Out-Of-The-Box Interviewing

by Dan Silver

You are preparing for an interview with your top company prospect. Wouldn’t it be ideal if the most updated intelligence on their needs and issues were available? Not the generic, bland requirements listed in the job description, but the salient, pressing issues your potential boss is facing right now?

The following approach will demonstrate how to gather the best intelligence before that first interview so that you can distinguish yourself from your competition, and win the job.

Paradigm Shift
Out of habit, most have confused the idea of interviewing with taking a test. When the call arrives from a company requesting an interview, our immediate reaction is to behave like high school students preparing for an exam. We cannot ask what the test questions are because that’s cheating! So off to the Internet we go to study. Note: Researching the company and industry is important, but do not confuse online research with understanding the core needs of the position.

The reality is that job interviews are not exams and you are not a student. A more accurate metaphor is that you are a consultant conducting due-diligence and the interviewer – Mr. Boss - is a potential client. What consultant enters a client presentation meeting – which is what the interview really is – without understanding the client’s most pressing issues? A competent consultant conducts an analysis of the customer’s core issues prior to presenting why he is best qualified to solve them. As obvious as this seems, the interview is not set up this way, but it can be.

You have the power to gain valuable information before you get to the interview. Here’s how it works.

“Hello Mr. Smith, (that’s you), I’m calling from ABC Company. We have your resume and Mr. Boss would like to schedule an interview with you…”

“Terrific.” Make an appointment that gives you at least 3 days to prepare.

But before ADMIN hangs up:

“Before we finish up, it occurs to me that I have a bit of a dilemma….


“I’m very much looking forward to my meeting with Mr. Boss next week, and at some point in our discussion he is likely to ask me a very important question, which is “what can I do for your company” in regards to Mr. Boss’s specific needs. Appreciating that Mr. Boss is a busy executive, I would like to maximize his time as much as possible in our meeting. In order to answer this question intelligently, I’d like to have a better understanding of what his core needs are, so that I can properly prepare, and he can get the most out of the meeting. And in order to do this, I would like to ask him. Could you put me through? I’d like to briefly speak with Mr. Boss.”

Objection #1 – ADMIN
“I’m not sure how comfortable Mr. Boss would be speaking with you before the interview – I don’t know that anyone has made such a request before…”

“Oh, of course – I understand that this must seem like an unusual request.
(Agree with her - do not argue.) The reason I ask, however, is that I view myself as essentially a consultant, a solution provider– and Mr. Boss as a potential client. As you can imagine, no consultant walks in to a client presentation meeting without having a pretty sharp understanding of what the client needs are, because otherwise he’s is wasting the client’s time. My goal is to maximize Mr. Boss’s time as much as possible. So I can assure you that I will be brief with him by phone and I think Mr. Boss will appreciate my directness.”

Objection #2 – ADMIN (and much tougher):
“Mr. Smith, didn’t you answer our job posting on Monster.com? Don’t you already have a job description? You don’t need to speak with Mr. Boss.”

I appreciate what you’re saying. I do have the job description and it’s a good one, but having been involved in the hiring process in previous companies, it’s been my experience that decision makers rarely write the actual job posting. Because of this, the unique characteristics that define the position for Mr. Boss, the skill sets that are most important to him, are often left out. So, ironically it’s what’s not in the job posting that could be the most important aspect of the position. And that’s what I would like to prepare for, to maximize Mr. Boss’s time. So, I can assure you I will be very brief, and I think that Mr. Boss will appreciate my directness.

Objection #3 – ADMIN (The most likely objection and the easiest to overcome).
“Ok, but Mr. Boss is not available right now. He’s away from his desk, in a meeting, traveling, etc.”

“Terrific, since we’re not scheduled to meet until Thursday, when would be the best time to reach him for just a few minutes? Before 9:00 AM or after 5:00 PM?

