Your examples need to be very specific and include not only what you did, but why you saw the need and how you went about accomplishing the task. The bottom line is critical: You need to show how you added value to the company’s profitability. You will be asked follow-up questions concerning the bottom line; so be prepared. Plan to explain at least five specific accomplishments to illustrate each competency. Give appropriate details to demonstrate clearly your abilities and still present them succinctly. To help you do this, you need to develop your own “Competencies And Accomplishments Worksheet.”
Begin by listing your three or four strongest (and most relevant to the job) competencies – each at the top of a separate page. What are your three strongest competencies? For example, is it leading people, development and supervision, sending profit to the bottom line, new product development, sales?
Then, under each Competency, list your five strongest accomplishments that support each of the Competencies. Write each accomplishment as follows:
Action verb (past tense) — What were you proud of — How it was good for the company (quantify your results in terms of dollars, percentages, or times).
A few examples:
- “Created and implemented new computer program that saved $30,000 per year in consulting fees.”
- “Generated $200,000 in new business in 18 months.”
- “Negotiated 10 labor contracts (payrolls in excess of $50 million) with no work stoppages.”
The interviewer may want to spend time on each one, just have them highlighted, or not deal with them at all. But you must be ready.
You probably have a great number of competencies, but that isn’t what you will be asked. You’ll be asked to select your best competencies—the ones that separate you from other candidates and give you an edge. We recently put this question to a job seeker who sold cash management products for banks. His response was:
Most cash management professionals are technical salespeople who support loan officers. I’m different in that I actually go out and bring in new customers to the bank. Last year I brought in a number of new accounts that resulted in $300,000 in new revenue.
This type of response can differentiate you from other candidates and lead to a position. The more help you can give your potential boss in understanding how your skills can help the company move toward its goals, the greater is the chance you will be hired.