I received a call from a relative who has a face-to-face interview scheduled this week and wanted my advice on how she should prepare for the interview. In this blog, I have posted the advice I gave her which was very simple: Stay on message.
What message should that be?
In my blog titled, “Interview Tip: Job Interview Comes Down To Five Questions” where I discussed questions that really matter when you are interviewing for a job, such as the following:
Do you understand the job?
Can you do the job?
- Are you easy to get along with?
- Are you going to make things easier for your boss?
- Are you creative, innovative and passionate?
Do you want to do this job?
This is the message you want to convey, otherwise you have to ask yourself why are you there in the first place? You are not there to make a friend, though you may make friends if you accept the job offer and work there. You are not there to get a date, though, you may end up dating someone there after you join. However, for the interview, you are there for only one thing: To get a job offer.
People often associate interview with dating as was recently posted in the Wall Street Journal article titled, “More Proof That Hiring and Dating Aren’t So Different.” The article, based on the study done by Kellogg Management Professor Lauren Riviera, states that “professionals involved in hiring placed more emphasis on how comfortable or excited they were about candidates than on applicants’ cognitive or technical skills.”
You have to make sure that you don’t fall into this trap since dating is uncertain. Plus, you don’t know the rules and you have no control over a dating decision. This is not what you want to encounter when you are looking to get a job offer, so you have to learn to stay on message.
During the interview, you have to lead with the message, stay on the message and end with the same message. The main reason for this is that it allows you to stay focused and have a purpose, as explained by Marc Cendella, Founder and CEO of Ladders.com, in his post, “How Do Others Ace Their Interviews?” He feels that interviewers can learn about staying on message from politicians and public relations spokespeople. I agree with him, if done right through practice. Remember, PR spokespeople and politicians are professionals at staying on message.
Before you answer any question, verify with the interviewer that you understand the job. I would not make an assumption on this. After you do that, provide no more than three reasons on why you can do the job well by pointing things in your background (personal, academic and/or work). Also, show that how you are a good team player, how you will make the boss’s life easier and, lastly, how much you would like to be part of the team.
Stay on the message
Any job related question that is asked, you have to tie it to the main message no matter what question is asked. Note, this is not a test. You are there to secure a job offer so all answers should be about your understanding the job and doing the job and wanting to do the job.
End with the message
When you are about to end the interview by indicating to the interviewer(s) that you understand what’s expected of you of the job, show specific examples you talked about during the interview on how well you can do the job, reiterate what a consummate team player you are, and how you will make things easier for the boss; therefore, you would like get started soon and be part of the team. Be bold, as the famous advice Miles (payed by Curtis Armstrong) gives to Joel (played by Tom Cruise) in this scene from the movie, "Risky Business," which is "if you can't say it, you can't do it." So go do it and get the job offer you want.
The acronym I like to use to stay on message is UCW, which stands for the following:
U -- understand the job
C -- can do the job
W -- want the job
All job related questions should stay on message that you Understand the job, Can do the job and Want the job. At the end, you don’t control whether you will receive a job offer, but you will feel good that you went with a strategy and executed to the strategy. Immediately analyze what worked and what can be improved next time and tweak it accordingly. You must do this otherwise you will repeat the same mistakes..
What to avoid while staying on message?
It is a good idea to have a message and stay on message, but you don’t want to sound foolish by keep repeating a scripted message like you are taking the 5th amendment at a Congressional hearing. If you do that, you will look silly like Ed Miliband, Leader of the British Labour Party, does in this video where he keeps repeating the same scripted answer repeatedly no matter what question was asked. You don't want to do this. In a job interview your objective is not to be evasive but to stay on message with "UCW."
I will use a question that was asked to me by a manager who often gets this question asked how would he handle conflict resolution? I will use this an example of how I would answer this using the UCW.
Before answering the question, you want to first make sure that you and the interviewer have the same understanding of conflict resolution. You want to discern what specifically is the interviewer really interested in trying to find out by asking this question? To make sure that the question is not a checklist question, you should probe deeper by asking some simple questions that will help you understand little better why this question is being asked, notably, is there really a problem that the interviewer is experiencing? What is the context? Once you have a better understanding of why this question is being asked, you can craft an answer using the UCW.
Assuming that you discovered that the interviewer is genuine and is interested in finding about how you would deal with conflict among team members, here is the UCW I would use:
U -- need to show that you understand that the interviewer has a problem with conflict resolution.
C -- need to show that you have a methodology to do mitigate and resolve conflicts.
W -- want to show that, by hiring you, conflict resolution will not be the reason a project will run into trouble.
Now you just have to stay on this message as you answer the question.
I would answer this question by first describing my management style with these three words: tough, fair and kind.
Tough -- You want to convey that we are all working to get the job done in time, under budget, with quality that provides excellent customer experience; if you are not tough you will be eaten by the competitors, so being tough is a hallmark of a good manager. This sets you up as being a no nonsense manager.
Fair -- You want to convey that you will let people know what you expect from them and want to know what they expect from you, stick to it and review it monthly so there are no surprises. This sets you up as a manager who knows how to manage people so the expectations are clear, actionable and approved.
Kind -- You want to convey here that it is people who make things happen and you have to treat people kindly when they have a problem or make mistakes. As a manager you want to create an environment where you know quickly if there are any problems so it can be identified, addressed and resolved fast. If there is a problem you want your reports to bring solutions to problems otherwise you will become the problem solver instead of the facilitator.
Once I described my management style, I would make sure that it is resonating with the interviewer and probe little more with the following three questions:
1. What are the implication of conflict resolution on projects?
2. How is it currently handled?
3. Does the company have a conflict resolution policy?
Note, you have already set this up with your management style, so now you want to emphasize that conflict resolution will not be the reason why a project will be delayed or cancelled. You have to show that you know how to fix this with specific examples from your background.
One more thing to remember is that you want to be positive at all times. The word conflict has all kinds of negative connotations. You have to reframe the word "conflict resolution" to "team building" and "team nurturing." You want to emphasize that problems are unavoidable but an effective manager mitigates problems and when they do occur, can resolve them quickly.
To stay on message requires lot of practice. In the beginning you will feel little awkward, but with practice, you will start sounding natural in the message you want to convey in a professional manner. With this technique, you will be in control of your message and be confident throughout the interview.