Question: “I keep going on interviews, and they seem to go pretty well, but I don’t have any actual job offers to show for it.  What could I be doing wrong?”

As mentioned in the opening section of the newsletter, the interviewing pace really seems to have picked up lately in the Puget Sound market, with many of our clients generating multiple leads in recent weeks.  This is obviously terrific news, but as a consequence, many people are also suddenly discovering they aren’t quite as prepared as they thought they were to “ace” these opportunities and convert them into viable job offers.  We’ve therefore been spending a lot of time coaching people on how to improve their interviewing effectiveness — and when it comes to management-level candidates, we’ve been hammering one theme quite loudly: “when interviewing, are you playing to win, or simply not to lose?”

Anybody who has been around athletics in any significant sense has certainly heard this same idea expressed on the playing field.  In essence, it suggests that any sports team, even one that is ahead on the scoreboard, is likely to lose the game if they cease playing offense, start coasting, and simply look to ride out the clock by assuming a completely defensive strategy.  In an interview context, I would posit that this advice holds entirely true, as well.  If you go into an interview simply “hoping not to get screened out” you’ll almost always lose out to the more aggressive candidate who “wants to win” and is willing to fight hard to show why they’re the right fit for the role in question.  Passivity and defensiveness don’t sell.  Ever.  And in many cases, if a company interviews a whole slate of candidates and finds that they all express a passive, guarded, ambivalent posture, they’re likely to open the entire process up again and go out in search of new candidates who demonstrate more fire in the belly.

This dynamic becomes even more significant the higher you go up the corporate ladder, where senior executives (as well as many mid-level managers) are expected to express a clear point of view and an aggressive, well-supported perspective concerning how best to achieve success in their function — or in the business world, at large.  Don’t forget, the very reason people are hired in leadership roles in the first place — or to hold roles as functional subject matter experts — is because the company doesn’t think it currently has all of the answers or the proper insights to get the job done.  They’re looking for strong opinions and a confident solution-based mentality in the ideal candidate — and believe it or not, even expressing an unpopular or “wrong” point of view in an interview will usually get you farther than showing up, defensively, and expressing no point of view at all.  At least in the former case, you’ll command their attention and immediately start a productive dialogue about the right/wrong ways to reach the company’s goals.  In the latter case, however, you might as well pull up a chair next to Rodney Dangerfield, because you aren’t going to command a single ounce of respect!

Perhaps the best example I can give of this reality comes from a story my wife told me, a few years ago, about her search for a new basketball coach at the school where she works as Athletic Director.  Upon receiving a half-dozen resumes for the coaching vacancy, she immediately thought she knew who she was going to hire, since one candidate’s resume revealed far more relevant coaching experience than the rest.  Upon interviewing this individual, however, she said he lost the job within the first 60 seconds of the meeting based on his answer to her opening question “why don’t you tell me a bit about your coaching philosophy?”  As opposed to saying that he favored an old-school, disciplined, tough-love approach — or got results through a more empowering, supportive, new age kind of coaching style — he gave the worst answer of all, which was “what do you want it to be?”  And while it may be exaggerating things slightly, my recollection is that my wife said she was virtually nauseated by this response, since the first thing she looks for in a coach is a person who has a winning philosophy, a proven system for success, and clear conviction about how they can will get results when running a sports program.

Long story short, we’d encourage all of our readers out there (especially those, again, of the management persuasion) to approach each interview with an offensive mindset, ready to stand for something, share some compelling personal insights, and enthusiastically express the value they believe they can bring to the organization in question.  Politely answering questions and keeping a low profile is not usually an effective recipe for success, since at the end of the day, few companies settle on hiring the “least offensive”or the “least controversial” candidate.  If you’re going to show up and play, play to win!