Marketable or Makeover (Part Four): The Perils of Inadequate Preparation

We often hear the fateful phrase from executives, “Just get me in the door and let me talk to decision-makers.” Many self-confident types simply believe in their powers of persuasion. However, an employment interview is not a business presentation. It is typically a very specific opportunity to fail.

In fact, most executives do not really grasp the purpose of such an interview at all. They think of it as an opportunity to showcase all that they have done as well as their winning personalities. Often such overt overconfidence reaps a sad harvest of rejection.

Alternatively, some candidates are so desperate to land a job that they let this urgency show and repel their interviewers in the process.

Ideally, one needs preparation, both substantively and emotionally, for an important interview:

Factual Preparation

  1. Strive for a reasonable understanding of the industry, the players, the competitive circumstances—this is all useful, but over-preparation can also lead to disaster as we reveal in The Botched Interview. Besides, the interviewer can hardly expect you to know everything about their company already.
  2. Display curiosity and prepare good questions for the interviewer that reveal your true interest level and benefit your understanding. Remember, the real purpose of the interview, or at least the first half of the discussion, is to collect information.
  3. This means also asking intelligent follow-up questions when the interviewer provides information. Both to give yourself time to think and to communicate genuine interest, consider asking, “Could you expand on that point?” or perhaps, “Very interesting, can you share more background on that subject?” Questions like this can lead to a real discussion as opposed to a one-sided interrogation.
  4. Be prepared to address the gaps in your resume and/or experience and to justify the transferability of your skills and experience to the role under discussion. Simply saying, “I’m a quick study” will probably not aid your cause as well as being able to lay out how your background is highly relevant in a simple and straightforward manner.

Emotional Preparation

  1. As in poker, ideally you should never play a game you are not prepared to lose. In other words, approach the interview with the mental posture of, “Well, let’s see whether this is really a good fit or not.”
  2. However, candor is also extremely valuable in such an exchange, as is a degree of humility. After all, who really wants to hire an arrogant snob? Try to relax and be who you are. Only then will you know whether the position is potentially a good fit or not.
  3. Keep your eyes open. The interviewer is (probably) human, too, and will provide clues via eye contact, facial expression, and body language both as to what is truly important and how he/she is reacting to what you are saying.
  4. Read the room. Some experts suggest “mirroring” the interviewer. In a general sense, this may be valuable to the extent of being more or less formal, for example, that can be appropriate. But more important is to be you.
  5. Counterintuitively, you may not actually want this position as much as you want a choice. In other words, always attempt to have two (or more) irons in the fire so that when it comes down to negotiating a package you have the leverage to walk away if need be.

Speaking of negotiation, many candidates are so relieved to have received an offer that they accept the first draft without question.

This is unfortunate, because, in our more than three decades worth of experience, we can almost always add $10,000, $20,000, $30,000 or more in compensation, benefits, equity, education, services, sign-on bonus, etc. In fact, there are more than 100 potential compensation items we routinely review in preparing our clients to negotiate an offer. You can get a flavor of these by reviewing The Results Don’t Lie: It’s the ROI.

Here’s how one landed client experienced the Interview and Offer Negotiation stage of his career change journey:

“When the recruiter asked me to explain why I’d been unemployed for so long, a streak of boldness came out of me, thanks to [The Barrett Group] TBG. I told her, ‘Everyone is looking for a normal, status quo, person. That’s not me. I’m the one who will take the brand to the next level. If your company launches rockets with your satellites on them and they crash, can your other candidates handle that? If you are looking for a truly innovative communicator, I am the guy you want.’ It’s because of Clarity that I could say that,” said Paul.

Paul knew he was taking a big risk to respond that way, but he didn’t want to waste anyone’s time. And it paid off. Over the next week, with the help of career consultant, Jerry Fronczak, he participated in multiple rounds of interviews, culminating with several members of the C-suite.

“I was meeting with all these very visionary people – who all had a different view of what they wanted from the new communications director. Jerry helped me think deeply about my broader conversational architecture for those discussions.”

When the initial offer came in much lower than Paul had hoped, Jerry helped Paul outline how to negotiate a compensation that better reflected the value that Paul felt he brought to the table. The final offer was more than 30% higher than the original. [Paul Cabellon – Director of External Communications, Read more.]

None of this is easy or natural for most executives, regardless of how experienced they may be in their fields.

Having a skilled and focused team of career-change professionals to support you as you interview and negotiate your offer(s) is probably the most effective preparation anyone could ask for.

Why would you approach something as important as your next career step inadequately prepared? Take the logical step. Call the Barrett Group.

Peter Irish, CEO
The Barrett Group

Read next: Marketable or Makeover (Part three): Perceiving the Invisible Market for Executives

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