I was working with a very accomplished client today. He’s held roles in senior management in several industries. When he describes himself, he presents his versatility as an asset. The problem is that few employers would need his full range of skills.
His challenge is to learn what the employer needs and present himself as the solution to that company’s problem. How can he do this? Listen carefully, and ask questions. I urge clients that I coach for interview preparation to ask these two questions
- What are the top three challenges I’ll face in this position?
- Describe someone who has been successful in this role?
These questions will let you understand what an employer needs and present your skills and experience in a way that fits what the company is looking for. Put the employer first, and it will be more likely that you’ll receive good job offers.
A client called me about a job interview that didn’t go well. The employer asked my client to explain how he would support one of the company’s programs. My client answered in general terms that he knew sounded terrible. What was the problem? He didn’t know what the program was. It’s a new program, and there is no information posted about it online.
What should he have done? Ask a clarifying question. If an employer asks a question that is not clear, it is perfectly acceptable for a job candidate to ask for clarification. My client should have asked, “Can you tell me more about the program?”
In other interviews, clients have been asked questions that involve being overqualified or underqualified. On the surface, these questions make no sense, since such an applicant would not get an interview. In this situation, an applicant should ask, “Why do you say I am overqualified (or underqualified)?” Once that question is clarified, it will be easier to give a good answer and speak to the interviewer’s real concern.
Some clients are afraid to ask such questions. They think it is rude to question the person who is supposed to ask the question. That’s a bad way to think about interviews. A good interview is a conversation and dialogue, not a test with right and wrong answers. In any normal conversation, you would ask for clarification. Do the same thing during a job interview. You can’t answer a question unless you know what it means.