Speak to the Gap

Congratulations! Your cover letter and resume were effective. They did their job. The cover letter got them to look at your resume. Your resume got them to pick up the phone, confirm your interest and qualifications, and you got the interview – the Number Two Holy Grail of the job search process.

And then, there you were, seated (virtually) across from the interviewers and you blew it. Sure, you did your homework. You knew the job description inside out and backwards. You memorized their website. You knew the professional, and some personal, details about the interviewers. You even knew about the person you would be replacing. You had a list of really good questions to ask, not the normal nonsense. And you knew exactly what you needed to tell them to convince them that you were the candidate for the job. And then you blew it.

You forgot one little thing. Well, not so little a thing. You forgot the most important thing of all. You forgot to listen.

Most – no, that may not be fair. Allow me to start again.

Far too many employers talk to much. They are so desperate, literally and figuratively, to fill that empty chair, that they talk too much. They are so frustrated that they have to get the proverbial off their chests. So they talk too much. They tell the candidate, the interviewee, you, what they want to hear. What they need to hear. What they are longing to hear. What they want you (Stop eating!) to regurgitate back to them. And then…you blew it.

What did you do wrong? You were so focused on sharing with them everything that you had learned about them as individuals, and about the company, to prove to them what a great researcher you are and how well you prepare for meetings, that you did not bother to listen. You were waiting for your chance to tell them what you wanted them to hear that you totally missed out on what they wanted to hear.

It happens more often than you think.

I had a career counseling client who came to me, totally frustrated. He was in real estate business development. Sales. And he was good. He was averaging an interview every couple of days. But no offers.

His first mistake was that he was applying for the wrong type of jobs. He was the king of residential sales, but he was only applying for commercial real estate sales positions. Why? Because he wanted new experiences. He wanted new challenges. All very noble, but not what the interviewers, the employers, wanted. They wanted commercial and he only had a little commercial experience.

After they lectured him for five or 10 minutes on their commercial real estate problems, they simply asked, “How can you help us?” And what did he do?

At that point he took a deep breath, smiled, and lectured them for five or 10 minutes on his residential sales experience. They were not interested. Interview over.

What should he have done?

He should have spoken about the commercial real estate experience he had. Even though it was slight, he had some. And here’s another mistake he made: He forgot that they knew that. After all, he had not lied on his resume. They knew he was heavy on residential and light on commercial sales. Yet, there he was, virtually sitting across from them on the Zoom call.

He should have talked commercial and then added, “This is analogous, of course, to my residential sales experience. We had the same problems that you described. This is how I overcame them.”

By presenting, if you will, the painting of his residential sales career in a commercial sales frame, they would have listened. And, after a few mock sessions with me, that’s what he did, with positive results.

Put differently, he spoke to the gap, in fact the gaps (plural): The gap between what the interviewers needed and what he had to offer, and the gap between what he had to offer (great residential sales experience) and what they wanted to hear (commercial).

Just as in the London Tube the signs read, “Mind the Gap,” in an interview you should “Speak to the Gap,” the difference between the interviewers’ needs and what they have, and what you have to offer. Otherwise, you’ll fall in the crack! Granted, it’s a less deadly gap, but still, you don’t want to trap yourself.