Claire Duffy's blog about public speaking and communication (in real life). Speak well, do well!
I know someone who is waiting to hear if she’s landed the job-of-a-lifetime. She’s been interviewed, and thinks it didn’t go so well. She’s telling herself she messed up. She’s a highly competent woman, internationally renowned, and I find this unlikely. So why does a job interview cast her adrift in a sea of self-doubt?
For most of us an interview feels a bit like doing an exam. We’re being judged. Are we worthy? Our inner 8 year old is crying ‘pick me, pick me-e-e’. The fear of rejection can be profound. And no wonder. A lot hangs on the outcome: identity, status, salary, lifestyle….the stakes are really high. No doubt about it – getting hired is scary.
Like any speaking situation the key to success is preparation. Anxiety subsides when you know what to do. Answering interview questions is easier when you have foreseen them.
Work out in advance what you want to cover. Don’t leave it all up to the interview panel. Work out your key messages for the interview and incorporate them into your answers. If you do this you will feel more in charge, and that helps quieten your inner child, and means you are more likely to convey confidence and expertise.
Start by analysing your audience, the selection panel. Do everything you can to find out about their priorities, concerns, and interests. What is driving their decision? Where are they up to in their process? Put yourself in their position. Your aim is to talk to them about their needs and how you can meet them.
Hiring someone is a bit like making any major purchase – a house or a car, or a new IT system. You shop around, consider alternatives, get advice from others, then choose the one you like best. Then you try to get a good deal, and finally, you tidy up the loose ends, things like the delivery date and after sales service.
A prospective employer is going through the same process. You need to know what stage they’re at when you go in for your interview. Are they already sure of what they want? Are they open to different options? Narrowing the possibilities down? Finalising their preferences? With this understanding you’ll be able to take an approach that fits.
You should utilise the ‘three Cs’: Credibility, Connection, and Content. Long ago Aristotle picked ‘ethos, pathos and logos’ as the pillars of public speaking, and they remain robust and reliable two thousand years later.
Credibility is your professional status. Devise a succinct way of explaining your experience, skills and qualifications. Ensure you have examples of what you’ve done, as track record makes your case compelling. You may also describe the approach you’ll take to the new role.
Connection is the rapport that’s essential to strong communication. Use your personal qualities – warmth, good humour, personal presence, clear voice and good eye contact. Also demonstrate your knowledge and appreciation of them, what they do, what they value, what they want. Be sincere and enthusiastic about this opportunity. There’s no limit to how much praise a person can take.
Content is the informative bit, the facts and the logic of what you say. It relates closely to credibility. Professional communication needs you to make sound points, explain them and support them with evidence and examples that prove the point. If you like acronyms, try PRE: ‘Point, Reason, Example’, to give your answers a structure.
Shaping an answer
When you answer questions, don’t feel like it’s the third degree and you’re being set up. There’s often no ‘right’ answer, you are being invited to explore and explain. It’s alright to take a minute to prepare mentally before you answer. A well structured response can begin with a reflection eg ‘So we’re talking about….’ Or ‘yes that’s a major issue, I understand your interest in it….’ It gives you a minute to think about your PRE response.
A job interview is a sales pitch. So don’t make the mistake of telling them everything there is to tell. You need to cherry-pick. Serve up what’s relevant and meaningful and tasty for them.
A classic structure for persuasive speaking is Monroe’s Motivated Sequence. You can easily adapt its five steps to suit a job interview. Here’s the outline.
1. Attention getter: You need to hook them in. Impress them and establish rapport – you can do whatever is socially appropriate eg a warm greeting, saying something profound or insightful, or expressing your enthusiasm or pleasure and being called to this meeting.
2. Explain the need: Show your knowledge and understanding of their situation. Politely emphasise the problems and challenges they face. You want them to believe that things won’t get better without (your) intervention. ‘I understand you have a problem/need help. Here’s how I see it. It’s pretty significant and there’s damage/harm being done unless you fix it’.
3. Satisfy the need/solve the problem: ‘I have a solution (eg employ me, give me the scholarship etc). My solution is better than anyone else’s because I alone offer ….can do……have experience of …..’
4. Visualise the change: Paint a picture of the new order…‘With me in the role, this is what will happen…. Or, if we don’t implement my solution, this is what will happen’.
5. Action: State the next steps for them to take and what you’ll be able to do immediately in response. ‘If you decide to engage me in the next week, by May we can be…..’.
Incorporating all these elements in your interview makes it powerful, especially if you can do it in the sequence just outlined.
Finally, give them the chance to air their concerns. Ask what’s on their mind. It’s a disarming move but can be decisive. It shows you understand their position, and gives them an opening to raise things they may have been reticent about. Better to have everything on the table than lying hidden and unaddressed. Ask ‘What concerns do you have, now that we’ve spoken about these issues?’ If you’ve planned ahead you’ll be expecting the sorts of things that come up, and it gives you a chance to allay any fears and reassure them.
It may be appropriate to have a ‘leave-behind’, a couple of pages (not more) which show a portfolio of work, or case studies, or past examples of what you have done.