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The best interviews sound like a comfortable conversation between two old friends: a give and take, finding a common ground, striking rapport. In between the words, interviewers are listening to your attitude, your ethics and your issues. With thoughtfulness and preparation, you can turn that first conversation into a job offer.
Take interviewers through a synopsis of your entire job history in less than five minutes. Benjamin Disraeli said, “The secret of success is constancy to purpose.” In those first few minutes, interviewers get a snapshot of what is important to you and can often see the pattern of your purpose. To get clear on your goals, select information from your jobs that reflect your path.
Practice telling your friends or family this brief history, highlighting any special recognition or awards. Learn to detect your own patterns and tendencies so you’ll know what kind of impression you’re projecting. Then rehearse with a teenager. They have short attention spans and excellent b.s. detectors, much like interviewers.
Incorporate details from your life experience. Answer with the deepest possible truth. A young man in his 20s who was already managing men twice his age told me that he owed his oratory abilities to his church. Since he was 5, he had addressed his congregation weekly. He learned to speak spontaneously from his heart and attributed his success to knowing how to listen closely to his audience.
We all have rich experiences outside our career that support our growth. Including your poetic heart, your passions, your relationships, your children, brings a perspective that shows how your life reflects your priorities and is in alignment with your work.
Don’t be afraid to engage interviewers with emotionally moving content. Tell stories that include a description of the situation, your specific actions and the results.
Telling anecdotes incorporating these three elements present a clear picture of your talent to effect change. The emotional aspect makes them memorable and involving. On the topic of achievement, Albert Einstein said, “Try not to become a man of success but rather try to become a man of value.” Choose experiences that detail your vital role and the contribution you’ve made to your group and company.
Show how you turned a negative situation into a positive one. There’s an old African saying: “The mountains of yesterday are the stepping-stones of tomorrow.” Dramatic conflict is at the heart of a good story.
The process of resolving a challenging situation is often more important than the outcome because it shows your ability to negotiate difficult terrain. In this way, your history can be seen as an unfolding rather than a series of static events. Choosing to reveal qualities that address the crucial aspects of the job make your pithy conclusion account for all the greatness of your life.
To make sure you and your interviewers are in sync, clarify that you are giving the kind of examples they want near the beginning of the interview. Check for clarification to show that you are listening closely and paying attention to their needs.
Ask to return to difficult question rather than rush your answer. Interviewers can be as uncomfortable with silence as you are, but don’t let that intimidate you. Some of the most lyrical answers come with contemplation. There is power in pauses. Use them to allow insights to mature.
Silence also allows you to “listen” back to the interviewers. If nothing is forthcoming, stop, breathe, look down to help you focus, and collect a memory. If that brilliant anecdote doesn’t fill your head, move on, returning when you have the words.
Don’t answer a question that you don’t understand; ask that it be rephrased. Quite often all it takes to bring clarity to a question is slightly different wording. Feel free to ask for an example or two to get your gray matter moving.
Explain specifically why you think you’d be an asset to the company. One of my friends who was considering a change of career e-mailed his colleagues, asking them to list all his best qualities and strengths. He got reams of revelations. It was easier for him to discuss his abilities using this wisdom. As the philosopher Camus says, “We are the sum of all our choices.”