How NOT to be a Consultant at a Job Interview

On a job interview, interviewers sometimes ask candidates to explain how they would solve a problem that they, the company, are having. They provide them with certain information and sit back and wait.

Now some interviewers are con artists looking for free advice. But others are honestly testing the candidate to see if they know their stuff. So allow me to provide two acceptable answers:

The first is simple and will work if the interview is legit or you are being conned:

I would not presume to tell you how to run your business. I don’t have enough information. But what you shared with me reminds me of the time…

And then you tell them about a real problem you had and a real solution.

The second is a little more complicated and more suited if you think you are being conned, although, an honest interviewer should not be offended:

Your question reminds me of a story I was once told. There was a family business. The founder was still running things. His children and grandchildren wanted to make changes. He thought he knew everything. They thought he was going to lose everything. So, without his knowledge, they brought in a consultant.

The consultant looked around the business and, after an hour, met with the owner. He complimented him on a few things but then pointed out problems and told him how he, the consultant who he had just met five minutes earlier, would fix them. The owner thanked him, politely threw him out of his office, and then handed his children their heads on a plate!

A good consultant, and that is what you are asking me to be, does their research, knows what questions to ask, how to ask the questions, and when to ask the questions. And since I would like to consider myself a good consultant, I really can’t answer your question. But you now know how I would go about finding the answer. That said, if you are interested, I can tell you about a similar situation I had and how I dealt with it.

And you take it from there.

These days, with the difficulties in finding qualified candidates for real positions, I hope that the number of employers faking job openings in the hope of getting free advice has diminished. One can only hope. But candidates still have to be prepared. Consider yourself prepared!

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Job Seekers Avoid These Posts!

Last week a gentleman took advantage of my complimentary 15-minute career counseling session. I guess he liked what I had to say because he felt the need to share with me the following post he saw online last night:

We finalized a resume package for a client on Christmas Eve.

He was anxious to apply for a job he saw here on LinkedIn.

The position was a Vice President of Customer Engagement for a global hospitality company.

He uploaded his resume, wrote a little note about his interest in the role, and signed off to enjoy his holiday.

Less than 24 hours, he got a response.

On Christmas morning.

They wanted to set up an interview for Monday the 27th.

9 AM.

1 zoom call.

The interview lasted 2 hours.

By the end of the day, they arranged to fly him and 2 other candidates to interview in person.

He arrived on Wednesday, interviewed on Thursday and accepted an offer on Friday, New Years Eve.

The offer of $220k (which was denoted in the job posting) was right on the money.

No negotiation.

No bait and switch.

At this point, his head is spinning.

He emails me to tell me it’s the fastest interview to offer he’s ever been involved in.

He asks the HR Director why this is happening so fast…..he’s not complaining, he’s just curious.

She tells him that their company lost many, many, many great candidates in 2021 because their processes were taking too long. On average, 6 weeks.

They were challenged by their boss to make hires within 7 days. 1 week.

She said her team was exhausted, liberated, exhilarated, challenged and inspired by the work they were doing.

But are hoping to expand their time to hire to 2 weeks 😀😀.

This is leadership in action. Setting the bar, meeting the goal and eliminating the noise that paralyzes hiring.

Could you hire within a week?

There are many problems with this type of post. The first is that job seekers read it and ask, “Why him and not me?” Well, assuming for a moment that the story is true, understand that people usually don’t write about their failures. One client got a job offer. How many did not? Don’t let these things depress you. Read them carefully. The flaws are easy to spot. And even if everything is legit, your time will come!

First, this is supposedly a story about a great resume that got someone a job offer. FALSE. The purpose of the resume is to get the candidate the interview, not the offer. So even if it is true that the resume this woman wrote was magnificent, it did not get the candidate the job offer. The candidate got the candidate the job offer because of his negotiating skills. No where does this “resume writer” indicate that she counseled the client on interviewing so she can claim no credit for the offer.

