In a recent post I suggested that job seekers need to ask the interviewer about the actual performance requirements of the open job and some of the key problems that need to addressed. This is a critical step, especially if the interviewer is not directly measuring the candidate against real job requirements.

Selling (and Interviewing, too) Starts by Understanding the Customer’s Needs

Once the job is understood as a series of tasks, challenges and performance objectives, the candidate then needs to provide detail-rich examples of past accomplishments that best compare to the actual job requirements.

The key to success here is for the candidate to prove he/she has successfully handled similar challenges, in similar environments with similar resources.

Listen for Some Buying Signals

If the past accomplishments are comparable, the interviewer is likely to send some buying signals indicating that the candidate is a strong prospect for the job. Some of these signals include describing specific (versus vague) next steps in the process, inviting the person back for another round of interviews, becoming more animated, spending more time in the interview than originally planned or simply stating he/she is impressed and wants to know if the candidate is interested in the job. However, this only means the candidate is a contender. To become a finalist the candidate needs to offer more proof than just describing past accomplishments.

Being assertive and demonstrating leadership during the interview is part of the proof. Here’s how to do this using a consultative-type sales approach.

As part of the performance-based interview process I advocate, I suggest that the interviewer do two things. First, dig deep into a candidate’s past accomplishments and if this goes well, ask the person to describe how he/she would go about solving or handling a major problem he/she is likely to face on the job. I refer to these two questions as the anchor and visualize questioning pattern.

Most interviewers don’t assess job seekers this way, that’s why candidates need to take matters into their own hands and force the interviewer to ask these questions. The previous post describes how to force the anchor question. Here’s how to force the visualization question.
Force the Visualization Question

Soon after getting a buying signal it’s important for the candidate to become more assertive and ask more specific questions about the job. This is comparable to the discovery process in consultative selling. If the questioning is done properly it offers the candidate a chance to describe how he/she would solve one of the biggest problems likely to be encountered on the job. Here’s one approach job seekers can use to achieve this advanced interviewing state:

  1. Ask for permission. Would you mind if I gave you an idea on how I’d go about handling the ________ issue you just mentioned?
  2. Get clarification of the problem or task. Ask a series of problem-solving questions to figure out the scope of the problem, the status of the existing plan and the resources available. This is a critical step. The quality, depth and insight of these questions will be used to assess the candidate’s thinking and problem-solving skills.
  3. Describe your preliminary plan. Provide basic details about how you’d proceed including the obvious roadblocks you’ll likely encounter, a rough timeline and some tradeoffs you’ll need to address.
  4. Establish a two-way conversation. When answered correctly the interviewer will start asking “what…if?” type questions and/or asks for clarification on some points. By engaging in a two-way conversation about a realistic problem, the interviewer will gain the confidence that the candidate has the critical thinking, analytical and technical skills needed to successfully handle the job with little direction.
  5. Don’t overdo it. The purpose of this type of question is to assess the process the candidate would use to address the problem not whether the solution is right or wrong. Giving a specific answer without all of the facts will always backfire.

(Note: Here’s the link to this full video series exclusively for the advanced job seeker.)

Whenever a candidate believes he/she is being improperly interviewed, the person needs to take control of the process. It starts by asking about real job needs, some of the problems that need to be solved and some of the challenges likely to be faced. With this information the candidate can then describe some major accomplishments that best meet the company’s needs. The next step is to¬†engage in a give-and-take dialog with the interviewer describing the approach the candidate would use to solve one of the challenges or problems. When done well, the candidate will advance to the next step in the company’s hiring process.

Most candidates are reluctant to take this type of assertive consultative sales approach. This is unfortunate, since taking an assertive approach demonstrates leadership, confidence and ability. It’s also how the best salespeople uncover their customer’s needs and offer the best solution. It starts by asking questions, not just answering them.