How to wow an interviewer
Be the one to progress past the interview stage
What is the secret to WOW an Interviewer?
In my experience, only 1 in 5 interviews leads to an offer of employment, so you could say in 4 out of 5 situations the applicant did not create a WOW big enough. Of course, the applicant accepted the interview in the first place because the job sounded like a good opportunity. Hence, this is in the applicant's interest to create that WOW.
So, how do we create a WOW?
Let's start with the fact that most applicants are rejected due to lack of preparation. This is because, on paper, the applicant could potentially do the job. Hence, they have been invited to the interview.
The rejection happens after the interview, so it is most likely the applicant's performance during the interview is the reason for rejection. Occasionally it is skills related, however, skills can be taught so mostly the rejection is due to an unimpressive interview performance.
Many applicants approach an interview the wrong way. That is, the majority of applicants think that because they have been invited to an interview that they are the guest. All they need to do is to attend and answer questions. Like being invited for a party where they just need to show up and see what happens; let the conversation flow and see where it leads.
Their attitude is that they are here to sit back and answer questions; they are the visitor, it is the employer who leads the way. This type of applicant believes that there is not much that they can do to influence the interview anyway.
This is a not an approach I can recommend you to take. Let's just say, by failing to prepare, you are preparing to fail. Hence the focus on preparation.
I recommend you have a pen and a paper to take notes. I have also made a transcript of this video available below, so you can you use this as a point of reference later on.
However, I am certain that while you watch this video, some ideas will pop up. If this is the case, all you need to do is to pause the video, write down your ideas and then continue when ready.
Back to - What is a WOW?
A WOW is the Interviewer saying after the interview "I want this person" and "I am willing to pay a higher price (which is your remuneration) that I thought I was willing to do before I meet this applicant".
That is a WOW.
How do we create a such a WOW ?
Okay - let's assume you have been invited for an interview.
It is more than likely you will receive a calendar invite. Email the interviewer and tell them that you look forward to meeting them. You could also ask if there is any additional preparation they think would be beneficial for the interview.
If the calendar invite is for a couple of days in the future then on the day of the interview, email confirming you will be there (date, time and at the address) and that you look forward to the interview.
This confirms you are a professional and that you will be there. No shows do happen and these are irritating for the interviewer. Your confirmation is already creating a little bit of a WOW.
Let's talk about preparation.
Question number 1 - How much preparation is required and how much time should you spend on it?
Well, that is up to you.
For some applicants, their interview preparation can take 3 days or longer. I know people who do this every time they change jobs. They treat it as preparation for an exam and lock themselves away from everything and focus. They are almost always successful in getting offered the job because they prepare. Their preparation is not complicated, they simply focus on one thing and work hard on it - and I will share this with you.
When we talk about preparation, there is a general rule that 70% of the preparation is a waste of time and 90% of the research will not be used during the interview.
Unfortunately, there is no way to know what part of the preparation is waste of time and which 10% you will use.
However, the 10% used often determine the outcome in a positive direction.
The internet enables us obtain a ton of information that can come in handy during the interview.
50% of interviews start with the question: "Tell us what you know about the company". Try to memorise the big picture with:
• What their key products and/or services are;
• Where they are based;
• The industries they work in;
• How big they are (in terms of revenue, employee size, etc.); and
• Who their main competitors are.
Look up their website and study all the pages. Google is going to be your best friend.
Also, check out their LinkedIn company page, which will list all employees (be aware that people are not always prompt at updating their LinkedIn profile, so just because people are listed doesn't mean they still work there).
You will see how many employees are listed in different states and how many there may be locally. You can see the senior people and get an idea of how many people may be working in different areas (e.g. admin, sales, finance etc.).
You may potentially see different managers, how long do employees stay with the company, and sometimes, the backgrounds of employees, typically past experience and education.
It may also be possible check out the interviewer's background.
If it’s a public listed company then download the Annual Report to check out the board and look at the financial reports.
Additionally, you could check out the company on Facebook and also see if the interviewer has a Facebook page. I can tell you there is a strong probability that the interviewer has already looked you up. So, you should look up the interviewer on Facebook. Their page will show you what they are interested in and this could be good information to have up your sleeve for small talk. Trust me, 95% of all interviews encompass small talk.
