As it turned out, I had a front row seat for an interview regarding a Research/Analyst position at a local venture capital group.
The interviewer was in his mid-to-late 40’s, while the candidate was no more than early 30-something. Both were dressed in shirt and tie, with the interviewer being very professional in his appearance and the candidate…well, that is where the problems began.
The candidate’s dark tie was sticking out from underneath the collar of his white shirt and was very noticeable. Small item you say…Yes, maybe so, but I could tell that the very well dressed interviewer was noticing the “wardrobe malfunction”, and probably thinking to himself, “Would the partners be proud to have this candidate as part of the team or embarrassed?” (This reminded me of a TV commercial I saw a couple/few years back during the Super Bowl in which a spot on the candidate’s shirt garnered more attention from the interviewer than what was being said by that candidate).
During the “get-to-know-you” part of their breakfast meeting, the interviewer asked the candidate, “So, tell me what you’ve been up to lately”. The candidate’s answer contained little to nothing that would have been work-related, but he did spend quite a bit of time telling the interviewer about just moving into a new apartment and how, “This is the best apartment I’ve ever lived in…I am near all of the clubs downtown” (this part of the response was delivered with much excitement, passion and hand gestures).
Then, breakfast being completed, it was “game on” and the interviewer asked, “There are a number of venture capital companies in town…what is it about our leadership team and partners that has you interested in joining our firm?”
OK…the door had been opened for a “This is your opportunity to really impress me” response. And, here was the candidate’s answer:
“I think your partners are really smart guys and what your firm does is exciting.” That was it. The candidate then stopped talking.
WHAT!! That was his best shot as demonstrating his strong/excellent research skills and abilities (remember, this was an interview for a Research/Analyst position)? Apparently so, since the candidate went silent and looked at the interviewer with a, “OK, what’s the next question?” look on his face.
At this point, the look on the interviewer’s face was pretty much priceless – a mixture of being dumbfounded and pain.
The next question was, “Tell me what you know about our firm and what you think differentiates us from other VC (venture capital) groups” (again…the interviewer opened the door for the candidate to clearly demonstrate, “I’m a better choice for this Research job than any of the other candidates, because of my excellent research skills and abilities”).
The candidate, who at this point had both hands on his knees and was speaking in a monotone voice, provided the interviewer with basically the same response given for the previous question. WOW! What happened to all of that passion and excitement you displayed a few minutes earlier when speaking about your new apartment!
The interviewer now had that, “Which of our recruiters wasted my time by scheduling me to meet with this candidate” look on his face. He spoke to the candidate for a few more minutes about how they were looking for a highly-energized person who could speak to demonstrated successes related to research skills. Then, the interviewer ended the meeting. That was it…the candidate had just two opportunities to shine and totally dropped the ball on both. I believe that, had the candidate done his homework on the interviewer, the company and the partners, the interview would have continued for much longer.
But, the candidate’s answers clearly showed that he had done little to no such research. If you know that you are applying for a position that requires a whole lot of research work, wouldn’t you want to demonstrate your passion for this by learning as much as possible about the targeted employer and interviewer? Shouldn’t you know about the company’s culture and if you would be considered a great “fit” for such?
Preparation IS “everything”. Great preparation can certainly do much to lessen the chances that you might embarrass yourself during a job interview, and can also become a key factor that convinces others you are their ideal candidate.
The most successful sales people are those who spend a great deal of time learning everything they can about a prospective client. They use that information to customize their sales approach/pitch. A job seeker is selling to the prospective employer the reason why they are the clear choice among all of the other candidates and best overall fit for the job, team and organization. This is the most important career related sales pitch the candidate will ever make.
Everything you write, say and do and what is written or said about you is part of your sales pitch…the “story” as to why the employer should offer the job to you and no one else.
Great preparation is the result of investing a lot of your time and provides you with the knowledge to make a highly customized, very powerful presentation about YOU, the candidate.
Here are just a few samples of the types of information that are out there for you to find and use to help make your “story” more compelling:
Position Description for the job you desire – This is the road map on how to be perceived as an ideal candidate. Focus on the skills and competencies being sought by the hiring manager, as defined within the job description.
Company Website – In many cases, companies’ websites provide a great look into their culture, direction, vision, client base…etc. If the site includes “About Us”, “Our History”, “Careers” and/or “In the News” tabs, these are basically required reading. Many people I know have found some terrific tidbits of information in news stories or press releases about a targeted employer that became for them that “Ace up the sleeve” during the selection process. Does the company’s site have a “Clients” tab..? If so, determine if you know someone who works at one of their client companies…and would put in a good word for you.
LinkedIn – From strategic recommendations and skills endorsements to using the “Advanced People Search” function to learn about employees already in the group/department you are seeking to join, this is one of the most powerful tools currently out there for job seekers. Learn everything you possibly can about the existing employees and the hiring manager. Not only does this help a candidate to determine if they are a great fit for the company, but it can also provide the type of information that can strengthen that sales pitch (i.e., A candidate finds, by reading press releases, that the company is seeking someone with Merger & Acquisition experience, and discovers – from reviewing the profiles of existing employees – that no one on the team has such…but, THEY do..!)
Job Search Related Websites – such as www.glassdoor.com, or www.salary.com, can provide some great insight into everything from sample interview questions, salary levels by position, feedback from current and former employees, job postings and more. You can also search for topics such as; “ABC Company interview questions” or “Employee forums for XYZ Corporation”…you might be surprised as to the number of results. Disclaimer – as with anything on the Internet…just understand that much of what you find has not been confirmed/verified…but, it is information, which is easily obtainable and for the most part – worth a look.
Financial Analyst Reports on a public company can be very helpful when it comes to trying to determine if you are truly a fit for the company’s culture and current/future needs. These folks write the “good, the bad and the ugly” about a corporation, its management team/style and direction. As mentioned above in the “LinkedIn” tip, such insight might provide a candidate with the information that could help them “seal the deal” with the hiring manager. Just how many candidates do you really think do this type of research and then incorporate it into their cover letter, resume and interview dialog? The answer is – not very many..!
I know what you are thinking, “Hey, Mike, doing all of this stuff you suggest will take a lot of time”. Yes, it will. And, the vast majority of candidates won’t do half of what I’ve suggested here, because they feel sending out dozens of generic resumes will land them a new job and do not wish to make this type of time investment in their search. That is too bad for them and great for those of you who are doing or will do this type of in-depth preparation & research. I do have one question, which I ask of every person with whom I provide job search coaching:
How badly do you want to be re-employed/find another job?
Words cannot adequately answer this question, but your actions will.