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A free E-zine from Communication Excellence Institute, dedicated to improving communication in the professional workplace.

In our last issue, we covered what to do nonverbally to build your credibility in critical job interviews (and today what interviews aren’t critical?). In this issue, we’ll take you through the next step in this series by sharing the best tips we know about organizing your oral presentation of self.

Your Best Job Interview, Verbally Speaking

Vol. 6, No. 2

As we begin, for those of you who may not have read our previous PSSP, “Your Best Job Interview, Nonverbally Speaking”, let’s just quickly review our key philosophy of all job interviewing: No one hires you because it’s good for you. Employers only hire you for what you can do for them. So avoid any phrases like “This is exactly the job I’ve been looking for.” “I need experience in managing IT, which is part of this job. So this position is perfect for building my capabilities.” “This job will be a great stepping-stone for my career.” Ninety five percent of all job applicants use phrases like this. Use them, and you’ll just blend in with the unemployed or unpromoted herd.

Our goal for you is that you stand out uniquely and positively in all your interviewers’ minds.

In pursuit of that goal, let’s start by taking a look at the very beginning of the oral part of your interview. Research has shown that the vast majority of interviewers make up their minds about a candidate within the first 3-1/2 minutes of the interview, and spend the rest of the time justifying their decision to themselves. We’ve already talked about what to do nonverbally during that time to make the best possible impression.

Now here’s the good news. You can control that first 3-1/2 minutes by following a pattern we teach all the clients we prepare for interviews, and their success rate is astonishing!

So with that strategy in mind, here’s what to say.

After the customary greetings and small talk at the beginning, your interviewer is likely to make one of these invitations:

“Tell me a little more about yourself.”
“Let’s start by asking you to walk us through your resume.”
“Why are you interested in this position?”

All these statements or questions serve just one purpose. The interviewer is looking to you to get the interview off the ground. Many interviewers aren’t that good at starting the conversation so this gives you a tremendous advantage.

CAUTION! TRAP AHEAD! Don’t fall for taking the literal interpretation of these statements! Ninety-nine percent of job candidates start talking about themselves and their needs and goals. Remember our philosophy. It’s not about you! What the interviewer wants to hear (but doesn’t realize it) is what you can do for his or her organization.

Now you take charge. What you’ll be doing after thanking the interviewer for his or her time, will make an indelible impression on that person. Here’s how you’ll do it.

Select the top three (yes, just three) needs your research has shown that the hiring organization wants the person in the position to fill. Then think of three personal characteristics, one corresponding to each need, that would make you the ideal candidate to fulfill that need. Finally, think of three incidents or examples in your career that prove that you’d be able to fulfill each need.

The conversation could go something like this:

“Your job announcement stated that you’re looking for someone to contain costs as you open your new branch. I have the strong leadership skills to enlist employees’ creative thinking on how to do that. Let me share an incident with you from my background. A few years ago, a company I worked for was going through a similar challenge in opening a new facility. The organization was historically run pretty much from the top, but I took a chance and approached the CEO and said, ‘It’s been my experience that the people closest to the issue usually have the best perspective and creative thinking. How about if I work with our folks and see what they think?’ Top management agreed to give this a try. I met with key opinion leaders among the employees and gained their trust. We got a lot of new exciting ideas, and ended up saving the company $1.5 million in start-up costs.”

Now let's dissect this example.

  1. The interviewee repeated the need and related a personal characteristic (leadership skill) to address it. Our hero related an incident that happened, first in time, then in place, then with the people involved.
  2. Our heroine cushioned the potentially negative remark about her previous employer (“run pretty much from the top”).
  3. She added words that showed additional positive characteristics (“took a chance,” “gained their trust”).
  4. The interviewee used impactful words to add interest (“strong,” “new exciting ideas,” “creative thinking”).
  5. Our hero avoided negative vocabulary (for example, use “challenge,” never “problem”).
  6. He then used direct dialogue. Instead of saying “I approached the CEO and told her that it had been my experience...,” the interviewee replicated the actual words spoken at the time. In our business, this is called the “Speaker’s Secret.” All professional speakers reproduce dialogue for dramatic effect.
  7. The interviewee constantly referred to facts relevant to the organization’s needs, not to his or hers.
  8. Our heroine ended with a measurable outcome ($1.5 million).

Now you continue with this pattern through the next two needs/personal qualities. But watch your time! You only have 3-1/2 minutes for all this so each story can only last about 45 seconds.

Finally, you wrap up with a closing statement reviewing the needs and the qualities you bring and tell the interviewer that this makes you the ideal candidate for the job (in sales it’s called “closing”!).

This structure has an added advantage. If your interviewer interjects a question, you’ll easily be able to go back to where you left off (ain’t control wonderful?).

One last tip: practice the magic of stressing key words in every sentence you speak. This will hold your interviewer’s attention and will convey your high personal energy.

There it is. A pattern to follow that never sounds like a pattern. Follow it, and you will truly stand out as one in a million!

Yours in good communication,
Neal & Jan Palmer

P.S. In our next issue, we’ll tackle tough interview questions and how to answer them and shine like a star!


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