Having been working in professional recruitment for more than a decade, I have been preparing all my candidates thoroughly for their job interviews. Over the years, this briefing became more and more sophisticated but I was still looking for the “holy grail”, the number 1 key learning that won’t get forgotten and enables candidates running for jobs but also for professionals managing their career to get it all right.
What is the red thread of both, the Leitmotif or the most important rule for the job interview in one short, crisp and memorable sentence?
Did you see the movie “Zelig”? Woody Allen aka Leonard Zelig takes on the characteristics of the personalities around him, out of his desire to be liked. Depending on the given context, the “chameleon man” turns into a Rabbi, a jazz musician or an obese man.
What is the connection between Zelig and your next job interview?
The Leitmotif of any successful application, interview and career management is focus on things you have in common. In my profession, we call this “matching”. If there are similarities between the job and you, this is a good sign (e.g. you have been working in marketing for the last 10 years and apply for a job as Marketing Director). If there are no such common points, it will not go any further for you (e.g. they only have a job in finance…).
Your value proposition must be meaningful for the person opposite you. It is not only about you, it is also about her. And it only goes any further for you if there is a fit between you and your opposite. How can you establish this fit? You need to talk about things or values you share or in short: about things that bring you closer. Like Leonard Zelig.
Of course, Zelig pushes this idea too far. My recommendation is not to be opportunistic: it is to focus on things that bring you closer, that you have in common. “Things in common” can be as obvious as working in the same industry, having studied at the same university or being in the same business club, charity but it can also be less tangible such as having the same hobbies, supporting the same baseball team or your commitment in charity. It will, however, always be ‘sharing the same values’.
Zelig’s goal (“being liked”) is synonym to “wishing to see each other again/ more often”. And this underlying principle is identical to “making career”: “Your boss wants to see you again” means “you will be invited for a second interview” whereas “Your boss wants to see more often” can stand for “you will get a promotion and work closer with her”.
Key take aways:
- When applying or preparing for an interview, make a list of five common points between you and your contact or company you interview at. Adapt your entire presentation around these five points. Be creative: it is not always what you think. You may for instance say “you work in the industry X, I have been working in Y. Though you might think that these are very different industries, we managed a similar industry change 5 years ago than the one you are facing today. Here is what I did: (describe the situation you found, your input and the results).”
- Don’t forget that this principle also works vice versa: if you don’t like what you see and hear and don’t feel the fit yourself (may this occur in the first interview or during strategic meetings after 7 years with the same company), you should be the one who stops the partnership as it won’t go any further for you from this point onwards anyway.
- Most importantly: be authentic and be true to yourself. And if it is time to disagree, do so. Leonard Zelig pushed a good approach too far – and he did not make career, neither as a dentist, psychiatrist or mafia boss though he tried all these professions…