How to REFOCUS the Interview to Increase Assessment Accuracy

In an earlier post I offered 15 ideas on how to hack a job using creative ways to get an interview. In this post I’ll describe a technique called REFOCUS to ensure you’re being interviewed properly. Rest assured that if the interviewer does any of the following you will not be interviewed properly or accurately.

Clues You’re Being Interviewed by a Weak Interviewer

  1. Over- or underwhelmed by your first impression. This bias can be seen when someone quickly begins to oversell you or ignores you or asks questions designed to prove you’re incompetent.
  2. Box checkers start asking about your level of skills, experiences and academic background in the first 5 minutes.
  3. Generic behavioral interviewers ask for examples of classic behaviors and competencies without any context about real job needs.
  4. The person negotiates the terms of an offer (compensation, location and title) before the interview even starts. This is usually done on the phone.

In these situations you’ll need to take matters into your own hands by controlling what questions are being asked and how you’re being evaluated.

The REFOCUS(sm) technique described below will help guide you through the entire interview. I suggest you tattoo these ideas in your mind (or in tiny print on the palm of your hand) so they’re ever present.

Use the REFOCUS Technique to Improve Your Interviewing Odds

Reframe the Assessment. If the interviewer doesn’t know the real job requirements, you’ll be evaluated largely on the person’s biases and perceptions. If you get the sense this is happening you need to intervene right away by asking, “Would you mind giving me a quick overview of some of the challenges involved in this job? I’d then like to give you a few examples of work I’ve accomplished that best meets your needs.” This is how you ensure you’re assessed on the right criteria.

Engage in a Conversation. Don’t hope you’ll be asked the right questions. By proactively asking good questions your true personality, team skills and working style emerge. This will be as important in the assessment as your answers to their questions and the questions you ask. The best questions focus more on the scope and challenges of the job, not what you’ll get in terms of compensation and benefits.

Force the Right Questions. If one of your core strengths or interests has not been covered ask something like, “It seems this work involves a great deal of (mention your strength). If so, I’d like to give you an example of some work I’ve handled that’s related.”

Own Your Answers. Much of the above is designed to reverse engineer the questions you’re being asked. However, as part of this you need to answer in complete paragraphs lasting 1-2 minutes long rather than short or shallow sentences. The SAFW technique is a great way to practice and structure your answers – Say AFew Words Statement, Amplify, Few examples, Wrap-up.

Create and Close the Gap. One way to demonstrate your ability is to conduct a needs analysis during the interview. This is comparable to consultative selling where the sales rep asks a series of fact-finding questions to uncover problems and then offers a custom solution. To prove you’re capable of doing the job you’ll need to provide detailed examples of related projects you’ve successfully handled.

Understand and Solve a Big Problem. One great way to demonstrate your problem-solving skills is to solve one during the interview. Start by asking the interviewer about some of the real problems the new hire is likely to face. As part of this conduct some fact-finding to get more insight into the problem. Then ask for permission to offer some advice on how you’d approach solving the problem. Don’t solve it though in other than broad terms focusing more on the process you’d use to solve the problem if you were to get the job.

Sell Yourself. If you’re not sure you’ll be a finalist, ask about next steps. If vague be sure to ask the interviewer how your background compares to the other candidates being considered. Then ask if there is something in your background that might not have been explored thoroughly or of concern. If so, you’ll need to prove you’ve successfully handled something related to overcome any reluctance for moving forward.

As part of The Essential Guide for Hiring and Getting Hired and my Performance-based Hiring course I provide hiring managers the techniques necessary to conduct the type of interview described above. If you’re not being interviewed this way you must quickly intervene using the REFOCUS method. However, as I mention in all my job seeker posts and training videos, these techniques will not help you get a job you don’t deserve, but they certainly will help you get one you do.

Never Ask About the Money, but Always Ask This at Every Interview

Last year the editor of The Essential Guide for Hiring & Getting Hired suggested we extract all of the candidate-oriented content and create a video version for job seekers only. The intro is below. This year he suggested we convert The Essential Guide for Hiring & Getting Hired into a practical handbook for job seekers.

The big idea behind this is that too many active job seekers settle for lateral transfers rather than jobs offering career growth. To make this shift, the editor asked me to highlight what job seekers must do in order to get these better jobs. I told him too many job seekers accept the fact that they’re being interviewed improperly. Worse, they don’t do anything about it. Therefore we need to use the main chapter to identify and correct the problem.

This post will be used to test the concept out so please comment below with your results. It starts by asking this question early in the interview.

