Monday, January 19, 2009

Pitching Yourself

If you enter the words (job interviews) in Amazon you get 30,570 results starting with Winning Job Interviews and Acing the Interview. I don't intend to compete with all that information and the thousands of other sources on the subject. You can surf as well as I can.

I will offer a few practical tips here to help you prepare for the onslaught of job interviews you will face between now and your next role. These tips are based solely on my common sense, my 28 years of experience in the business world and my observations as a communication coach to more than 1500 people. For this blog, I will assume that you are looking for a more senior role, but the tips can be useful for any level job.


  • Read Peter Drucker's article "Managing Oneself" - it will help you focus on your strengths and avoid wasting time on converting weaknesses. You can get it as an electronic download at

  • Grab a pad and sit down at the kitchen table. Write a line down the middle. On the left, list your strengths. On the right, list a corresponding real-life example of that strength in action. Keep pushing yourself until you have twenty. Then pare it down to the Top Ten that are relevant to your current job search.

  • Practice relating your examples (out loud to a mirror or tape recorder) until you can say them in your sleep. Don't worry, the act of rehearsal makes you sound unrehearsed and you don't need to memorize word for word. You're learning to tell your story.

  • Repeat the process for your weaknesses. On the left, list the weakness. On the right, how you overcame or managed the weakness. Start with five and pare it down to three or less. Then practice as above.

  • Review your resume. Is it a recitation of function or value? Review it and change it until the person reading it can determine the value you added to each organization and each job.

  • Review the job you are pursuing. Is it a turnaround situation? Is is a build-it-from-scratch situation? Is it a strong-getting-stronger situation? Make sure you match your interview prep to the reality of the business and the company.

  • Do due diligence. Write down the name of everyone you know who ever worked with or for the company you are interviewing with. Call them and interview them about the company. What's the culture? Who succeeds there, and why? Who fails there, and why?

  • Review your wardrobe. Make sure the suit you pick out is one you not only look great in, but you feel great in. Make sure it fits you comfortably. Make sure it fits in with their culture. For women, make sure it frames your face with the right accessories. For men, make sure the tie is tied all the way to the top. For either gender, carry a small cosmetic mirror with you. You can't always hit the restroom before your interview. You always want the advantage of a last minute face check.

  • Get into the interviewer head. Many interviewers play the interview straight up. Some play games. With the games-players, don't play. Unless they make you a Michael Corleone offer, why would you want to work with them anyway? There are enough jerks in the world and life's too short to spend 12 hours a day with one more. In any case, I think that most interviewers have four common sense questions they want answered: a) Do I like you? b) Will you fit in with our team? c) What do you bring that the other candidates don't? 4) Will you make our business better?

Body Language

  • Think tall (whether you are or not) and look them in the eye while shaking hands firmly. Visualize yourself entering the room confidently, as if you were already colleagues. Also, remember to heed the words of a legendary salesman, "people hear what they see". If you look like you belong where you are, maybe they'll ask you to stay.

  • To quote our mothers, Sit Up Straight! They were right. After watching 1500 people on videotape pitching clients and colleagues, I assure you it makes a big difference.

  • Keep a level head - leaning your head to either side is a weak deferential gesture - avoid it. It can make you look uncertain, questioning, or equivocal.

  • Be physically quiet while listening. An occasional nod is OK. Keep eye contact (not always eye to eye - more eye to face). If you're physically quiet, it puts the spotlight on the person speaking and you come off as a much more attentive listener. When they sound like they are finished, pause for a second to make sure they've really finished. Then build a response off something they just said. Be a great listener.

  • Gesture with purpose. Your purpose is to project strength and self-management. If you gesture without purpose, you can appear nervous, jittery or out of control. Tie your gestures to words. Keep them subtle. If they are too big they may seem out of place. Interviews should be conversations, not presentations. You don't need big gestures to make an impact.

  • Avoid nervous tics. If you clasp your hands together you may start 'washing' them if you get nervous or get a tough question. You could also shift around in your seat, play with your tie, hair, wedding ring or other jewelry. You want to look comfortable and composed.

  • Practice, practice, practice. If I'm prepping an executive for a media interview. my goal is to make the practice interview harder than the real one. Similar to mock trial for a law student or a hitter swinging a weighted bat in the on-deck circle in baseball. Pick someone you know who can play a tough S.O.B. interviewer and practice with them.

Vocal Presence

  • Speak slowly. The actor Michael Caine is my godfather of slow speaking. He maintains that powerful people speak slowly because they assume that everyone wants to hear what they have to say, whereas subservient people speak quickly because they think no one wants to hear what they have to say. Slow down - where's the fire?

  • Emphasize key words. There is usually a key word or two in each sentence that you want to hit a bit harder than the others. If you do, it gives you vocal variety. That's what people like to listen to. We hate monotone, but monotone is a by-product of 'monoenergy'. Apply more energy to specific words and it helps the interviewer listen to you.

  • Inject a little passion. The one constant in the business world is passion. Every good leader has it and most good leaders look for it. Speak with your head, heart and gut and sound like a person who loves what they do for a living -whether you have a job or not. It goes back to that cliche in sales - "If you don't sound like you care, why should they?"

There are 10,000 other tips you can get from other sources. Consider this a down payment. Remember, Barack Obama has just endured a year-long string of job interviews. He aced some, screwed up a few and was average in some others.

In the end though, he got the job. You will too!

As I always say,

"If you believe it, you will be it.

If you don't, you won't."

Remember, the first interview you have to ace is the one you have with yourself.

The Global Coach

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