Check the company and the interviewer out on Twitter also. Also consider Googling the interviewer, the company's products or services, and their competitors.
Don't forget to cover YouTube. See if they have any channels by searching for videos regarding their products or services. I have a client who sell bollards, and it is amazing what you can learn about bollards on YouTube.
You can watch bollard videos all day, and if you are one of my candidates going for an interview with a client of mine, I would have expected you to have done exactly that.
These suggestions are pretty ordinary stuff and I am sure you can expand on this.
How is the interview going to be played out? First we need to understand the situation.
It is just like going to a party:
• You arrive, park your car, walk from the car to the house, walk up to the front door and ring the bell.
• The door opens, you walk in and say hello to the host and everyone there.
Step by step, you know each phase as it will likely pan out.
Interviews run in similar phases and the key is to identify the goal of each phase.
Parking the car and ensuring that it is close to the interview place, that you can park for more than 1 hour, and that the car park will not be full, etc.
I can't emphasis how important it is to allow enough time should you be late.
For example, you arrive for the interview and there is no parking nearby.
You face a 20 minute walk to get back to the place of the interview. You arrive late and you are hot from rushing.
Obviously a better job could have been done in the parking phase and walking phase.
By breaking down each phase into its step by step components, and identifying the purpose of each phase, you can then plan how to behave in each phase to achieve each outcome and make each phase successful.
Most people can identify the phases up to and after the interview - but not the phases within the interview.
They have a vague idea of how the interview will run but it is really a black box and this is the problem.
How do you prepare for an event if you don't know how it is going pan out?
It is like preparing for a tennis match; you know your opponent will shot a lot of balls at you but you don't know what type so you have to prepare for all types of balls, knowing that you will not face the majority of shots.
Let's open this black box of the interview.
Interviews are a sales process and you are a sales person, whether you like it or not. You are selling a service - your service, your labour - and you are selling it at a price (your salary or remuneration package). So, let's incorporate some sales techniques into the interview.
A sales process encompass 4 phases and it is not complicated.
We are going to translate these 4 phases into an interview strategy.
Before we do this, let's have a second look at you as the sales person. No sales person wings a sales meeting with a customer. Professional sales people plan every question.
Every time the conversation goes off track, the sales person knows how to steer it back.
A sales person guides the conversation towards what they want to talk about and turns the conversation away from what they do not want to focus on.
They manipulate the conversation with the outcome in mind. Each phase is planned to move the conversation towards the end goal.
But - let's start with how a typical interview runs:
• There is small talk between the interviewer and you.
• The interviewer then asks a lot of questions that you answer.
• At the end, the interviewer asks if you have any questions.
• You take out your notepad and ask a few prepared questions.
• Everyone say thank you and the interview is over.
This is terrible.
It is as if the sales person is being interviewed by the customer.
The customer asks all the questions and you, the sales person, passively answers them. At the end the customer asks if you, the sales person, has any questions. The customer then finishes by stating: I will get back to you…
This is not good.
Let's break down the interview in sales terms.
Sales consist of 4 phases as mentioned:
1. Opening or Intro
2. Needs analysis
3. Cover needs
That is it.
Let's start with 'The Opening or the Intro'.
The purpose of this is to build trust and likeability.
No one will hire a person they do not like, neither is anyone is going to hire someone they do not trust.
I often hear clients rejecting a candidate saying: "he can do the job but he will not fit in" or "there is something about her that doesn't feel right" or "yes he can do the job but ...".
I have never hear a client say: "I don’t like him or trust him but he has all the experience we need, so we will hire him". Never have I heard this.
I am certain you have walked out of a shop because you did not like the sales person, even if the product you needed was in stock.
Even if you did buy, you would not come back. In this case, we are talking about a service and you come back to the sales person. Just as when the employer hire the applicant, they need to face the employee every day. It is not going to happen.
However, I have heard clients many times: "We really like her, she seems honest, so we will teach her the rest".
I once had a client in Sydney that I really struggled to find a marketing person for their company. I looked for a long time and the client interviewed many candidates who did not have the skills or personality.
