How to Stay Cool at a Grilling


By Michael B. Laskoff For many years, I found job interviewing almost unbearable. Memories of past episodes gone horribly wrong always seemed to surface at precisely the wrong moment. Awkward, stilted conversation seemed to dominate the proceedings. And I always felt embarrassed touting my past accomplishments. It took a long time for me to realize that these meetings were also miserable for the interviewers and that I could gain real advantage over other candidates by making them less grueling.

To do this, I learned to approach the interview process from the vantage of the person doing the hiring, focusing on those things that create stress and discomfort in the actual meeting. The strategy works. And while every situation is a little different, I find adhering to the following guidelines makes for a more relaxed interviewer and more frequent advancement in the process.

AMATEUR INTERVIEWERS. Your interview is too important to entrust to the interviewer. Most interviewers are amateurs. They receive no training and are afforded no opportunity to hone their skills prior to using them in live situations. Thus, they often don't have much confidence in their ability to discover the right information about a candidate. Some handle this by asking a slew of unrelated questions that don't reveal much of value, while others sit there tight-lipped because they haven't any clue what to ask. Either can stop you from putting your best foot forward.

To prevent this, offer to spend a few minutes taking your interviewer through your résumé. You can describe your background (including the circumstances that led to your job search) and current goal in a relaxed, confident, and self-promoting manner. Don't prattle on -- between 5 minutes and 7 minutes is plenty. But don't be surprised if your monologue stimulates many questions and comments. If this goes well, your interviewer will painlessly get all the information that he or she needs prior to describing the opportunity at hand -- a subject on which the interviewer likely feels much more confidence.

A word of caution here, though: This technique works only when it's delivered well. That means you must practice extensively at home. Start by working closely from your résumé and keep at it until you can weave your tale without any external prompting. If you devote an hour or two to practicing each day, you'll likely have perfected your self-interview within three or four days. And believe me, it's time well spent.

TAILOR YOUR MESSAGE. What you say depends on to whom you're saying. The core of your interview pitch will always be consistent, but you'll need to tailor additional messages to suit particular audiences. When interviewing with your would-be boss, for example, you'll want to emphasize your capacity for personal loyalty and your real desire to do the job at hand. These will suggest that you would neither be a political threat nor become too quickly restive if hired. Your would-be boss will be looking for such signals and will take notice.

You should also be prepared to speak to professional recruiters (internal or external) in language that will set them at ease. Professional recruiters are the talent scouts of the business world, but their brethren in corporate human-resource departments often look at them almost as lackies. To avoid problems, you should shun exaggeration and inconsistency, and remember to show them the utmost respect. If you can be a cooperative candidate, recruiters are likely to determine that you will reflect well on them and advance you to the next round.

Difficult as recruiter interviews can be, the most troublesome are often those conducted with would-be peers. These people often feel threatened by a candidate. Thus, your task is to convince peers that you can lighten their load of odious tasks without usurping their relationship with the boss. As to how best to do this, I advise listening: Most people will quickly communicate what they believe to be their turf. So long as you don't seem interested in it, you're likely to get your potential peer's nod of approval.

RELIEVE STRESS. You can't be the ideal candidate if you don't know what the job is. In most cases, what you read in the job posting or the position description has virtually nothing to do with the actual job. And before you blame the recruiters, remember that they can only reflect the position that was described to them by the hiring manager, who is often unable or unwilling to disclose more.

So what do you listen for? In almost all cases, your prospective manager will tell you that you've gotten some misinformation before going on to describe the job as he or she sees it. If this doesn't occur, find an opportunity to describe the position as it has been presented and then ask for clarification.

Hiring is almost as stressful as job-searching. Beyond being stressful for candidates, recruiting is hell on the person doing the hiring. It's expensive and time-intensive, which means it receives careful scrutiny by others higher up in the organization.

In addition, managers are judged, in part, by their ability to recruit good people and build strong teams. Getting it right can lead to the fast track and promotions, while the opposite can effectively end a career. To the unemployed, these may seem like abstract concerns, but to the person doing the hiring, they're very real pressures. Keep that in mind as your proceed.

Thinking like your interviewer won't guarantee success, but it will help you to make better decisions about how to act in an interview. And that can make the difference between being the runner-up and receiving an offer. Laskoff is the author of Landing On The Right Side Of Your Ass -- A Survival Guide For The Recently Unemployed. A graduate of Harvard Business School, he has worked in the investment banking, consulting, and entertainment industries, as well as a number of e-commerce start-ups. Currently, he operates a website at www.askyourass.com.


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