Why these responses work:
Remember, you did not cold call Mr. Boss. His secretary called you, representing a completely different dynamic. You are one of the few people out of hundreds that Mr. Boss would like to meet. In this initial phone call, you are important and possess leverage. The Administrative Assistant’s job is to make this meeting happen. She is likely to acquiesce to your unusual request if your voice is patient, kind, and your responses are consistent with the above.

Back to our scenario... The admin assistant has advised that you can reach Mr. Boss at 8:00 AM the following morning. Following the call, she sent a note to Mr. Boss informing him of your request. If he does not want to speak with you, he will simply not answer the phone and wait for the interview. This is key. If your fear is that he will not like this idea, then the very fact that he answers the phone eliminates this possibility. If he answers, he’s intrigued.

“My name is Mr. Smith and you and I are scheduled to meet with you on Thursday, March 12th at 11:00 AM to discuss the position of marketing manager.” (Open with this line to focus his attention.)

“What can I do for you?”

“I’m very much looking forward to our meeting next week and I think at some point in our conversation you are going to want to know what I can do for you regarding your specific needs. I’d like to maximize your time as much as possible in our meeting. If you could briefly outline the skill sets that you feel are most valuable to succeeding in this role, or the types of initiatives you want the person hired to immediately address – I will put some thought to it – and I think you will get more out of our meeting as a result.”

That’s it. Do not say another word. If there is silence on the other end – let there be silence. He’s thinking about it.

“Ok, I’m looking for someone to market our line of products to new retail markets. We want new markets. I need someone with strong branding, product development, vendor relationship and team leading skills.”

“Thank you very much. I’ll give this some thought and I look forward to seeing you next week.”

Do NOT chat with the boss. You are not doing this to make friends. Just get his needs, thank him, and politely end the conversation. The strength of this approach is the idea itself. Making too much conversation only jeopardizes the premise of maximizing his time.

The Ideal Candidate Pro (IC-Pro™)
Now that you are armed with the boss’s core needs, let’s put together a document that far exceeds the value of your resume. It’s time to prepare your IC-Pro™.

The IC Pro™ consists of a table with two columns. Column 1 is titled “Company Requirements.” Column 2 is titled, “My Background.” Quoting the boss as much as possible, list the company requirements in column one. In column two, provide short examples of how you have successfully dealt with these types of issues in the past.

Before we move forward, consider the following questions: If you were Mr. Boss and someone put you through this experience, would this individual stand out from the crowd? Are expectations higher for this person given that he proactively sought and received information on the position that his competition does not have?

As the candidate who executed this strategy, lets walk into the interview. What do you think Mr. Boss’s first question will be? Pause for a moment to think about it. Over the years my clients have reported the following almost without exception: Mr. Boss opens the interview with: “So, we spoke by phone a few days ago and I gave you some information. What have you come up with?”

Your response: “Thank you very much for the extra time to speak with me. I put this together for you (hand him your IC Pro, which matches up your background to the issues that he had raised). I would be happy to take you through this or, if you like, you can take a look.”

What happened to the typically dreaded first question, “Tell me about yourself?” It’s gone. Mr. Boss did not open with that question because he already had a conversation with you - a surprising one – prior to the interview. That call raised his expectations. He wants to see what you did with the information he gave you. “Tell me about yourself” is out the window – where it belongs. The interview is now running on a different track – the consultant track. Many clients have reported that the entire interview then proceeds with the boss asking questions based on the material presented in the IC-Pro. Mr. Boss is still asking the questions, but you have provided the script, one that matches up your best stuff to his specific needs. The interview has now been elevated to a discussion between a client with a need to fill and a consultant prepared to demonstrate how he has met those needs in the past. Leave test taking for your competition.

Following the interview, your IC-Pro will be passed around to others in the company who have influence over the decision to hire you. While your competition is relying solely upon a resume to impress in their absence, your materials will go much further. Your IC Pro™ connects the dots. And these connections lead you to the job you seek.