Second, if she did something great to what, I presume, was a mediocre resume, why did she not share that information? Posts on LinkedIn by professionals should be educational. She should have explained what the problems were with the original resume and how she corrected them. She did no such thing. Reading her post one learns nothing about how to improve a resume. This further leads me to believe that this is a work of fiction. If she had something to teach her readers, she would have.

Third, no one is going to be offered a $220,000 job without the employer running a background check and checking references. It usually takes two weeks for a full background check. And given that we are talking New Year’s Eve week, I doubt any background checking company would have been available for a 24- or 48-hour rush job. And what are the odds that three (?) references would have been available to speak to HR about the candidate during that week? The woman does not say that they made a conditional offer of employment, but rather made an offer which was accepted. This also does not ring true to me.

Finally, who calls anyone on Christmas morning to set up a job interview? That’s the very definition of being rude.

To answer the woman’s question, Anyone can hire within a week. But if it is for as six-figure salary, and around Christmas and New Year’s no less, only if they are very sloppy and careless. But then none of that matters since the two things missing, in my opinion, from this woman’s post are, “Once upon a time,” and “They all lived happily ever after.”

Job seekers, when you see something that is too good to be true, it probably is. There are now con artists charging job seekers for materials they claim they, the applicants, need to complete for their applications to be considered, as well as asking them to do projects (write at 30-, 60-, 90-day plan…) without paying them. Never pay an employer anything for considering your application and never do actual work for them without be compensated. There other scams as well, like the guy who contacted me and told me he could get my articles on LinkedIn to go viral. None of his have…

Be careful and don’t take these people seriously. A little research, and a little common sense, will go a long way. They are feeding off of your emotions. They want you to think that if you pay they God knows how much, you too will get a six-figure job. You will be rich! Well, there will be someone getting rich, but it won’t be you.

PLEASE NOTE: I posted the name of the person who posted the post (too many “posts!”) because it was a public post. If it had been private, I would not have done so. I hope she realizes her mistake and removes or edits it. She can invite her client to set the record straight by commenting on her post (which I will not see) or on this article. Nothing would make me happier than to be proven wrong. As some of my readers know, it is now my policy not to respond to comments, but I would like to see a confirmation from her client and, for that matter, the HR department that handled his hiring.

6 Unique Questions to Ask Candidates

A month ago, I wrote an article on diversity. I stand by everything I wrote, but it got me thinking about a different type of diversity rather than just having staff that look, pray, speak, etc., like your clientele and/or community. There should be another type of diversity: thinking. A good team has people who think differently and these questions will help employers identify them:

1) What are you currently reading and why?

You need employees who are multi-dimensional. For example, you ask this question to a candidate for a sales position and they give you the name of the latest sales book. Next they answer the important part of the question, Why? They say that they are reading it to keep current in their field. Great! But then you ask them what was the last book they read not related to sales and they don’t have an example to share with you. Not so great.

When I was a fundraiser, I never read a single book on fundraising. I read books on sales, marketing, promotions, etc., because I wanted a different perspective on fundraising. I wanted to be able to approach my prospects differently from my competition. But I also read books on other topics which leads me to my next question:

2) What are you curious about?

Your staff are going to be interacting with people from different backgrounds. It is important that they be able to relate and interact with them intelligently. I, for example, am no scientist. I don’t pretend to be. But I read a lot about science because it interests me, even if I don’t understand it. A while back I met a woman who was borderline rude when I told her what I did for a living. She had no interest at all. As is required at networking events, I asked her what she did. Turned out she was a scientist. So I said, “Let me ask you a question. There’s something I have read but have never been able to understand. Why is it that in the quantum world a single molecule can be in two places at the same time?” Her entire attitude changed. Now we had a friendly discussion.

I have always believed that asking good questions is more important than having correct answers. Asking questions is a sign of personal courage to admit ignorance and the strength to want to learn. Which leads me to my next question:

3) Do you have a side hustle?