I then met a candidate from a completely different industry with very little marketing experience (basically none), but she had personality. She was likeable and trust worthy, however, based on her CV, she should never have been presented to the client. I contacted the client saying I had a potential candidate. The client interviewed the candidate and hired her.
One year later, after she had learned a lot about marketing, she was promoted.
The intro phase is anything that happens from when you meet the interviewer and walk from the reception area to the interview room. Any small talk is not just chatting to fill out the space.
This small talk is for the interviewer to see, hear and observe to answer the key questions: Do I trust this person? Do I like this person? Do we have the same values?
All you need to focus on is getting along with the interviewer.
Look the interviewer in the eye, be relaxed, and say something pleasant about being there. Here is when you may - and only may - use some of the things you have learned from the Interviewer's Facebook page (for example, lots of golf pictures) and if the moment arise you could say "This would be a great day to be on the golf course…."
This may be a an opportunity to talk about one of the interviewer's interests. You may gain some trust here but remember, it is not the subject that makes you gain trust, it is how you handle the conversation.
Mentioning an interest of the interviewer may start a conversation. Not mentioning it risks losing the opportunity to create trust and likeability.
By knowing that the initial phase is designed for you to introduce yourself with the purpose of gaining trust, you can steer the conversation to focus on this without having to talk about yourself or your background.
Some of the tools you have to gain trust are your presentation, how you speak, your cultural background, and the image your portray, etc.
Good sales people continue to build trust during the entire interview. A popular way to build credibility is by name dropping (for example, Richard Branson said recently… ), industry dropping (for example, looking at plumbing x compared to the electrical y), or position dropping (for example, the CEOs typically looks at...)
These can be powerful tools if you want to demonstrate your knowledge of contemporary events, however, you risk offending, particularly if you are excessive and seen as bragging. People who brag are not well considered by others.
You know exactly when you enter the 2nd phase of 'Needs Analysis'. This is when the small talk stops and the interviewer says something like: "Tell me why you are here."
In sales, the purpose of the needs analysis is to find the customer's pain or what are they unhappy about.
The sales person will ask open ended questions to explore the customer's pain, which they cover in phase 3 'Cover the Need' with the intention of making the customer happy.
Here is the thing with interviews, the interviewer (the customer) runs the show, the interviewer asks all the questions, not the sales person (you).
As the interviewer asks all the questions, you will not have a chance to explore their pain as in most interviews, you are just on the receiving end. Therefore, you are not selling.
Let's compare this to a a tennis match. Your opponent smashes a lot of balls at you (that is, asking you a lot of questions) while you are standing at the baseline trying to fend them off and get the ball back over the net (answer the question the best you can).
The minute you have answered the question (got the ball back over the net), here comes another question, another smash. The interviewer is proactive and you are reactive. The interviewer is driving the game, moving you from one corner to the other.
The balls keeps coming at you as you are being bombarded with questions. The game is only played on your side of the court. This is not a pleasant game
This is a game only you can lose. It is not a great gaming strategy and neither is it a good sales strategy or interview strategy.
Let's break down the interview.
If an interview runs for 45 minutes, you will have 5 minutes for the intro (phase 1 meet and greet) and 5 minutes for the close or outro.
That leave 35 minutes for the main part of the interview or core game time. During these 35 minutes, the interviewer will ask about 15 questions or 2.5 minutes per question/answer.
One part of your strategy should be having fewer question asked. How can you achieve this? You can extend the time each ball is played. How to do this? Extend the conversation rather than just providing yes and no answers. Give longer answers
Another way is to start playing the ball over on the interviewer's side of the court. How can this be done?
Typically the interview runs like this:
• The interviewer asks a question that we answer (for example, "tell me about your last job").
• We answer and there is silence
• Until the interviewer asks the next question that we again answer and silence .
• Then the third question is asked - answered and silence... and so on; you see the picture.
This is like hitting a loose ball over the net to your opponent so he can smash another ball at you.
Instead of silence after you have answered the queston - ask the interviewer a question. You could wrap the question or cussion the question by saying "I don't know if it appropriate or a good time to ask but what do you see as the biggest challenge in this role?"
