job interview

Psst: when I interview you, I’m actually rooting for you

NOTE: I wrote this post almost ten years ago, but it was the most popular post I wrote on my old blog, so I’m preserving it here.

I’ve been interviewing a lot of candidates lately for our open SharePoint positions (developers, BAs, QAs …). It’s nothing like the summer of 2009, when I interviewed over 200 candidates in a couple of months, but we’re in full interviewing mode.

Over the years I’m coming to think that many candidates either have no idea how to sell themselves, or else … they just ain’t tryin’. This is nothing new. But that doesn’t mean it doesn’t baffle me. Even if one doesn’t want the job—in which case, why are you here? – shouldn’t simple personal pride require one to at least go through the motions of a sales call?

Because that’s what a job interview is, plain and simple (again, nothing groundbreaking here) – a sales call. Your goal is to make me want to hire you. It’s to sell yourself. And just as a real sales pro will tailor every aspect of a sales call to direct the outcome (from the eye contact to the shoeshine), this is what a job candidate must do.

“This is the best I’ll ever be.”

Job seekers, especially you youngsters:  think of the last job interview you had where you didn’t get an offer. To the person or people interviewing you, you are saying by your performance: potential employer, this is me at 100%. This is the best I will ever be. On my first day of working for you I will drop to about 70% of what you see today. A month later I’ll settle in somewhere between thirty and sixty percent. So this is as good as it gets.

On your last interview, did you act like you wanted the job? Did your attitude and energy express that you love this work, and that you’re excited to get started right away? Even if you weren’t dressed to the nines, did you at least look like you take care of details?

When I’m on a job interview, that’s practically my mantra: to these people, this is the best I’ll ever be.

ABC: Always Be Closing

Remember, not only are you a salesperson on a sales call, but every instant and every aspect of the interview is part of it. I’m not recommending that you become that slick, fast-talking “sales guy”.  But as Alec Baldwin says in the movie: A. B. C. Always. Be. Closing. Always be closing! What do I mean by this?

Pay attention to how professional PR people like political spin doctors always take control of the conversation and “spin” it with every opportunity. To get hired, you need to master the art of taking whatever pitch you’re thrown and hitting it in the direction of your choosing. What is your spin? It’s “hire me; hiring me will not be a mistake; I am the right one for this role and the one after that (when you promote me due to my awesomeness); I am a winner; I always take the initiative and don’t need to be constantly directed” .. and so on.

You need to practice thinking on your feet and finding those segues that turn the conversation back to your message. You have to take the wheel and drive. There is no closing without this control. This is not a sleazy tactic, unless you overdo it and totally ignore the interviewer’s questions. In fact, a good interviewer will see what you’re doing and respect your ability to do it. She’ll think “this guy will be good at winning others over to his side when a project needs extra help, or new ideas.”

The interviewer will often ask open-ended questions about your history; these are great, as you can choose whichever situation from your past (that clearly illustrates how awesome you are) you want. Even tightly focused questions can be spun, though; you must become practiced at the art of answering the question briefly, and quickly following up with “… and that totally reminds me of that time I was asked to step in and fix a bad situation with that difficult client and we ended up getting more business from them.”

“Do you have any questions for us?”

And in the area of hitting the baseball into the field you want, this is the biggest opportunity you have: the opportunity to ask questions. Dammit! My mentor calls this moment in the interview “a big fat softball.” The interviewer is rooting for you at this moment! She wants you, is inviting you, to strut your stuff. Not only can you spin the ball any way you want, but you even get to select which pitch is thrown! Now that’s control!

And what do four out of five candidates do with this opportunity? Nothing. “Uhhh … I can’t think of any questions …”

If you don’t have any questions, you have just told the interviewer “shove this job up your butt. I don’t want it.”

In my opinion you should put more thought and preparation into your questions than any other part of the interview. Even if you know more about the company and its people than the founders themselves, ask. Some. Questions. Interview questions that you ask are like the questions a lawyer asks in a trial: they’re not meant to get information, they’re meant to give information – in this case, about how awesome you are. And about how you are already looking ahead, beyond the job interview to what awesome stuff you’ll be doing for this interviewer starting two weeks from today. This is what salespeople call “assuming the sale”; it’s like leaping over “do you want to buy this car?” directly to “so what colour do you want your car to be?”.

The two questions that will get you the offer

Finally, the two most important questions (in other words, closing questions) you can ask in an interview are:

“When I am on the job, how will we measure my performance? In other words, what does success look like?”

This question shows the employer that you’re already thinking to the next quarter, when you’ve already had some success under your belt. And the question, by assuming that you’ll be successful, shows confidence.

And the true closing question, to be asked at the end of the interview, and which a salesperson would call “asking for the sale”  (the biggest part of closing):

“So, now that we’ve talked … is there anything about me or what we’ve discussed today that would cause you to NOT want to hire me?”

Yes, it’s ballsy. I’ve asked this question in interviews, and it usually puts the interview off balance for a moment. Holy crap – this guy has the nerve to ask me to hire him on the spot! But you’re not coming right out and saying “hire me now!” – not quite. What you are doing is once again driving the conversation in the direction that will get you the offer. You can pitch the question quite innocuously (hey, you’re just looking for sincere feedback on your performance!). And the interviewer will generally say, “hmm, well, no, nothing specific comes to mind right now. We’ll be in touch with our decision!” But the important thing is that you have asked for the sale.

Seriously – in my various roles I’ve interviewed about 250 candidates for SharePoint- and other technology-related positions. Doing any of the above puts you ahead of 90% of the field, immediately.

Remember: as far as the interviewer knows, this is the best you will ever be.