In this case, make certain that the candidate knows that it is not a problem. It won’t be held against them. But you may find what they are doing on the side can help with salary negotiations. If they say they are doing whatever it is that they are doing simply to make ends meet, then you know that if you offer them a good compensation package, they may be happy to give it up. You could ask, What would you need to give up the side hustle? The answer may not be dollars but health insurance, child care, adult care, or some other benefit.

Of course, you could also find out that they have a hidden talent not apparent from their resume. Then you could talk to them about making their side hustle a new revenue stream for your company over which they would be in charge. That would change the entire dynamics of the interview and get them really excited about working for you.

4) What does your current/past company really do?

This question gets to the issue of how the candidate thinks. For example, if I am not mistaken, Michael Dell, of Dell Computers, said he was in the customer service business. Amazon, even before AWS, was described as a tech company. Let me give you some fictional examples:

The Acme door company is in the business of making homeowners feel safe. The Acme window company is in the business of cutting heating and air conditioning bills. “We sell doors” or “We sell windows” is simplistic thinking which you do not want in your company.

5) How do you reach decisions?

Some people need data. Some people rely on experience. Some people talk to others who have been in similar situations. Whatever works! But you have to find out if it really does work for them. So follow up and ask for an example of a success and a failure and what they learned from both. A team with people who reach decisions differently, and who are entrusted with coming up with the decision, usually picks the right one! Having a team of people who reach decisions the same way is almost as bad as having a team of yes-men.

6) How do you learn?

This may be the most important question. Some people learn by reading. Some people learn by watching. Some people learn by listening. Some people learn by doing. This is a great way to find out how much supervision a person needs (confirming it by reference checking!) and whether they will be a good match with your, or their supervisor’s, management style.

The bottom line is, having people who think differently is just as important as any other form of diversity. You ignore this at your own risk.

The One Thing That May Get You the Job Offer

Curiosity may have killed the cat, but it might get you the job offer.

Years ago I attended a lecture at New York University by a former college president. She was having a really bad day. The first thing she said was that women were more philanthropic then men because of biology. (The consensus among the men was that the buffet was impressive so, even though there was probably more nonsense to come, it would be worth the wait. It was!)

The third thing she said (and that’s not a mistake on my part; the second thing will come next), was that human beings are the only animals that show empathy, sympathy for others, and care about family. Every hand went up. There were stories about pets – dogs, cats, even birds. Instead of admitting she was wrong and had to rethink her hypothesis, she dug herself in deeper. (Rule Number One: When you find yourself in a whole, stop digging!) She said that individual stories reflected the prejudices of the pet owners. They saw what they wanted to see. (That did not go over well…) Then someone mentioned elephants and noted he did not have a pet elephant at home. Neither did the woman who spoke about horses. But it was to no avail. Then I remembered I had a copy of National Geographic with me and had read an article on birds sacrificing for the family unit. I raised my hand, stood up and, without being called upon, I said I thought that two short paragraphs from the article would end the discussion. The speaker let me read and then said she wanted to move on. (We, the men, now joined by the women, wanted to move on to the buffet!)

But it was the second thing she said which stayed with me. The speaker informed us that what separates humans from other animals was that we human beings are the only creatures on the planet who are curious. I found that an ironic statement because she obviously was not curious enough to check her facts. (No one responded because of what came next!)

This was the first, and only, time I can remember no one having a question for a speaker at the end of their presentation and everyone standing up and heading for the food as the moderator thanked the speaker. So why did her “curiosity” statement stick with me?

Back then, when I was at NYU, I was a fundraiser. The topic of the presentation was supposed to be “Women and Philanthropy,” an extremely important topic at the time as it was estimated that trillions of dollars were going to be bequeathed to women in the coming years. I, if you will, was curious and wanted some insight into how to approach elderly women, widows, to ask for donations without sounding like a fool, or worse. Needless to say, from that perspective, it was a wasted evening.

