Tag Archives: interviews

On authenticity

I’ve conducted 26 interviews over the past two weeks and helped three of my sales colleagues on major presentations to prospects.  And one theme that emerged was an overall lack of authenticity.

Our authentic selves are so much more powerful than the packaged ones that we force ourselves to wear prior to that big job interview or sales presentation.  But why don’t more people use this powerful tool?  Fear.

When we are more focused on getting the job or six-figure deal, we will often compromise on what’s important to us, shield the audience from who we really are, or give the audience what we think they want to hear.  This is dangerous.  It’s also an entirely reasonable feeling to have. We’re afraid that if we reveal our authentic selves, they won’t like us or we’ll lose the deal.  But what is often lost in these headgames we all play with ourselves is that we wouldn’t even want that job or sale if they didn’t respect us for who we are.  

I love this quote (PDF) from Helen Keller that I originally found via Sam Parker at Just Sell:  

“Avoiding danger is no safer in the long run than outright exposure. The fearful are caught as often as the bold.”

The candidates that stuck out to me and the presentations that resonated with me overcame that fear.  They were authentic.  They were real.  They were, at times, bold.  

One candidate commented on his beautiful wife in his cover letter.  I’m sure that the career services office at his alma mater would be horrified.  And truthfully, I might have been horrified too if it hadn’t been pertinent to him telling his story about why he ended up in Raleigh and why he was interested in working for us and also consistent with his actions and stories during the interview.  

And as a colleague of mine practiced a sales presentation last week, he conveyed the key concepts, but it didn’t resonate with the audience.  Why?  It wasn’t in his own voice.  He hadn’t made it his own yet.  He tweaked it by weaving a personal anecdote about how the blisters his cheap hiking boots gave him will ensure he buys quality boots going forward.      

Both the candidate and my colleague realized the following benefits of authenticity:

  • It forces you to clarify your thoughts.  It’s easy to just parrot back ideas that we read from other places or get from our colleagues.  It’s a lot harder to go through the mental jujitsu necessary to clarify why it matters to you.  But without that clarification, you haven’t shown us who you really are.

  • Your argument will resonate more.  When the presenter or interviewee drops the veneer of “what you’re supposed to say,” the audience automatically starts paying attention.  There’s probably complex psychological and biological reasons for this, but the result is your audience leans in and really opens up their ears.  

  • You stand out.  This is different from how your argument resonates.  How your argument resonates is infinitely more important than standing out.  But there is some value to theatre.  And whether it’s a job interview or a sales presentation, it helps to be remembered.  Think of it as a backstop.  Even if your audience doesn’t remember your whole argument, they may remember enough to re-engage with you or your materials.  

And while interviews are inherently personal affairs where one is expected to talk about oneself, I’m sure some sales manager may be saying “selling is not about me or my sales rep, it’s about the product.”  Being authentic doesn’t mean you have to talk about yourself, but only that you’ve thought enough about the product to frame it as more than just corporate marketing speak or a bland set of product features.  

How can you inject some authenticity into your day today?

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How to bomb an interview before you’ve started

I’ve been working with several Master of Management Studies students from Duke University’s Fuqua School of Business to help them prepare for the job search process.  Most of the students in this one-year program have recently graduated from college and have little to no work experience.

Thus, these students have little experience interviewing for jobs.  That’s where alumni like me come in.  I conduct informational and mock interviews to help students prep for the job search process.

I’ve noticed one area where all these students fall short: they don’t spend enough time strategizing their responses to common questions.  I recommend that they determine the main questions that may be asked and map out the answers–on paper–ahead of time.

This strategy will:

  • give you confidence, because you’ve seen the question before.  It’s not necessary that you give the same answers word for word during your interview, but this preparation will guarantee that you have a thoughtful answer.
  • ensure your answers include tried-and-true STAR stories.  STAR (Situation, Task, Action, Result) stories give your answer structure and show the impact that you had.  These stories also provide much-needed color to the interview, helping an interviewer remember you.
  • allow you to start the interview with a strong answer to“Walk me through your resume.”  A good response to this type of question will weave a coherent story from where you’ve been to where you are to where you want to go.  Details are less important than how you are able to connect those elements together into a coherent and believable structure.

While this preparation won’t help you catch verbal tics and weak phrases like “I think,” it will make your interview answers much stronger.  What do you think?

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