“It’s not about you, it’s about them.”
If you remember that one phrase throughout your whole job search process, you’ll be ahead of the majority of the other candidates.
I know what you’re thinking: This is supposed to be about me; I am here because this company wants to know what I have to offer. Kind of. But the fact is that the hiring manager really doesn’t care about you (yet).
You’re there because he has a problem (a list of tasks that is so great a whole human being is needed to complete them) and is looking for a solution (a person qualified to complete them). You need to position your value as the answer to that burning need. And to do that, you first need to find out the problem.
If you’ve ever been involved in the sales world, this concept might sound familiar. It might also sound like I’m recommending you sell yourself. Yes, this is a sales concept, but no I’m not suggesting that. Rather, I’m proposing you prepare for your interview with the idea of proving your value in mind.
How does this work in practice?
1. Ask Questions That Let You Show Your Value
It’s OK to ask questions at any point during your conversation—you don’t have to wait until the end. In fact, it actually makes for a smoother conversation if it’s not the hiring manager shooting off questions and you just sitting there responding on autopilot.
Here are a few ideas that’ll give you an opportunity to shine, while emphasizing your keen awareness of the company and the team you’re applying to:
Inquire about the department’s biggest challenge, what gaps the team has, and what the most urgent concern is right now.
Ask about the vision for the company and what must happen for that vision to be realized.
Say: “In the position you’re looking to fill, how do you best see the candidate helping you reach your goals?”
Here’s how that first one might play out:
Interviewer: “Tell me about your experience with project management.”
You: “I have experience in several areas of project management, from being the actual project lead that designs the workflow process to various roles that include content development and subject matter expertise. Could you share with me any project management gaps that exist on your current team and how that contributes to some of your challenges?”
Interviewer: “Well right now we don’t really have anyone who can manage the relationship between the subject matter expert, content developer, and our regulatory team. Our project lead is fantastic at identifying timelines, and task ownership, but something keeps getting lost in translation between team members. We could really use help with our workflow design.”
You: “That’s an important part of any project, and one I’ve dealt with a lot. I’d like to share with you an example of how I was able to take an existing process, identify the weak points that contributed to most of the time delays, and then reconfigure it so that we were ahead of schedule by three weeks.”
This response shows off your value by highlighting your experience, but without any rambling on your part. Because you’ve stopped to qualify which area the team needs the most help with, you’re further demonstrating your value. And this is actually quite similar to what happens in sales. The successful salesperson doesn’t drop a hundred reasons in one minute about why her product is so great. Instead, she asks her customer a few questions to figure out what one or two features will bring the most value.
Next, you’ve asked not only about gaps, but also about a specific problem, which gives you intel as to the need. Having the need identified allows you to offer a targeted example of your experience that applies directly to a problem he’s experiencing. That right there is value-based interviewing, and it’s the stuff offers are made from!
2. How to Drive the Point Home
After asking thoughtful, probing questions, taking notes, and getting a sense of the organization’s needs and giving relevant examples, you should have a pretty clear idea of what the hiring manager’s looking for. Use this to your advantage in your follow-up note. Rather than just sending a form “thank you,” try this: Recall key points of your conversation, including any ideas you generated as to how your value would translate into helping the company achieve goals:
Hi [Name of Hiring Manager],
It was great to meet you, and I enjoyed talking with you today about your goals for this year. It sounds like an exciting time to join the company!
From what we discussed, it seems the areas that you could use help in to achieve those goals are: [the areas discussed here].
I believe my expertise in [area] is a great fit to address your issues, and I hope to have the opportunity to share more of my ideas with you during our next conversation.
This type of letter is completely focused on the interviewer’s challenges and needs, and the ways that your experience can potentially provide a solution. It’s important to note the ratio of the use of second-person pronouns “you/yours” vs. first-person pronouns “I/me/my”—it’s six to three. Place the focus on the hiring manager and not on yourself, which brings me to my third point.
3. Remember: It’s Not About You, It’s About Them
The most successful salesperson knows that if a customer cannot envision himself using a product or service, he won’t make the sale. Similarly, in value-based interviewing you need to make sure the hiring manager has a clear vision of how you’re going to solve problems for him. This is done both through specific questioning and targeted answers that tell stories about who you are, what you’ve accomplished professionally, and what you will continue to do if hired.
So, the next time you are preparing for an interview, take a little extra time to practice inserting questions that get the hiring manager candidly discussing his needs and, in turn, customizing your responses. This will help you avoid going off on tangents or failing to demonstrate how your background and experience can be a part of the solution. Yes, this strategy requires a little bit more thought—but it’ll all be worth it when you land the job.