The perfect job interview answer…

…does not exist.  And if somebody told you they had one, they are utterly full of it.

First of all, let’s cover the universe of facts before I tackle this one.

1.  Everybody is different.

Finished.

Entire books and blogs are devoted to telling people how to answer HR questions as if the person on the other side of the table was a random question generator.  As if the other person, from entry-level HR associate to the VP of Sales is a black-box that if fed the right answers will spit out a ticket to the next interview up.

So who are the people who consistently receive job offers?  Me.  At least I used to when I was still in corporate.  I also have two good friends who are 100% for job offers per interviews.  What’s the secret?  None.

Actually, no.  There is a secret.  We prepared our butts off.  Here’s what we did.  (I don’t mind sharing because I know most people won’t go to the level of preparation we did.  Remember that bit about people not doing the little extra to be extraordinary?  Yeah – totally applies when people are job searching as well.)

Pictured: Typical number of applicants to a job posting on Monster

What’s the number one concern for all companies?  Their customers – how to keep them, how to find more and how to sell more to existing ones.  Whatever job you apply for, research the hell out of the company’s customers.  It doesn’t matter what position you’re applying for, it all comes back to how the company can sell more.  How to research?  I call their customers directly.  I visit their customers directly.  I drive through the various sales territories.  Before I show up for the interview, I aim to know as much about the company’s customers as the guy hiring.  The first words out of my mouth establishes me as a guy with answers and insights – not just some guy looking for a job. How much research to do?  How badly do you want this job?

Refuse to get bogged down answering formulaic questions. For every answer I give, I ask two in return about the position, the company, the history, everything.   A job interview is not about how great you are.  It’s about how great you can make the company. How you ask questions says a helluva lot more about your ability to organize thought than you ever can just claiming “I’m strategic. I’m hardworking.  I’m awesome.”  Prove it.   Instead of saying ‘I’m strategic’ (The most bullsh_t claim of all), ask “Who is your strongest customer?  Why is he your strongest customer?  Is it because of your company or is it because the customer runs a tight ship?”  If you’ve done your research, you’ll be able to prepare relevant questions to ask about the company’s customers, processes and challenges.  How long should you spend preparing questions to ask?  How badly do you want this job?

Understand that the other person is a feeling person, with varying moods, preferences, and motivations.  I’m not talking about creating rapport by chatting about dogs and soccer practice.   I’m talking about understanding what that person’s primary motivation is.  If it’s the owner, the primary motivation is, “Is this guy a good investment?” If it’s an employee in a large company, the primary motivation is “How will hiring this person help advance my career or at the least not hurt it?”  How much time should you spend creating a message from the listener’s point of view?  How badly do you want this job?

Work with a pro.  Work with established recruiters and head-hunters.  These are the folks that have huge insight into who you will be interviewing with.  Insight like: “Is the person laid back or wound up?  Is the person fun and accessible or ridiculously serious?  Does the person love the company he’s working for or is he looking for the next thing himself.”  A good recruiter will give you insight into the most important aspect of your interview – your listener.

A job interview is a sales pitch like any other.  The product is you.  You know the features.  You know the benefits.

Just take the time to know the buyer.

I remember when I was interviewing at LG years ago, the VP asked me, “What’s your biggest sale?”

“This one right here.”

…and it was.

M