But the issue of curiosity always interested me. Why is it that we humans have always looked to the heavens and asked questions about those flickering lights in the sky? Why do we want to know why the sky is blue? Why do we want to know why men have nipples? Why… You get the idea. (And for the record, why do dogs literally stick their noses where they do not belong?) The answer is curiosity.

Perhaps the best question an interviewer can ask a job candidate is, What are you curious about? And if they don’t ask the question, perhaps the best thing a candidate can do, when given the opportunity to tell the interviewer(s) about themselves, is to say, This is what makes me curious.

It does not have to have anything to do with the actual job. In fact, it might be better if it were totally divorced from the job as that will show that the candidate is a “complete” person. I, for example, am curious about how one molecule can be in two places at the same time in the realm of quantum mechanics. I am also curious about why otherwise intelligent people would become engaged without signing a prenuptial agreement.

Of course saying that you are curious about something is not enough. You also have to prove that you have tried to find the answer. For example, the two explanations for my molecular problem that I kind of, sort of, understand, is that it has something to do with gravity or it is a question of timing, when the molecule is observed. But I readily admit I am not intelligent enough to be able to explain either explanation or to know which, if either, is correct. But that’s perfectly alright. Admitting ignorance is a strength, not a weakness, and should help, not harm, a candidate in a job interview. The important thing is the search for the answer.

So my advice, for what it is worth, is to tell potential employers what makes you think. What grabs your attention. What makes you curious. And they may make you a job offer!

Oh, and as for the pre-nup question, it seems the reason is simply the person declining the pre-nup is focused on having a successful divorce, not marriage. (That one I could not Google; I had to ask!)

The 3 Skills That Will Keep You Employed

In his book, Present Future: Business, Science, and the Deep Tech Revolution, Guy Perelmuter writes (p.55), “The use of subjective judgment, emotional intelligence, and adaptability to unexpected situations are emerging as important characteristics for the employees of the future since these are features that are quite uniquely human and will very likely not be replaced by a machine in the foreseeable future.”

This quote is important for two reasons: First, Mr. Perelmuter is correct. Second, this is a great example of why job seekers can better spend their time reading books by legitimate authorities on the future, especially scientists and engineers, than reading “how to” books about getting a job, with the obvious exception of mine!

I have two rules about competitors. First, I never acknowledge anyone as my competitor. The minute I would do so, I would be telling potential clients that they, the competitors, are as good or better than I am. Why would I do that? Why would anyone do that? Second, I never try to build myself up by knocking someone else down. When I am asked about a competitor I always reply, “I don’t know enough about them to comment. All I can do is tell you about myself.”

No one can possibly be offended by that response. And it will work nicely in a job interview. This is especially so given that employers are not going to tell candidates against whom you are competing. That being the case, candidates have to assume that their competitors may have more direct experience than they do or may be younger. The first is faced by some veterans (although many have far more relevant experience than civilians); the second by older workers.

In either case, you never want to say, “I have experiences that no one outside of the military could bring to the table.” Or, just as bad, “I have more experiences than some twenty-something.” After all, you may be insulting the person who is interviewing you.

So ignore the competition. Don’t forget them; just ignore them. The inference will be that you have what the others don’t.

Which brings us back to Mr. Perelmuter. What are “subjective judgement,” “emotional intelligence,” and “adaptability to unexpected situations?”

First, they are all connected, in one way or another, to something I wrote about some time ago namely, on what older workers/candidates should focus in a job interview. My answer was then, and is now, dealing with adversity. In my career I have had to deal with death, criminality, and technological breakdowns, to name but a few. I guarantee I can “beat” you on your example of your worse day on the job. Someone with, let’s say, five years’ experience just can’t do that. They may have one example, but not enough to show that they can handle Perelmuter’s third point, which I will deal with first.

A good interviewee (candidate) politely takes control of the interview. They refocus the conversation to their benefit. Think about what talented politicians do in an interview. They answer questions by refocusing. (I think it was Churchill who said something on the line of, If I don’t like your question, I’ll respond to it; if I like your question, I’ll answer it!) You, the candidate, should do the same. Answer the question you are asked but immediately add a caveat. Say something like, “But what is also important is to prepare for the unknown. We do that all the time. That’s why we have insurance. That’s why we have virus protection on our computers. But, of course, we can always be surprised. No plan is perfect and no protection is fool-proof. Let me give you an example.”

