Who Really Has the Power at Interview Time?

One of the worst things about interviews is the awful feeling that the person on the other side of the desk has all the power. They have the job you want and they decide who gets it. It feels like they hold all the cards and they have all the control, doesn't it?

I used to feel exactly the same way--so I went to interviews always feeling like I had my cap in my hand, feeling like a little kid at exam time. Not any more, I don't--and here's why:

Let's take a look at what you lose if you don't get the job.

  • the job--except you didn't lose it. You didn't have it to start with--and you still don't. Net loss = zero and some time. It isn't like you had the job and it got taken away, is it? Nope...it's just that you still don't have what you didn't have in the first place. You are every bit as well off as you were before you went for the interview. (Okay--minus a little self-esteem because of the rejection...but on the other hand, if the interviewer wasn't smart enough to hire you...)
  • Now, let's look at the poor interviewer's situation:

  • if he/she makes the wrong decision they lose someone's high opinion of how well they do their job.
  • if he/she makes the wrong decision the company stands to lose income--a bad employee can cost a business thousands--or more. And the interviewer knows it.
  • if he/she makes the wrong decision they have to repeat the whole hiring process again (and they may have lost the opportunity to hire the next choice--a person who might have been perfect).
  • until the correct hiring decision is made, the company keeps the problem they are hiring someone to solve (if there was no problem, they wouldn't be hiring someone).
  • until the correct hiring decision is made, the interviewer is stuck with the task of trying to find the right person.
  • until the correct hiring decision is made, the company is stuck with the expense (in time and money) of advertising the position.
  • Bottom line?:
  • The interviewer has a lot more to lose than you do.
  • The interviewer hopes (more than you might ever know) that the next person that walks through their door is the answer to their problems.
  • What does this mean--for you?:

  • It means: figure out what problem(s) the interviewer is trying to solve and you are halfway to getting the job.
  • it means: show the interviewer that you can solve their problem(s)--and you will very likely get the job.
  • Understanding the above dynamics gives you a decided edge in the interview game. It means you can approach the interview with a specific task and goal in mind--and working towards that gives you control.

    It's very likely that up until now, you've always thought that the purpose of the interview was so the interviewer could find out about you. Now, you should realize that it is at least equally important that you find out about them and their problems. How do you do this?

  • Ask. Make sure that you ask the interviewer why they are trying to fill this position. For instance, ask specifically if this is a new position or if they are filling an old position.
    If it's a new position, ask what they see for the position in one years time, two years time--and what--specifically--are the goals they have for the person they hire and how do those goals fit the company's overall goals.

    If it's an old position, ask--specifically--what did the old employee do very well, and what could have been improved.

    Ask if there are any problems regarding this position, or the with company as a whole, that you could help solve--or overall company goals that you could help them reach. And ask how.

    Note: If you've researched (and you should have), this is also the time to show it. You might say something like "I know that your company is becoming much more active in the such-and-such sector of the market. How could I help you reach your goals there?", or "Your competitor, Company Z, has just done (whatever and where). Does this position fit into your response, and--if so--how?" (see The Secret Weapon).

    Note: When the interviewer starts to answer these questions...shut up until they finish, then pause before continuing. Listen actively...nodding when the interviewer makes a point and occasionally--if it's appropriate--getting them to elaborate, maybe by simply saying "go on...". Listen, listen. listen. Take notes (see The Secret Weapon).

    Now...once you are sure you understand what problems they are dealing with and trying to solve, you are in a perfect position to:

  • show how your presently held skills and past experience can help them. Be specific but don't oversell. Keep your points simple and on topic, as in "You mentioned Problem X. My experience with Company B gave me the opportunity to...(you get the idea).
  • Ask specifically what you could do--once hired--to gain additional knowledge and information so that you could do the job even better.
  • Most of your competitors for the position simply will not take this approach. They'll be handling the interview the way you used to--and the interviewer will notice the difference, believe me.

    Now the interviewer has another problem :-)

    They won't want you to go to a competitor.

    Even if they decide you aren't perfect for this job, it's an even bet they'll think of you for something in the future. Why?

  • Because you will have established that you see your role as that of a problem-solver, a person who will work actively and intelligently towards getting important things done.
  • So follow up even if you don't get the position. Make sure you thank them--soon--for the opportunity to meet with them, and keep on keeping in touch. The chances are excellent that as soon as they have something that even remotely suits you, they'll want to get back in touch with you. Make it easy.

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    Copyright where applicable -- Sept. 10/1998 -- Datadigr