Now the ball is played on interviewer's side of the net. The interviewer has to react and is not going to say no to you asking a question. By wrapping it with an apology, you are making it a soft ball and non-aggressive.
Despite your 'apology wrapping', the question has been asked and the interviewer is obliged to answer. This means that we can now begin to have a conversation, rather than being bombarded with question after question.
This the first part of your strategy. How many questions can you ask? A rule of thumb is that a maximum of 1/3 of the questions should come from you.
Typically with longer conversations, or longer lobs, there is only room for about 10 questions in total. Therefore, there could be 7 from the interviewer and 3 from you. Not 15 questions from the interviewer.
No one likes the applicant to take control of the interview because you are still a guest.
So, now we have confirmed when you ask questions, how you ask them and how many.
The next part is what questions should you ask?
Let's pause on this for a moment. You can Google "best interview questions" or "the ten best interview questions" etc., however, they are all pretty hopeless.
Let me get you one example: Here are "105 questions to ask an Interviewer".
95% of these questions are pretty useless for a first interview. Stop the video and check them out.
Here are two reasons why are inadequate:
Firstly, do these questions help the Interviewer determine whether or not they should offer the role to you? No, very unlikely.
Secondly, do these question help you to determine if you should proceed to the next round of interviews? No, very unlikely.
If this is unlikely then why ask the question? What is the purpose of any of these questions? In other words, what would be a good answer and what would be a bad answer?
Let me give you two questions from this site:
"Who would be my immediate manager or supervisor in this position?" and
"Can you give me an example of how I would would collaborate with my manager or supervisor?"
Both are not going to help the interviewer assess the candidate's suitability
and both questions are most likely not going to help the candidate making a decision about the role. These questions are not releveant for a first interview and therefore should not be asked.
Secondly, a first interview is to see if there is a good fit to proceed to a 2nd interview. It is very much like a first date - you don't dive into talking about marriage, how many kids do you want, when you want them, or the suburb you want to live in, etc. A first interview is an initial discussion.
Even if you keep googling, you will struggle to find good questions to ask at a first interview.
Remember, there are good questions as well as excellent questions that you can ask, and this is where sales comes into play again.
Remember phase 2 is the needs analysis, which is identifying the customer's pain or in this case, the interviewer's pain.
And phase 3 'Cover the Needs' you fix the pain.
In sales we say: "you lead with the pain and sell with the gain".
Sometime is it easy to spot pain. For example, look at the job advertisement and the job description as both define the purpose of the role. Pain for an employer is where the purpose of the role is not fulfilled.
Another way to spot pain is by looking at the selection criteria as not meeting these will create pain.
Knowing the employer's pain, we can ask the interviewer:
• What is the hardest part of the job? (This is where the interviewer have had pain in the past.)
• What do you see as the 3 biggest challenges in this role? (that will give you 3 areas of pain.)
• What had been the biggest challenge for people previously in this role?
• What could the person previously in the role have done better?
• What are the KPIs for this role? When would you be happy with a performance? Conversely, what performance would make you unhappy?
• What is the biggest consequence if the KPIs for the role are not met?
You see we are talking about pain; a pain that the interviewer want fixed.
You can then relate your previous workplace experience with the same pain points.
Talk about a situation where you experience a similar pain and what you did to overcome it. The interviewer will conclude you have been there before (that is, you have previously faced these types of challenges and overcome them).
Therefore, there is a good chance you can handle them again and the risk of employing you is reduced.
This is like going to a lawyer and tell him about a situation that causes you trouble (pain). As an example - you have got a speeding fine. If the lawyer just says: I am good at fixing speeding fines, I can make this go away, I am an expert at speeding fines - then all he has done is made 3 statements.
I bet you would hesitate to hire him.
What he should have done is told you about similar cases - of speeding fines) he have handled in the past. He should explain some of the problems with these cases - their semilarities to your's, how he overcame them and the successful outcomes.