I promise you, a veteran and an older worker will have a much better example than someone who has never served in the military or who has an employment record that can fit nicely on half a sheet of 8.5 x 11 paper.

Which brings me to “emotional intelligence.” I have read a great deal on the subject and, with all due respect to the experts, I still like my one-word definition the best: maturity. People with emotional intelligence do not panic. If you will, they do not get emotional. So, when giving your above example add, “As always, when the unexpected happens, I take a deep breath, and then begin to calmly respond. If I panic, everyone else will panic, and a bad situation will only get worse.”

And that brings us to “subjective judgement.” It’s “subjective” because it is yours. You are judging the situation. If everything works out, you are a hero, if not… Of course, in the example you will give, you will be right. So the emphasis is on “judgement.”

Now that you have explained that you do not panic, that you are mature, you have to tell the interviewer how you reached that decision which proved to be correct. In this case it is important to emphasize two things: First, experience. Briefly recall similar situations you had and what you learned from them. You can even include a failure. Recognizing your failures is a sign of strength, not weakness and, as everyone should know, you can often learn more from failures than from successes. Second, and just as important, make sure to say that you consulted with your team prior to making the decision. Team members want to have their leader agree with them but, more importantly, they want to be heard. Explain to the interviewer that you always explain to your team members why you agree or disagree with their recommendations. By doing so, you gain their support and everyone should implement your decision without bitterness.

Such a strategy in an interview should impress the interviewers and help you to secure the job offer.

Always Provide Clients and Potential Employers with Added Value

Perhaps the most valuable thing a business can provide their customers is added value. Perhaps the best way to retain customers is to provide added value. Perhaps the most effective way to secure a new customer is to provide added value during the negotiations. And the same is true for a job candidate negotiating to get the job offer.

Giving something away for free, especially if it is unexpected, and assuming it has value, shows that you are a true professional, someone who knows their industry and knows their audience.

If you are trying to convince a prospective client that you can increase their sales pipeline, or an employer that you can increase their market share or, more importantly, in both cases, to increase their client/customer retention rate, one excellent way of doing so is to suggest that they share free advice on a regular basis with their customers and clients, just as you are doing with yours. Then, of course, you actually have to do it. You have to practice what you preach.

I’m not talking about newsletters. I’m certain that most newsletters find their way to the SPAM folder. They are a waste of time, money and effort. The recipient won’t want to offend the sender by “unsubscribing,” so they’ll just move the unwanted document to SPAM and the sender will never be the wiser (assuming that it is sent from a dedicated email address). What I’m talking about is a quick message with substantive actionable information that any client or customer will be happy to receive, and prospective employers will be thrilled to hear. First, let’s deal with clients or customers.

WEEK 1: Jane, I hope you are well. I was thinking about you. These days everyone and their brother has a podcast. It’s free publicity and you can add the recording to your website. I came across this website, PodcastGuests.com. It’s free. Why don’t you sign up as a potential guest? You have nothing to lose. Good luck!

WEEK 2: Jane, I trust everything is well. Following up on the message I sent you last week, I discovered a second website which may be of interest to you. Like PodcastGuests.com, it’s a way to get invited to be on podcasts. The site is MatchMaker.FM (and, no, that’s not a typo, it is “.FM”). Hope this is of help. Let me know if you are successful. Have a great week!

WEEK 3: Jane, I hope you are doing well. There’s another website I wanted to share with you. If you sign up as a source on helpareporter.com, every weekday you will receive 3 emails with a list of questions from reporters on every conceivable topic. When questions are asked about your expertise, send a quick reply and you may be quoted by the reporter. Some of the articles appear in national newspapers and some on specialized blogs. In either case, it’s free press and establishes you as an expert. It will get you in front of a larger audience and look great on your website. Have fun!