Based on the job description it isn’t clear what the focus of the job actually is. Would you mind giving me a quick overview of the job and some of the key challenges the person hired will be expected to handle during the first year? Based on this, I’d like to give you an overview of some of my accomplishments that best relate to what you need done.

As the interviewer responds, ask a few clarifying questions like:

  • What are the measures of success?
  • What’s the current status of the project?
  • What happened to the person in the role or is it a new position?
  • What resources are available?
  • Who’s on the team?
  • What’s the quality of the team?
  • What are the biggest technical or business challenges involved?
  • What needs to be done first?
  • What’s the timeframe for completing this project?

With this information you now need to prove you can handle this work successfully. The best way is by giving an example of a comparable accomplishment that best meets the company’s needs.

To get ready for this part I suggest to candidates that they put together a list of their major accomplishments as soon as they begin the job hunting process. Then take the top 3-4 and write a few paragraphs for each one with a lot of descriptive details. This includes the why, when, where, what happened and the before and after results. Describe the team and the technical challenges involved. Be specific and includes dates, metrics and percent changes. The purpose of writing this down is that you won’t forget it during the frenzied atmosphere of the actual interview.

Now you have to practice giving a response. For this I advise candidates to prepare a two-minute summary of each accomplishment using the SAFW format for speech writing or Say A Few Words. This stands for:

- Say: Make an opening Statement.

- A: Amplify the statement with some clarifying information.

- Few: Provide a Few Examples with specific details.

- Words: Conclude with a Wrap-up and summary of the accomplishment.

What I’ve discovered is that interviewers remember the stories and examples and from this conclude the candidate’s ability to do the work required. General statements about strengths without an example to back it up are ignored or quickly forgotten. As important is the length of the response. If it’s too long the candidate is viewed as long-winded and boring and if too short, not insightful enough. That’s why 1-2 minutes is a good length for every answer.

You’ll know the interview is going well if the interviewer starts describing next steps in a positive and specific manner. If things are left up in the air with the standard, “We’ll get back to you,” response, don’t go away without some type of push back. Instead ask something like, “Given what we’ve discussed today, do you think my background fits with your job needs? If so, when do you think another meeting will be arranged and who will it be with? If not, is there something in my background you don’t feel fits your job needs? Would you mind sharing that with me?”

Asking the interviewer to describe real job needs is a great way to ensure you’re measured on your ability to do the actual work required. Then by forcing the interviewer to reveal his/her hand at the end, you will get a chance to redeem yourself if you fell short somewhere. As I say in the video above, while these techniques won’t help you get a job you don’t deserve, they certainly will help you get one you do.

9 Outlandishly Simple Steps for Minimizing Interviewer Bias

This past week I conducted a course for a group of engineering department heads on how to interview and recruit top talent. The focus was hiring passive candidates. It was quickly clear to the managers that hiring passive candidates requires a different process than hiring active candidates. The big difference: The prospects are also interviewing the company and hiring manager while they’re being interviewed. In order to successfully navigate this dual process I told the managers they need to totally eliminate interviewer bias.

To set the stage I asked the hiring managers if they used the same criteria to hire someone they’ve worked with in the past or someone who’s a total stranger. They quickly realized their focus with acquaintances was on the person’s past performance. This was true for promoting someone or assigning the person to a big project. Even highly referred candidates from a credible source are judged largely on their past performance doing comparable work. Surprisingly, all of the people in the room got their current job this way. Not so surprising was that their subsequent performance was highly predictable.

However, when strangers are hired for the same role a totally different assessment process is used and the predictability is far less.

To start, even to get a chance to be interviewed, strangers must possess a laundry list of skills, experiences and god-like personality traits and competencies. Then they need to agree to a compensation range as another step before being interviewed. During the interview these strangers are judged largely on their presentation skills and personality and their ability to think on their feet dodging superficial and/or ill-advised questions and/or those that test for technical brilliance.

From beginning to end, none of this predicts on-the-job performance. But that doesn’t matter. To get the job, all of their answers, right or wrong, are filtered through the biases of each interviewer who individually vote using their thumbs.

I contend that the three primary causes of hiring errors – including not hiring the best person – are attributed to processes like the above, lack of understanding of real job needs and interviewer bias. I’ve written extensively how to overcome the first two problems but without eliminating interviewer bias they won’t help much. So let’s begin here.

