The All Star Interview

By Scott Westerman
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“Someone receives a promotion, gets an important assignment, makes a major discovery, or moves into the president’s office. An envious person would say that he is lucky; He gets the breaks; they’re always in his favor. In reality, luck or the breaks of life had little or nothing to do with it… Success is not due to a fortuitous concourse of stars at our birth, but to a steady trail of sparks from the grindstone of hard work each day.” – Kenneth Hildebrand

THE ESSENCE: To get the job you want, you must do well in the interview process. Hitting it out of the park is all about preparation.

(This week, we are interviewing a slew of candidates for some key positions on the MSUAA team. I’ll be interested to see how many of these traits are expressed.)


In many ways, a job interview is the ultimate sales presentation. It’s the Broadway stage where you audition your personal brand. How your performance goes will determine whether or not you get a shot at the role.  Here is an amalgam of the preparation and presentations from the top job contenders I’ve interviewed over three decades. It’s a good object lesson on how to win in a crowded field.

Before you show up for the interview:

Research the People – Find out who is on the interview team and study their bios ahead of time. How did they get to where they are in the organization? What are their roles? How will you relate to them when you get the gig? What’s their interest in the interview process? This exercise is especially critical for your potential boss. How do your leadership preferences fit with what you know about her? What was her road to success?

Research the Organization – Patricia Siderius, managing director for BPI group advises, “Go online and research the organization, its business, product and service lines. Check the social media sites to find out about the company’s culture.” ?Do a SWOT (Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities and Threats) analysis of the operation. What do they do well? Who are their competition? What are their vulnerabilities? Try to learn what their current goals and priorities are. How do they measure success? What do you imagine is keeping the leadership up at night? Research recent news stories about the organization. If they are publicly traded, read all their SEC filings and review their quarterly analyst calls. If they are a service organization, see how they rate in customer satisfaction. Talk to their customers. Quietly seek out other employees you may know and get their take on the team.

Digest the data and get advice – How will all you have learned impact your ability to be successful? Where are the opportunities to improve? Who on the team will be your allies? Who might be impediments? Share you analysis with the friends and mentors you trust most. It especially helps if these people have some experience in a similar company or industry.

Envision yourself in the role – What would you tackle first? What do you see as the low-hanging-fruit, the easy wins you can knock off in the early months on the job? How would you conduct yourself in the day to day? What are the two or three big innovations or improvements you could bring to the team? How does this fit into your longer career plan? Tiare Romero, long time Human Resource professional says, “Take some time to reflect and make note of key experiences you’ve had, how you’ve handled situations in the past, career highlights, projects you’re proud of and  challenging situations you’ve overcome. The interviewer will be looking to see how your ‘past behavior predicts future behavior’ so they’ll be looking for specific examples vs generalities and the answer to the ‘how I WOULD handle a situation'” question.

Create a 100 day plan – What will you do on the first 100 days on the job? What tools will you require? How will you measure your success? How often do you expect to interact with your boss? Write this all down in as much detail as you can and then distill it into talking points.

Send information to the team ahead of the interview – If you are lucky enough to be given a head start (like I did for our position) answer all the questions and make the connections between your experience and that of the idea candidate. Email this information to the interview team. The risk is that the team will determine that you’re way off base and cancel your conversation. That’s a good risk, because you don’t want to work anywhere where the team doesn’t think you’ll be successful. The greater likelihood is that your interviewers will appreciate your insights and it will give you at least 20 minutes more to dig into details, without having to go through the initial overview of your credentials.

When you come for the interview:

Dress well – even if the company dress code is biz casual, this is not the time to emulate it. Shine your shoes and wear your best business clothing. Get a haircut.

Get there early – 15 minutes should do the trick. If they happen to be running ahead, that’s more time you may get with the decision makers.

Talk about why the job interests you – Out of the chute, you should show enthusiasm and energy.

Subtly show the team that you’ve done your homework – Referencing what you’ve learned about them as individuals and the company as a whole demonstrates that you cared enough about this opportunity to truly prepare.

Keep it simple – Outline how you’ll fit into the team, share your ideas on how to creatively attack what you perceive as their biggest challenges, describe your leadership style – with examples, and talk about how your most effective bosses interacted with you. Don’t get too wordy. If you can’t say it in a paragraph, re-think your answer until you can.

Listen closely to the questions you are asked – The interviewers will give you clues as to what traits and experience are most important to them. If you’ve done your homework, you’ll have anticipated this and be prepared with good responses.

Bring collateral materials – Show solid examples of your work in the past and demonstrate how your accomplishments are relevant to the objectives of the job at hand. Bring a hard copy of your 100 day plan. Have a folder with this information for every interviewer on the team.

Ask your own questions – My friends over at MediaBistro say, “One of the biggest interview killers is answering ‘No’ when someone asks ‘Do you have any questions?’ Have a few smart questions ready.” The interview is a dialogue. The kind of questions you ask will tell the interviewers as much about you as will the questions they ask you. This is also a great way to show how you will actually work when on the job.

Ask for the order – If, after you’ve gone through the interview, you are just as excited about the opportunity as you were when you walked in the door, ALWAYS, ALWAYS ask for the job. Here’s one way to say it. “Now that I’ve had a chance to talk with you about this opportunity, I’m more excited than ever. I’m feeling like this is a great fit. I think I can add some real value and will have fun moving us forward. I’m your candidate and look forward joining the team.”

After the interview:

Within an hour, send email thank you notes to each interviewer. Use these notes as a way to reiterate your strengths and your interest in the gig. It helps if you can personalize it by touching on something that is particularly important to that specific person.

Within a day, mail a handwritten thank-you note. If the company’s gift acceptance policy permits it, I  always add an inspiring book as a gift  in the thank-you package, customized for the recipient. Nobody does this and it can be very powerful.

How to be professionally persistent deserves a post of it’s own. The key is to keep in touch until you are hired or blown off.

What to do if you don’t get the job:

When the call comes, listen closely to what they tell you. If the interviewer calls you personally, that is a sign of real class. Don’t be afraid to ask questions about how you might better prepare for the next time around. Be magnanimous and exhibit true gratitude for the time. And if the company is a place you still really want to work, keep the interviewer contact info in your address book. Periodically send them articles or links that you think might be helpful to them. Often times, this will open other doors that you may not know existed.

And remember that practice makes perfect. Each time you get the chance to interview, you’ll build your skill and confidence in your preparation and performance.

These are some of the traits that will put you at the top of those considered for the best opportunities. Most importantly, it will clarify for you whether or not this opportunity is something you will enjoy.

And that’s what it’s really all about!

Additional Resources:
How to prepare for a job interview – University of Delaware
How to prepare for the job interview – Wiki How
Job interview tips – US Bureau of Labor Statistics