Three weeks. Three pieces of advice given without being asked.

And if it is a job interview, you can just ask, “What do you use to raise your profile and to help your clients/customers? Do you use or advice them to use PodcastGuests.com, MatchMaker.fm, or helpareporter.com?” If the answer is “Yes,” they will know that you know your stuff. If the answer is, “No,” even better. One of the best ways to get a job offer is by educating the interviewers.

Regardless of whether you are helping clients, trying to close with prospects or get a job, this type of advice costs you nothing but can reap huge rewards.

How to Tell a Job Interviewer What They Should Do

(The quote, “Never tell your mother how to have children!” is an oldie but a goodie. But the source, apparently, is the oldest of them all, “Anonymous.”)

It is common in job interviews for candidates to talk too much. As I have written before, in many cases candidates have talked themselves out of job offers. But it works both ways, interviewers can also talk too much.

This usually occurs when, logically, they want to explain to the candidate the problem they are facing and thus the need for bringing them on board. Again, it’s perfectly logical. And it’s also necessary. But it can also be a trap.

After explaining the situation for a few minutes the interviewer turns to the candidate and asks, “How would you handle this?” or “What would you recommend that we do?”

There are disreputable companies that engage in fake hiring to get free advice from professionals they probably could not afford to actually hire, even as consultants. So they ask the latter question and hope for some good advice they can use. The ironic thing is, more likely than not, they don’t have the intellect, intelligence or resources to implement the suggestions. So let’s focus on the former question, after all, they are both related.

You, the candidate, have been in the company less than half an hour. You did all the research your could on them. You memorized their website. You found articles written about them and their key staff. And now you are being asked, after a few minutes of conversation, for the most part a monologue, how you would solve their biggest problem.

Your response should come in two parts. First, show off your researching skills. Ask pertinent questions based on your research. Make them delve deeper and reveal some of the things they kept hidden. If they were being sincere, this is a great way to show them that you understand what the real issues may be. (As I have said often, knowing the right questions to ask can be far more important than knowing the right answers to give.) If they are insincere, just looking for free help, and refuse to answer, game over! You know they are not looking to hire and, if you have the right morals, values and ethics, you won’t want to work for them. All you have to say is, “This is a complicated subject and without knowing the answers to my questions, I would not hazard to guess.”

Which brings us to the second part of your response. Assuming they are forthcoming, you can now give them the perfect-non-answer-answer. It shows you are intelligent. It shows that you are a person of good character. It shows, most importantly, that you know your stuff.

“While I have read a great deal about your company, and appreciate your candor, I would not presume, after meeting with you for only a few minutes, to offer advice. There are too many unknowns. In fact, since I don’t know what I don’t know I don’t know what to ask.”

You have now set the table for a response that shows you can do the job:

“If I understand correctly, and please correct me if I misunderstood, you…” After you have reworded what they told you, you continue, “Again I would not presume to tell you what to do. But what I can tell you is that I faced a similar situation. At one of my former employers,” you always want to show that you respect confidentiality by not naming names, “our problem was A, B and C. I proposed… The proposal was accepted. I was put in charge of building a team. We implemented a plan that included X, Y and Z. Not only did we solve the problem, we achieved buy-in from everyone and completed the plan on-time and under budget.”

And that is how you answer the question. If the employer is looking for free advice, the information you provided is worthless. They don’t know enough the situation you described and certainly don’t have the team to implement your solution, even if it is relevant for what they are experiencing. If the employer is sincerely looking to hire someone, you just proved that you can do the job for them because you did it for someone else, probably one of their competitors.

The Physics of Getting a Job

F + t + T = J

First, a word of warning: Don’t rely upon me for physics or algebra.

That having been said, if I am not mistaken, I now have to say the following:

Where F is force; t equals time; T is thought; and J is a job or, to be more precise, a job offer.

