For years I’ve been debriefing hiring managers after they’ve met my candidates. The best candidates did a few extra things that allowed them to stand out from the crowd. These then became the basis of how I prepped my candidates to get ready. I'd cancel the interview if they didn't master these techniques. You should, too.
How to Gain an Unfair Advantage at Your Next Interview
One: Answer in paragraphs, not sentences. Assessing verbal communication skills is a big part of the interview and how you answer questions is as important as the answers themselves. Forget the short 20-30 second answers. Interviewers get aggravated if they need to pry information out of the candidate. Instead, most of your answers should be about 1-2 minutes long. Start with some type of general opening statement, then provide specific details including dates, your role, the challenges faced, and what you accomplished. Add a hook at the end to keep the conversation going. A hook is a question like, “Is that what you were looking for regarding (topic)?” (Here’s a post and video describing how to correctly format these types of responses.)
Two: Prove every strength with a specific example. General statements about strengths like, “I’m a real problem-solver,” or “I’m a strong team player,” are meaningless and quickly forgotten. However, you’ll receive a different reaction entirely when you prove these statements with an actual example of an accomplishment that best demonstrates the strength. Hiring managers remember the accomplishment and, based on the details provided, conclude on their own if the candidate possesses the ability they’re seeking. Come up with an example to prove each of your strengths, then practice answering The Most Important Interview Question of All Time before your next interview.
Three: Ask forced-choice questions to ensure you’re assessed properly. Most interviewers are not as prepared as they should be. Some ask overly technical questions or they bounce around asking questions that are irrelevant. In this situation, candidates can take matters into their own hands by forcing questions to highlight their strengths. For example, if you’re a strong project manager, ask something like, “Based on what you’ve said, it seems like there’s a lot of system implementation work involved in this position. Is this true?” Wait for the reply, and if the interviewer agrees, describe something you’ve done that’s most comparable including a detailed example.
Four: Convert ”having” into ”doing” to frame your answers. When opening a new job requisition, I suggest recruiters ask hiring managers to describe how the specific skills listed are used on the job. For example, 5-10 years of pressurized fluid dynamics converts to “Lead field testing of rebuilt fracking valves.” Candidates can ask the same question when the interviewer seems to be asking over-the-top technical questions. Of course, you still have to prove you can do the work required, but at least by determining the actual need, the proof is relevant. This type of approach also helps the candidate better understand what the work is all about and if he or she even wants to do it.
Five: Ask meaningful questions to demonstrate your insight and company knowledge. The best questions are developed by being prepared. As part of this, review the LinkedIn profiles of everyone you’ll be meeting, review the other jobs the company has posted, and read as much as you can about the company, its strategy and how the job you’re interviewing for fits in. This will give you a great foundation for asking meaningful business-oriented questions and demonstrating the depth of your preparation. Both are essential if you want to stand out as a special candidate.
If the interviewer is noncommittal at the end of the interview, ask another forced-choice question like, “Based on what we’ve discussed, are there any areas where you believe I don’t have the skills needed to do this job?” This will give you a last shot if the interviewer seems hesitant in inviting you back.
There are another 10 or so things candidatescan do to strengthen their interviewing skills, but these techniques need to be mastered first. Too often candidates are assessed on factors that don’t predict job success. This is okay if you’re not qualified for the job, but when you are you need to take matters into your own hands when you’re being assessed improperly. Proactively asking the right questions is the key, followed up by providing meaningful answers. Recognize that hoping you’ll get the job is not an effective job-hunting strategy. Planning to get it is.
Lou Adler (@LouA) is the CEO of The Adler Group, a consulting and training firm helping companies implement Performance-based Hiring. He's also a regular columnist for Inc. Magazine and BusinessInsider. His latest book, The Essential Guide for Hiring & Getting Hired (Workbench, 2013), provides hands-on advice for job-seekers, hiring managers and recruiters on how to find the best job and hire the best people. You can continue the conversation on LinkedIn's Essential Guide for Hiring Discussion Group.