Any employer will want to understand how you meet his or her needs before taking yours into consideration. When you keep this in mind, you will understand that the fastest way to find a job is to find the employer who thinks you represent the answer to his or her problem. To paraphrase President Kennedy's famous inaugural dictum: Ask not what an employer can do for you … ask what you can do for an employer.
When you winnow down all the possible jobs that you might apply for into the jobs for which you're most suited for to attain success, you will have the time and energy necessary to make each application, interaction and interview count. Rather than taking an unfocused shotgun approach, you will be able to psych out what employers are looking for … and give it to them with a customized cover letter, resume and phone-screening interview all leading up to the main event: the in-person job interview.
There is no end to articles and books written to tell interviewers how to do their jobs, and job seekers how to gain success. But in well-conducted job interviews, every question has some function relating to finding the person who can meet these two key employer objectives:
1. People who have the right behavior patterns for the job. Different jobs require different kinds of behavior patterns. Some require assertiveness, others require people to passively do whatever they're told. Some jobs are best filled by people with effervescent personalities, while others are better suited to the kind of person who prefers to interact with his or her computer over people, and so on.
As you prepare for your interview, think about what kind of qualities and personality the employer might deem best, and assume that you will encounter some questions that will probe to see if you fit. Come to your interview prepared with stories that demonstrate how you have exhibited these kinds of actions in your current or past roles. You will likely find an opportunity to tell your stories in response to questions that begin with something like: "Tell me about a time when you… [fill in the blank]."
2. People who possess the core competencies required for success. If you take the time to closely read a job description, you can discern the competencies that are associated with a position's requirements. For example, one random job posted recently calls for someone to be a "liaison for…", "gain approval for…", "track success…", "contribute to…", "execute marketing activities…" and "ensure budgets and schedules meet corporate requirements."
Ask yourself what is required to attain success for each of these bullet points. To be a liaison and gain approval for things, one must have solid oral and written communication skills. To track success, you must be detail oriented, and likely have the ability to negotiate spreadsheets. To contribute, someone most likely requires a collegial, team-based approach to work. To keep budgets on track likely requires someone with a head for numbers.
Each job, of course, will have its own stated requirements, and behind each one will lay one or more particular skills. As you prepare for your job interview, figure out how your past performance demonstrates that you possess the skills necessary to fulfill the job's requirements. Be prepared with plenty of examples and stories that can convince any interviewer that you have "the right stuff."
You might think of an interview as something of an interrogation where you hope to get the "right" answers. To be sure, there is likely to be a good deal of this kind of Q-and-A. But skilled interviewers and job hunters will be able to use this as a jumping off point for a larger discussion that can serve to build a relationship.
In the course of this discussion, your interviewer will not only be listening to what you say, he or she will also evaluate how you say it to gauge your communications skills and style. He or she will look to see your level of alertness, how you physically present yourself, and your level of self-confidence. Much will be intuited by interpreting your body language.
If you have done your interview preparation well, you will be able to sit proudly in your chair, look your interviewer in the eyes, and tell your unique stories in an engaging fashion. And when you do, you're most likely to make that final pivot from what you can do for the employer to how the employer can lure you to take the job before you accept any other offer.
Arnie Fertig is the head coach of JOBHUNTERCOACH.COM, where he utilizes his extensive background in HR Staffing and as owner of a recruiting company to help mid-career job-hunters land their next job. Arnie provides one-to-one coaching services to individuals throughout the U.S. in all aspects of the job hunt, including: resume writing, personal branding, utilizing social media, enhancing networking skills, preparing for interviews, and negotiating compensation.