How to be proactive in your job interview


Job interviews: be proactive and strategic!

One of the things which makes NLP so useful is how it provides a means to rationally and systematically analyse a situation - so that we can see what works, and what doesn't work, in any situation.

Take job interviews, for example.

Being interviewed for a job is a critical moment in your life. Yet many people approach then with lots of hope - and little practical planning… apart from re-reading their VA and rehearsing a few answers.

The interview is the time to sell yourself

I’m always fascinated by the optimism of people who open new shops in unsuitable locations. You see the dilapidated and shuttered shop front – sitting there ignored for months on end, since the previous owners tried and failed to make their dream a reality.

Then one day the ‘Sold’ sign goes up again. And work begins. The paint job. Signage. Fitting out. Finally the stock arrives. And then, having spent a small fortune on their dream shop, they have The Grand Opening.

And a few months later new signs go up: Grand Closing Down Sale – Everything must go!

Focusing on me rather than on them

Why does this happen so often? Often because these would-be shop-keepers are too wrapped up in thinking about themselves and their dreams. It’s the ‘me, me, me’ thing. They seem to have

  • A wonderful ability to hypnotise themselves with a dream, without including a reality check! They just ‘know’ it’s a great idea… a triumph of optimism over reality
  • A wonderful ability to decide they know what potential customers want – rather than trying to find out what the customers actually want.
  • An amazing lack of ability to put themselves in their future customers’ shoes and imagine what the shopping experience will be like for them (location, car parking, need for the product, competition, pricing, customer requirements, and so on.)

What’s this got to do with your job interview…?

It’s the same approach

Many people attend job interviews or on-job appraisals with the same starry-eyed optimism as these would-be shop-keepers.

They, too, have done little research and they don’t have a plan of action for the interview.

Result? They see-saw between nervousness and starry-eyed optimism as interview day approaches.

They dream of already having the job and believe that it’s just a matter of managing their nervousness:

How will I do?

I really need this job.

I hope they like me.

I’m the ideal person for the job.

Am I dressed right?

I hope I don’t sweat too much!

Won’t it be great when I have this job!

Oh, please let me make a good impression…

(Incidentally, on-job appraisals are slightly different from interviews but the general principles in this article will apply.)

An interview is a selling situation

In an interview your role is to sell – not just answer questions. And to do this effectively you must research your potential ‘customer’.

Your focus must be on them: on the interviewer and on the hiring organisation. In that order: first on the interviewer because they decide yes or no. Then on the organisation.  (Click here for an article on selling and listening.)

Your interviewer is a person…

Remember that your interviewer is a human being. They are more interested in their WIIFMs, their ‘what’s in it for me’, more than in us.

Strange as it may seem the interviewer is thinking about... the interviewer’s career.

I once managed an employment agency in Central London and, as part of my job, would interview many people seeking jobs each week - and many who were looking for candidates.

Speaking to both 'sides' provided fascinating insights into the motivation of each...

The interviewer wants to find the best fit for the job – because if the new hire does a good job in reflects well on the interviewer; their career is enhanced! This means that if you come across as the best fit, because you are a good fit for the job, and because you sell yourself well, you make their day.

Notice the two points

You are a good fit

You sell yourself well.

So, let’s assume that you are a very good fit, otherwise why apply for the post, and that you maintain this as an unwavering belief. Unwavering. Next you must sell yourself well.

What, sell myself...?

Yes, remember that the interview is a sales process. You are selling a product: yourself. You must influence the interviewer to ‘buy’ you – as the best fit.

‘Selling’ yourself

A majority of sales people talk too much – avoid this mistake. Everyone likes to buy things – but nobody likes to be sold things.

People like to choose.

We to walk into a shop and select what we decide is right for us – what we feel will match our needs. And being pounced upon by a gabby salesperson who tells us why something is right for us gets most of us heading for the exit.

Expert sales people do it differently and more subtly: they get to know a little about you and your needs and then they assist you in finding a best fit for your needs. They are selling conversationally.

Notice the sequence. Expert sales people:

1. Get to know you – as a person rather than as a punter

2. Get to know your needs – rather than foisting their needs (to make the sale) upon you

3. Help you find what will match your needs.

How to sell in you job interview

1. Get to know the interviewer

What’s it like to be them? How has their day been so far? Are they looking forward to their lunch – or recovering from it? Are they excited about the candidates they have seen so far – or despondent? Have previous interviewees shown a genuine interest in the interviewer? (You can do some of this overtly – and some will be done by reading between the lines).

2. Get to know their needs

It’s unlikely you can do this in detail. But you can gauge a lot from how they introduce themselves. And you can ask some questions. You already know that they want to find the best candidate because this will enhance their reputation.

So, from their viewpoint, will ‘buying’ you advance their career or be a threat to it? Do they like to play safe or take a flyer? When you get the job (!) will they be directly in contact with you or are they from HR and doing the interviewing for somebody else?

You can also learn a lot about the organisation in advance. And being able to demonstrate this will not only impress the interviewer – it will reassure them about your skill and your thoroughness.

3. Help them see how you will match their needs

To do this you need to get some information from them in order to sell yourself proactively.

(By the way, it's helpful to use the NLP Different Perspectives technique with these three steps.)

Proactive selling

Many see interviews as a passive process: they walk in, sit down, state their case, get asked questions and, in their answers, attempt to give them as much information as possible. In short, the interviewer provides information – the interviewee decides its value.

Wrong attitude: especially for all but the most junior posts.

You are there to sell yourself – skilfully and actively. To do this you must interact with them as an equal by proactively asking questions, then ask qualifying questions about their answers, and using questions to determine the pace and the direction of the interview and…

…when you have thoroughly identified what they need…

… show them how hiring you will be in their interests.

5 tips for being proactive in interviews

(1) Prepare your sales ‘package’:

Prepare your product: what have you got that they need?

Packaging: the most appropriate way to dress and act for the interview.

Sales facts & figures: your experience – and track record.

Reasons for them to buy you: – how your personality will fit.

(2) Your selling points:

Decide in advance what you want them to know i.e. your 3-4 key selling points (with factual examples & evidence for each).

(3) Your immediate objective:

What exactly is your objective for this interview?

Except for unskilled jobs, there will usually be at least two interviews. So, be clear what you need to achieve in each interview e.g.

Get a second interview.

Evoke their curiosity in what you haven’t had time to tell or demonstrate.

Position yourself as not being one of the crowd.

(4) Your attitude:

Be proactive – and make sure you are in rapport with them at the outset, otherwise your proactivity may not fit their personal style and expectations.

Ask lots of questions.

Ask clarifying questions.

Answer questions enthusiastically and always support your answer with evidence and specific examples from your experience.

(5) The interviewer’s WIIFM:

Continually give them reasons to ‘buy’ you. Impress with your thoroughness and your thinking so that you convince them that hiring you will benefit their own career.

And remember, this approach can make your in-job appraisal interviews more productive for you and more comfortable for both parties.


Check this other article on preparing for a job interview



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