It seems to me, someone who knows very little about physics and understands even less, that there is a relationship between force, time and thought. I also believe that if you properly combine all three, you may get a job offer. Let me try to explain with the goal of helping you and not making a complete fool out of me!

Let’s start with “F.” Everything we do involves force. When we take a step, we put force on the ground using our feet. When we sit, we put force on the chair using our derrière. When we type, we put force on the keys using our fingers. If the thing with which we are coming into contact can resist with greater force than the force we are expending, nothing bad happens. If, however, we use greater force against an object than that object can withstand, the object will change. Like clay in the hands of a sculptor, it may change for the better. But a sledge hammer meeting a wall…not so good for the wall.

The point is, force is something we do all the time. Constantly. Even in our sleep. Just ask your pillow and mattress! So force is not a negative. Force is a positive we need for our survival. So don’t be afraid of using force for anything. You just have to use it correctly.

I am not suggesting that you be rude, violent or offensive in a job interview. (In a world where pharmaceutical companies, advertising a product on television, have to include a warning not to use their medicine if the person is allergic to the medicine, I thought it wise to include that statement!) What I am saying is that you have to have force behind your views. When asked your opinion, you cannot waver. You need to display confidence. Put differently, you have to have the courage of your convictions. That’s the type of force I am referencing. It is not physical force, but mental force. (Anyone thinking Star Wars and “May the force be with you,” does not get dessert with their next dinner!)

Next comes time. Time is truly the only non-renewable, finite thing we have. And we don’t know how much of it we have. We don’t know when it will end. Yet it is one of the most wasted resources. How much time have you wasted trying to save a relationship which you knew was doomed to end, and end poorly? Think of the mantra: “Hire slow; fire fast!”

But to continue, how much time have you wasted on a project that had little if any chance for success when you could have been working on something you knew you could complete and would be successful? And how much time have you wasted talking and saying nothing? That’s the time with which I am concerned.

I cannot tell you how many employers have told me that candidates have talked themselves out of job offers. They simply talked too much. “I could not get a word in edgewise” is a common refrain.

Just as you can do more with less, you can say more with fewer words. The greatest speech ever written in the United States took less than two minutes to deliver. It is nine sentences in length. At Gettysburg, Lincoln said more in 275 words than most “men,” to quote from the speech, have said in their lifetimes.

In most interviews, you will not even have two minutes to answer a question, so you have to choose your words carefully and then deliver them, in the least amount of time, with the force of a person who believes in what they say.

Which brings us to the capital “T,” thought. You have to think before you speak. You should always do that but it is even more important in a job interview. So, when asked a question, take two-three seconds to come up with an answer. Even if you already know what you want to say because you have prepared well for the interview, take the time. The silence will work in your favor. It will have an impact. (Isn’t “impact” related to “force?”) The interviewers will hopefully say to themselves, “That’s a person who thinks before they speak.” Who would not want an employee with that characteristic?

And with that characteristic, you just might get the job offer.

Overcoming Shyness

Congratulations! You got the interview. Now you have to get the offer. And that comes down to your perspective. It’s all about your attitude. To coin a phrase, It’s attitude, stupid.

You have to be able to see the big picture. What does the employer need? Can you provide it? What does the employer want? Do you have it to give? As with everything else in life, needs are more important than wants. But you have to be able to see the big picture, understand the needs AND appreciate the wants.

This means listening. This means asking the right questions. But it also means taking possession of the room. Showing that you can take charge.

But beware: That will intimidate some people. They will see you as competition. On the other hand, it will make others happy because they don’t like taking or having responsibility. How do you know? Body language. It’s called “reading the room.” You proverbially take out your binoculars and look at the interviewers. Are they smiling, frowning, or not reacting to you. You need the binoculars because some reactions are very slight, very important, but very slight. And you can’t even proverbially (or is it “metaphorically?”) bring a telescope into an interview. Are they moving in their seats to get comfortable because you have made them feel uncomfortable? Are they leaning forward to listen? Or, are they leaning back to contemplate what you are saying? Or, are they leaning back to take a nap because they have already decided against you?