You would then compare his examples to your situation and make a conclusion as to whether he is likely to fix your problems. So, as a customer it is for you to make conclusions, not the sales person. The sales person is there to provide facts and information for the customer to base their decision upon. This same in an interview - it is the applicants role to provide favourable information to support the application; information that will support the application and allow the interviewer to draw favourable conclusions about the applicant's past experience.
So, the closer the information and past experiences you provide relate to the interviewer's pain, the more favourable the interviewer's conclusion will be toward you.
Therefore, it is important try to ask questions that relate to the interviewer's pain where we have a good story to tell that resulted in a great outcome.
We should not ask an interviewer quistions like:
How many people have held this job in the last two years?
How long does someone typically stay in this job?
What avenues are available within the company directly after this position?
When and how is feedback given to me as an employee?
How will I be trained?
Will I have a mentor?
They do not focus on the interviewer's pain.
Once again, conclusions are for the interviewer to make, not you as the applicant. You cannot say I am good at this because that is a conclusion. Your job is to provide facts - a story about past workplace experiences in relation to this pain and how you overcame it - your achievements. Never say you are good at something in an interview.
So, all you need is to analyse the job, the company and come up with 3 to 4 questions in relation to pain.
You could start with the end in mind... If you are an bookkeeper and your main strenght is
- Cash management
- Endept knowledge of payroll
- Asset management
Then start asking question about how they handle this... leading into have they ever had issues in these areas or could they see problems coming up in these areas... Do they have pain or could they potentially have pain in the future... if so, give them a story how you experience pain in these areas and how to over came this pain.
If they have no pain and do not think they could face pain in an area you are strong in... move to something else quickly... don't continue talking about this as it is not relevant. - You could say "No pain - No gain".
Asking questions in an interview is not a strategy to give you answers.
Rather, questions you ask in an interview are an opportunity for you to demonstrate how you can fix the interviewer's pain.
Let me repeat this. You do not ask questions that are relevant to your needs in an interview.
You only ask questions that are relevant to the interviewers pain and of those, only questions in areas you have had experience and a positive outcome.
I have participated interviews where the play (thinking of our tennis analogy) has been entirely on the interviewer's side of the court.
The conversation was all about the company's pain, challenges and solutions to these challenges.
The CVs was not opened and the applicant did not address any questions about their work history.
I sat in on an interview that lasted for one and a half hours and the applicant was offered the job at the end of the interview without a single question in relation to his CV and past experience.
Sure, this is an unusual case - a case where the interviewer had a lot of pain and I wouldn't recommend that you tried to replicate it. Just ask 3 to 4 questions equally spread over the 35 minutes.
So now you know - If, at the end of the interview, the interviewer asks: "Do you have any questions", then you have blown it.
The good news is that most people can relate some experience they have had in the past, some experience that is relevant to a client's pain. You just need to unlock the pain - by asking
After all, you are sitting in the hot seat because you are, on paper, a close match to what the interviewer is looking for. So, relax.
Okay, let's not to forget phase 4: the Closing or the Outro.
In sales, it is often asking for the sale - but as an applicant don't go there.
The Interviewer will most likely have to interview other people and reflect upon the interview - so asking for a job offer would not be appropriate.
You could ask the interviewer if there might be any any other relevant questions they would like to ask? You could also ask the interviewer what the next steps are from their end.
But, again the closing or the outro is not where the game is played; it is like shaking hands over the net after the tennis game. The game was played in phases 2 and 3 (pain identification and how you can fix this pain). This is the time of a polite exit with a "call to action"; a CTA in sales speak. What is the next step? The answer is to let the interviewer lead on this.
We can talk about how to create urgency. If you ask what is the next step, you could say that you are interested in this role; it sounds really exciting. If you have had positive responses from other interviews, you could say that while you have had some positive responses, you really like this opportunity. You have hinted that there is competition and if they are interested they need to move with some speed... that is all you need to do.
I hope you have found this helpful. The good news is most of your competitors (other candidates you are up against) don't know how to run an interview). So, you are in with a better chance.
Last point: the more WOW you create, the higher the remuneration you can request. So there is a big reward for a couple of days interview preparation.
PS. Don’t forget to email the interviewer after the interview and thank them for their time and the information they shared.
Ace your interview