As Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump go toe-to-toe to lead the nation, I can’t help but draw analogies to an average American’s job search. The recent debates were like the job interview in the presidential race, with plenty of lessons – and examples of what to do and what to avoid – for today’s job seekers to take away.
To trounce the other candidates and win the job:
1. Be succinct. No one likes a long-winded answer, so keep your responses in a job interview to the point and clear. Try to limit your responses to two to three minutes each. Beware of unrelated tangents. Don’t let your interviewer have to jump in to ask you to wrap it up and move on, as we saw several times with both candidates during the debates.
2. Actually answer the questions. The presidential candidates are masters at redirecting questions to fit the answers that they want to give. But this won’t go over well in a job interview. Listen closely to an interviewer’s questions and respond with a thoughtful answer or an anecdote that showcases how your strengths fit their needs. Try to align your responses to the organization’s mission, values and core leadership competencies when possible.
3. Listen to learn. . . not listen to respond. Monitor your allotted airtime. Just waiting for someone else to stop talking – or not even waiting, as we saw in the debates – before you start talking is certainly no indication that you are listening to the interviewer. Even politely smiling and nodding while another person is talking is not necessarily a cue that a person is truly listening. Try to hear what’s being said, as well as what’s not being said. Ask questions to clarify what a recruiter is saying, or paraphrase an interview question to ensure understanding. Keep in mind that active listening conveys genuine interest and empathy, and can further highlight your emotional intelligence. My experience as an executive coach, similar to what we saw during the debates, suggests that most individuals think of themselves as better listeners than they really are. My mother used to remind me that we’re given two ears and one mouth so that we can listen twice as much as we speak.
4. Make the most of your “airtime.” A savvy interviewee knows that you never leave airtime, just like how the candidates made the most of their time in debates. This doesn’t, however, mean you should launch right into your ‘sales pitch’ to start the interview. Take time to create a personal connection with your interviewer. You can do this by asking him or her about their role at the organization and their typical day. Or you can even thank them for their great questions. These things will help you make a strong emotional connection and make the most of your interview to leave a strong impression.
5. Keep your facial and body expressions in check. Eye-rolling and face-making aside, you never want to turn off your interviewer with facial expressions or body language. You want to look relaxed but confident and mirror your interviewer. Be sure not to invade personal space with an interviewer. Try to monitor how you’re coming across to ensure that bad habits and nervous mannerisms (i.e., failing to make eye contact, fidgeting with a pen, grimacing, having a stoic expression, etc.) don’t limit your ability to positively influence an interviewer.
6. Preparation is key. By the final debate last Wednesday, the candidates had their talking points ready (at least for the first half of the event) and their preparation showed in their performances on the policy questions they had clearly prepared for. Job candidates should do the same kind of preparation – have your talking points on how your strengths and skills fit the organization’s needs and be ready to reinforce those points in your answers to interview questions. Have a few anecdotes of recent career successes to point to as examples. Make sure your stories are interesting, memorable, and job related. Keep in mind that more than 75 percent of your success in any job interview is determined before the interview even begins.
7. Be ready to think on your feet. Your interviewer may throw you a curveball question, but if you’re on your toes with your interpersonal savvy you’ll do well. Take a moment to think about and reflect on a question before jumping in. Come across as confident, strong, adaptable and intellectually curious.
8. Convey vulnerability. Have the courage to discuss opposing ideas without being judgmental. Be willing to share past mistakes, limitations and fears – as long as your growth areas are not related to requisite skills for success. According to popular author and management consultant, Patrick Lencioni, nothing inspires trust in another human being like humility and graciousness. Being vulnerable can send a powerful message about a candidate’s confidence and trustworthiness – key attributes in the War for Talent.
9. Close strong. Close with grace, and close strong, both in the interview and after. Reinforce your interest in the job and how you’d be the best candidate to end the job interview. Ask about next steps in the interview process. Then send thank-you note to the interviewers. It’s OK to send an email thank-you, but it’s more powerful to send a good, old-fashioned handwritten note. The savvy person who really wants to separate himself or herself from the pack might even go one step further and FedEx a handwritten thank-you. Then follow-up, but don’t cross the line by checking in too much.
Whether your sights are set on the corner office – or the Oval Office – acing the interview is critical to landing the job you really want.
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Jeffrey Kudisch has served as assistant dean of corporation relations and managing director of the Office of Career Services at the University of Maryland’s Robert H. Smith School of Business since 2010. He is a clinical full professor and co-founder and principal partner of Personnel Assessment Systems Inc., a human resource consulting firm specializing in leadership development, executive assessment, and talent acquisition.