The truth of the matter is, you can never know for certain. As long as you are not rude, lie or make claims which you cannot support, you can only do your best. One person can lean back because you fascinate them, and another can lean back because you bore them. Who knows?

So you can spend all of your time second-guessing yourself, in which case I can almost guarantee that you will not get the job offer, or you can bring with you the secret sauce of successful interviewing. It’s a secret, so don’t tell anyone.

The secret sauce is confidence. It is not over-confidence, which is arrogance. It’s confidence. Pre-COVID, you could establish confidence with a firm handshake. You can’t anymore. So now you have to do it with your body language. You have to look the interviewers straight in the eye (camera). You have to speak with a firm tone of voice, friendly, but firm.

Some people, perhaps many, are shy. They do not enjoy public speaking. For them, a job interview is public speaking. There is a trick I was taught about overcoming shyness. Pick an actor or actress whom you respect. Whose performance resonates with you. In my case it could be a Humphrey Bogart. A Cary Grant. A John Wayne. This does not mean that I touch the corners of my mouth like Bogie. It does not mean that I employ Grant’s voice modulations. And it certainly does not mean that I imitate Wayne’s walk, tone or mannerism. What it means, or actually because I no longer need this tool, what it meant was that I said to myself that I should pretend that Bogart, Grant, Wayne, whomever, was in a movie playing me. And then I would play them playing me. It sounds crazy but it worked.

Don’t Overthink in a Job Interview

Years ago I had a candidate for a senior sales/business development position. While he was a candidate, and not a career counseling client, I naturally gave him some advice. It may have been a mistake.

What are they really asking? That’s a question a lot of career counselors or coaches pose to their clients. They tell them that employers ask one question but really have something else in mind.

For example, What are your strengths? Do they really want to know what you are good at? Don’t they already know from your resume? So what are they really asking? They are trying to figure out whether or not you will stay on the job if offered to you. Will you be bored? Will they be able to utilize all that you have to offer? Or will you feel that you are being underutilized, not being allowed to contribute to your full potential, and leave? All of which are quite true.

Now the reverse question: What are your weaknesses? Yes, they want to know. But they really want to know that you are self-aware and that you do something to overcome your weaknesses. “I have a problem with X. To deal with it I do A, B and C.” They also really want to know if they are going to have to provide you with training to overcome your weakness. All quite true.

But the problem is, sometimes, (I think) to paraphrase Freud, a question is just a question. There is no hidden agenda. But, if your mindset is that there is something sinister behind every question, you may overthink things. That is what happened to my candidate.

Both he and the employer, my client, gave identical reports on what had happened at the interview, so I know this is accurate:

Everything was going fine. The owner of the company was asking questions focused on the job description. The candidate was able to answer each question, giving examples of work he had done. And then it happened. The employer ask a question right out of left field. “What was the last movie you saw?” The candidate’s brain went into overdrive. What does he really want to know? What will he think if he knows I like stupid comedies? What will he think if I admit that my girlfriend dragged me to a “chick flick?” Will he think I am weak? Will he think that I’m the type of person who can be manipulated?

It took him what appeared like a lifetime to respond. According to the employer, it was only about 10 seconds. And he finally said, “I honestly don’t remember,” which could have been a perfectly good answer if it were not for the fact that the employer thought he was lying, which he was. He had been dragged to the “chick flick.”

Of course, it is always best to simply tell the truth. If he had said, “My girlfriend dragged me to this God-awful movie. I don’t remember the name of it and it will be two hours of my life I will never get back,” he probably would have gotten the job. But he lied. And he knew it. The owner of the company knew it. And the candidate, immediately regretting the lie, was thrown for a loop and, from that point on, performed poorly.

The employer’s motive in asking the question was simply to see if the candidate was any good at small talk. He failed that test, miserably.

The moral of this story: Don’t overthink an interviewer’s motivations. And, most importantly, never lie!