By Michael B. Junge
Even before we met, it was clear that Greg was different from the average job seeker. For starters, he seemed excited about the prospect of meeting with me, a relatively junior recruiter, to further discuss the opportunity described in our initial conversation. In a down market, that might not seem strange, but this was February 2000, and the market was still riding the high of the tech bubble. Certified IT project managers with a legitimate professional track record had their pick of opportunities, and most treated recruiters as a nuisance (or worse). A receptive audience was something of an oddity.
The positive attitude actually raised red flags in my mind, and I half expected Greg to flake on our scheduled meeting. Two minutes before our 11 a.m. appointment time, however, my phone rang and the receptionist let me know I had a guest in the lobby. I walked out and found an impeccably dressed man beaming an enormous smile in my direction. It was impossible not to return the gesture as we shook hands and exchanged pleasantries. By the time we made it back to the interviewing room, I was already off my guard and completely at ease.
As we sat down, Greg pulled out a copy of his resumé and a big black binder. He handed me the resumé and set the binder off to one side. The binder piqued my curiosity, but I started into my structured interview routine as normal. I shared about myself and the firm I represented, set expectations for how the interview would go, and opened the floor for questions. He asked exactly one: “Can you tell me a little more about the opportunity and exactly what you’re looking for in terms of skills and experience?”
I shared a brief overview of the position and my understanding of what a successful applicant would bring to the table. I asked if he had any other questions but he just smiled and said, “No, that sounds great. Fire away.”
As we progressed through a standard series of questions about his skill set and background, I found myself amazed at how incredibly on target Greg was for the opportunity in question. It was as if he were tailor-made for the position, and I found myself growing more and more excited about the difference he could make for our client —and how great I was going to look for finding him.
As we got deeper into the interview, I started to dig into the specific details of his projects and ask more pointed questions about the nature of the work he did. Greg reached to the side of the table and grabbed the big black binder. For the next 30 minutes, he showcased a series of project plans, documents, and testimonials the likes of which I’d never seen before. He didn’t just talk the talk and he didn’t expect me to take on faith that he walked the walk. He had beautifully documented proof that he was exactly what he claimed to be and more.
By the end of our conversation I didn’t just want our client to hire Greg. I wanted to commission him as an exhibit for the museum of awesomeness. The guy was just plain fantastic! Later that day we submitted his information to our client, and within hours they responded, eager to bring him in for an interview.
Three days and four interviews later, we received an offer for Greg that was more than 10 percent higher than the “top end” of the salary range our client had given at the beginning of the search process. We didn’t even have to negotiate. The CIO was positive Greg was the right candidate and wanted to make sure no one else scooped him up. Two weeks later he started his new job, and a year later he brought in one of the first “on-time, under- budget” software implementations in the history of the organization. Today, Greg runs the company. Literally.
Wise men talk because they have something to say; fools talk because they have to say something.” —Plato
As Greg so aptly demonstrated in our first meeting, there’s both an art and science to interviewing. Over the course of our relationship, it came out that he had a great deal of depth and experience he DIDN’T discuss in that first interview. He knew he would have ample opportunity to showcase his other skills if he landed the job, and that by staying focused on the needs of the client, he was far more likely to be in a position to make that happen.
Focusing on the needs of others is one of the secrets to mastering the interview process and landing great opportunities. If you can find out at the beginning of the conversation what the interviewer is hoping for in/from a new hire, the rest of the dialogue has a much higher probability of being useful and relevant. If not, you easily could spend the entire interview discussing the dozens of things you’ve done that aren’t really pertinent to their goals. Not helpful for anyone.
Another key is to own your own background. Even if you don’t have a fantastic portfolio of work samples, you can be prepared to talk articulately and in-depth about your previous experience. A great place to start is by digging through your work history and analyzing it in detail—not just what you did and how you did it, but why, what you learned, and how you might do things differently in the future. It’s also useful to think about the questions an employer might want to ask about your resumé, and be prepared to address them with confidence and clarity. In other words, take the time to be an expert on yourself!
Much can be done in preparation for specific interviews, as well. Researching the company, refreshing your skills in the key areas described in a job description, and thinking about specifically relevant stories and experiences can all make a huge difference, but if you find yourself in a time crunch, start with the basics. Make sure you OWN your own background, and find out what’s important to the interviewer. These two can outweigh a lot of mitigating circumstances and help carry you through to the next round of the hiring process.
Michael B. Junge is the author of Purple Squirrel and a member of the leadership recruiting team at Google, Inc. Previously, he was a five-time Recruiter of the Year with a national staffing firm and helped hundreds of clients land positions with companies including Nestlé, AT&T, Warner Brothers, Disney, Boeing, Humana, GMAC, Pacific Life, First American, Kaiser, Northrop, Parker Hannifin, Experian, Siemens, and dozens more. He can be visited online at www.michaelbjunge.com.