Nine Outlandishly Simple Ways to Reduce Interviewer Bias

  1. Wait 30 minutes. Control the natural urge to make any yes or no type hiring decision for the first 30 minutes of the interview. A pre-scripted series of interview questions will help overcome the urge to decide too soon.
  2. Conduct a phone interview first. A get-to-know each other phone screen focusing on general fit and sharing of major job challenges is a great way to minimize the visual impact of first impressions.
  3. Conduct a thorough work history review. The mechanical nature of the work history review forces emotions into the background.
  4. Treat the candidate as an SME. By initially assuming every candidate is a fully competent subject matter expert you will ask questions based on this perspective. Use the interview to disprove this positive viewpoint.
  5. Bring your biases to the conscious level. When we meet someone we instantly like we relax a bit and become more open-minded. When the instant reaction is negative we become uptight. By tracking this reaction you’ll be able to better understand its cause and ultimately control it using the other techniques on this list.
  6. Be a juror, not a judge. As the judge says during the pre-trail sitting of the jury, “Collect the evidence before making a guilty or non-guilty decision.” The same advice should be followed when interviewing job candidates.
  7. Disprove your first impression. For those with a positive first impression go out of your way to prove they’re not competent. Do the opposite for those with a less than positive first impression.
  8. Reverse engineer the candidate’s nervousness. I don’t mind if a candidate is a bit nervous at the start of the interview. If you do all of the above he or she won’t be at the end of the interview. Be more concerned with those who aren’t the least bit nervous.
  9. Measure first impressions at the end of the interview. Even if first impressions are important to job success, not everyone with good first impressions are top performers. At the end of the interview ask yourself if the person’s first impression will help or hinder on-the-job performance.

First impressions are seductive. Interviewers will unconsciously go out of their asking questions and seeking evidence to prove their initial one-minute intuitive reaction to a candidate. To minimize the problem use the phone screen and first 30 minutes of the interview to convert strangers into acquaintances. Then judge them on their past performance doing comparable work.

You also might want to try these same techniques when meeting anyone for the first time.

Use the Discovery Interview to Predict Success

An exhaustive list of skills and generic competencies doesn’t predict on-the-job performance. Worse, it excludes from consideration all high potential, diverse and non-traditional candidates who can actually do the work but who have a different mix of skills and experiences. It also excludes all passive candidates who are looking for career moves.

Recognize that competency to do the job is not the same as motivation to do the job. And motivation to do the job is not the same as motivation to get the job. The purpose of the interview is not just to determine competency and motivation to do the job but also to demonstrate to the candidate that the job is a career move. All three conditions are essential if a company wants to hire more high performing individuals.

The Discovery Interview addresses all of these issues. To use it you first have to define the work required to be successful. Based on this the interviewer can determine competency and motivation. For the job to also be considered a career move it must offer a combined 30% non-monetary increase in job stretch (bigger job), job growth (faster learning) and job satisfaction (a richer mix of more satisfying work). I refer to this as the 30% Solution.

Figuring out if your job meets all of these conditions involves a discovery process. The term relates to the needs analysis component of solution selling. This is the step in the sales process when the sales rep figures out the customer’s problem and based on this develops a custom solution. Here’s how this relates to the hiring.

Using the 5-Step Discovery Interview Process

  1. Prepare a performance-based job description. Before you even start looking for a candidate describe the 5-6 things the person needs to do to be considered successful. Start with an action verb for each objective, describe the task, the timeframe and some measure of success. You’ll be comparing the candidate’s past performance to this benchmark to determine competency, motivation and the career opportunity.
  2. Conduct a thorough work history review. As part of the work history review focus on why the person changed jobs and if the job change achieved the personal objective. Then look for formal recognition for doing a good job. Compare the reasons for changing jobs and the success achieved to what you need done. These should align closely. Specifically avoid candidates who have “Job Hopping Syndrome.”
  3. Ask the most significant accomplishment question. Describe each objective in the performance-based job description and ask the candidate to tell you what he/she accomplished that’s most comparable. The fact finding associated with this question is at the core of the discovery process. It uncovers where the candidate excels, what motivates the person to excel and if your open spot offers the 30% non-monetary increase. It takes about 20 minutes to do this properly for each objective.
  4. Ask the problem-solving question. Spend 20 minutes discussing the most important job-related problem the person will need to handle soon after starting. Don’t worry about the answer. Evaluate the person on the process used to figure out the cause of the problem, the clarifying questions asked and if the preliminary action plan is reasonable.
  5. Calculate the Job Fit Index to predict Quality of Hire. Based on the Discovery Interview described above you’ll be able to calculate the person’s Job Fit Index. This accurately predicts on-the-job success. As long as all of the factors shown are true the person hired will be a great hire. Getting to yes on all of the factors is the challenge, but in the process of figuring this out you’ll have all of the information needed to make the correct hiring decision.

