Last week I was talking to a job seeker. She was on her way out of a decade at a big technology company and had already gotten many interviews. In each one, she had made it past the initial human resources screening and gone on to meet with her potential colleagues.
But after all of those meetings, the message she received back was a polite version of 'Have a nice life!'
The next day she was heading into a round of interviews with another company and asked me to give her practice interview questions. My questions: What do you see as our biggest business challenge? Have you ever encountered a similar challenge? How did you tackle it?
She started off well -- highlighting what she saw as the company's biggest challenge -- a well-respected brand that had not been refreshed despite many new competitors that had gone after its customers.
Then she recounted in sequential order the steps she had taken in her previous job to solve a similar problem. After listing the different groups of people she worked with inside and outside the company to reposition her company's product I asked her whether her efforts had helped boost sales.
To that question she got to the point -- her work helped increase sales of the product two to threefold.
I suggested that she change her interview strategy a bit. Instead of answering the 'Why do you think you can help us?' question with a detailed list of process steps, I said that she ought to lead off with the results that she achieved for her employer.
Once they heard about the great results, they would naturally ask her how she did that. And her previous description of the process would then fit well -- especially if described in a way that would make it easy for the interviewers to envision doing that at the company where she was interviewing.
The next day I asked her how the interview went. She said it had gone very well and I asked her why.
I found her answer very satisfying. As she said, every person she interviewed with asked her a version of the question 'What is our biggest problem and how can you help solve it?' And in each interview, she started off describing the same problem with its brand, discussed the results she had achieved with a similar problem at her previous employer, and described what she had done to contribute to those results.
Another thing we had discussed earlier is that a candidate gets hired because interviewers believe that the she will help make their lives easier.
So when her interviewers asked whether she had any questions, she asked -- among others -- 'What are the big challenges in your job?'
They all thought she did very well in the interviews and waved her on to the executive level interviews.
Will she get the job? It is too early to tell -- but I told her that such interviews often hinge on cultural fit. And one way to win on that front is to research the company's values -- investigating the stories that executives tell employees to encourage them to act according to the company's values.
Armed with that insight, a job candidate may be able to tell stories about how she has acted according to those same values.
Sadly there is only so far a person can go to convey cultural fit -- ultimately it is either there or not.
But the takeaway from this story is clear -- when interviewing for a job, you can increase your chances by investigating the problems that company faces, quantifying the results you've achieved in solving a similar problem, and describing how you contributed to those results.