Are you competitive?  Do you like to win?  Does pressure tend to bring out the best in you?

If not, you might be at a significant disadvantage in today’s interviewing process.  Like it or not, when the economy is stagnant and few new jobs are being added, interviewing becomes a zero sum game where winning a job offer essentially requires you to beat out somebody else for an assignment– or quite a few people, potentially.  So when the opportunity presents itself, you’ve got to bring your “A Game” and carry a certain amount of killer instinct into the interview process if you hope to compete effectively.

This being said, I’ve met with a series of folks lately who I don’t feel are demonstrating quite enough “fire in the belly”  to knock an employer’s socks off given the competition level in today’s market.  Sure, they’ve reviewed all the standard interview questions, and rehearsed their responses, but when you look in their eyes they still don’t seem to be playing to win.  They seem to be hoping to skate by with a series of pleasant, thoughtful answers versus showing up loaded for bear with an aggressive strategy in place for knocking off their competition and securing the offer.

What’s that?  Strategy, you say?  Why yes.  When you think about any competitive arena in life, ranging from sports to politics to military conquest, you’ll find that strategy is an essential component of success.  How did Obama rise from anonymity to beat out household names like Hilary Clinton and John McCain for the presidency?  How did the United States amateur hockey team beat the dominant Soviet team in the 1980 “Miracle on Ice” moment?  How did a group of 300 Spartans hold back an army of thousands of Persians in the Battle of Thermopylae?  In each case, victory was dependent on the individual/team/army in question coming up with a game plan that maximized their strengths and minimized their weaknesses relative to those of the competition.

Believe it or not, this is exactly what I counsel serious job hunters to do when preparing for an interview.  It’s not terribly difficult, after all, to size up one’s professional strengths and weaknesses compared to the likely competition they’ll be facing in the modern market.  On the strengths side, one simply has to evaluate the areas in which they’ve shined, consistently, compared to their peers in the field over the years.  Often, this feedback comes in the form of accolades and praise from one’s colleagues, customers, or supervisors over the years.  And on the flip side, in terms of vulnerabilities, most job candidates already realize the areas in which their qualifications don’t quite measure up to other folks in their field, whether this might involve the lack of a certain certification or degree, or perhaps a choppy work history or a lack of experience with a certain important technology.

The point is, strategy has become far more important than tactics in terms of landing job offers.  There are numerous books that have been written about the tactical aspects of interviewing, such as how to answer certain common questions (e.g. “What is your greatest weakness?” or “Why should I hire you?”) and how to prepare a series of well-organized examples to fit a behavioral interview format.  I’ve seen much less material out there emphasizing interviewing strategy in the sense of approaching the entire interview with a game plan on how to get the employer to acknowledge, appreciate, and place significant value on the particular areas where you possess dominant talent — while simultaneously minimizing or marginalizing those areas where your skills likely don’ t measure up to other applicants.

So don’t just memorize a few canned answers to a few tired questions.  Think strategically and figure out what you can say to the interviewer that will shift the agenda in your favor and shape the conversation to play to your strengths, versus having you play defense the entire time around various qualifications where you’re a bit shaky.  Better yet, wrap this concept up in an assertive, almost cocky attitude of “I’m going into this interview to prove to the hiring manager, beyond the shadow of a doubt, that I’m the best person for the job” and you’ll be a force to be reckoned with in terms of your ability to consistently convert interviews into viable offers!