When it comes to anything, if you don’t know what you’re looking for, you’ll never know when and if you’ve found it. The same is true in hiring. Unfortunately, when you define what you want in terms of skills, experiences and competencies, finding it doesn’t predict on-the-job success, motivation or performance. However, when you define your open jobs as a series of performance objectives the process of finding and assessing people is not only easier but more accurate. And as long as you offer people work that’s intrinsically motivating combined with more rapid learning and growth you’ll be hiring more top performers than you’ve ever thought possible. Now’s the time to discover the Discovery Interview for yourself before you hire another person. After the hire, it will be too late.

10 Ideas for Getting an Interview without Applying



A few weeks ago I had a chance to spend a day with the remarkable James Altucher and his equally remarkable wife, Claudia. They both believe creativity is sparked by developing 10 ideas for discovering new ways of looking at old things. I’ve dubbed this concept the “The Power of 10 Ideas.”

Last week I used this approach to offer recruiters some suggestions on how to find candidates if job boards didn’t exist. This week I’ll use the same technique to offer job-seekers some ideas on how to get an interview without applying to a job posting. Job-seekers should use this list as a jumping-off point and develop 10 more ideas. Please add your best ones to the comments below.

10 Ideas for Getting an Interview without Pushing the Apply Button

  • Get referred. At a training workshop last week I asked 20 recruiters whose resume they’d read first - someone who responded to a job posting or someone who was referred by a co-worker. One hundred percent said the referral. Nothing more needs to be said.
  • Be found and be compelling when found. As you’ll see in idea #10, I suggest recruiters add Achiever terms when conducting a search for candidates. This brings the top 25% of any group of resumes to the top of the listing. So make sure these terms stand out on your resume and LinkedIn profile. Of course, being found is not enough. You’ll then only have 10 seconds to grab the recruiter’s attention. The most important part is the personal branding line under your name.
  • Use the job postings as a lead. Rather than applying directly to a job of interest, first try to find someone at the company who can refer you. If not, send the hiring manager or department head a non-resume, aka, some alternative sample of your work.
  • Respond to a bigger target to increase your odds. Once you find a job of interest, see if the company is posting similar jobs at different levels of experience. Then send your non-resume to the department head. You’ll increase your odds by not getting pigeon-holed into just one job.
  • Increase your qualifications by converting having to doing. The skills and experiences listed on a job posting are often waived if a candidate has accomplished something comparable. Describing a major accomplishment using the requirements listed is a great way to demonstrate this. This can be incorporated into your non-resume mentioned above and the 5-minute YouTube video described below (Point 8).
  • Build a targeted network of nodes. Networking isn’t about meeting as many people as possible. It’s about meeting a few people (i.e., “nodes”) who can vouch for your performance and who can recommend you to others who are at companies hiring people. The best nodes are people who work with lots of different people at different levels, like project managers.
  • Reverse engineer Twitter. Using hashtags like #hiring #jobs in combination with #skill1 and #skill2, you’ll find a lot of open jobs. Rather than applying, contact the tweeter directly and/or get a key to the backdoor to get a referral.
  • Use YouTube to demonstrate a strength. I just watched Jon Favreau’s movie, Chef, which demonstrates how YouTube can be used to find a job. I wouldn’t suggest Favreau’s approach, but putting together a 5-minute video highlighting one of your accomplishments or presenting some “how-to technique” might be the trigger to get someone to give you a call.
  • Become a sought-after SME. Being a subject matter expert is often the reason recruiters will contact you. Make sure this is in your branding statement under your name on your LinkedIn profile supported with your 5-minute YouTube video. Recruiters follow user groups and directly contact the most active members who provide the most useful content.
  • Benchmark the best in your field. To find the best people in any field I add these Achiever terms to my Google skill strings: (award OR honor OR fellow OR rotation OR scholar OR prize). If you combine this string with your own skills you’ll find people who are the best in your field of expertise. The list includes names of people to connect with, possible mentors, companies they work for, which ones are hiring and ideas for groups to join. Connecting with these people and becoming a recognized SME in their groups is a great way to expand your network.

Unless you’re a perfect fit on skills and experiences, applying to a job posting is a waste of time. Instead start thinking how you can land an interview without applying. These ideas are just a start and while they’ll work with a little effort, using The Power of 10 Ideas will lead you to come up with your own unique approaches. As Jim Rohn said, “For things to change for you, you’ve got to change.” So if you’re looking for a new job and you’re not having any luck, it’s time to change what you’re doing.