For most of my life the point of a job interview has been to get the job offer. That’s what we have all been taught — that you go on a job interview to get the job, no matter what!
All this time we’ve thought we were auditioning for a job, and that the grand prize was to get the job offer by beating out the other candidates.
That’s all changed now. Your goal on a job interview is not to beat everyone else out to get the job, any more than you go on a date to convince the man or woman you’re meeting to fall in love with you.
You’re going on the date to meet someone and see what’s what — that’s all. Maybe the person is exactly right for you.
Maybe they’re so wrong for you that you’ll tell the story of your one and only date for years into the future with tears of laughter running down your face at the memory.
It’s the same way on a job interview. Getting the job offer might be a great thing, or it might be the booby prize. It might be hellish. Your mission on a job interview is to check things out. It’s a recon mission.
You have to ask a lot of questions and pay close attention to everything — especially the body language, attitude and fear level of the people you’re meeting.
Are the people you meet on the job interview laughing and joking with one another? Are they having fun? You can’t afford to take a job in a place where the energy is bad. Believe me, because I have done it and it put me in the hospital.
I hated my job, and that is a bad way to be. No other part of your life can really thrive when your mojo is crushed at work.
You have to evaluate any prospective new employer with care and really get a feel for the culture and the people, especially your direct supervisor. That is the most critical person to observe!
You are going to be asked some standard, brainless job interview questions on almost every job interview. You can answer the traditional interview questions in a way that brands you as just another suck-uppy job seeker and throws you into a pile of applicants that the hiring manager can choose among later.
If you make no particular impression at the interview, pretty much showing up like everyone else, then your hiring manager might end up hiring the person with the most experience or the cheapest applicant or the person who went to his high school. Who knows how that decision will fall?
Your other option is to change the energy in the room and get the hiring manager out of his or her stupor and actively into the conversation. You can do that by answering a standard, scripted question in a non-standard way.
You can answer an interview question in a way that makes the manager think. When you do this, you’ll shift the frame, or mental model, from which the question springs. You’ll force the manager to stop and focus on the conversation in a way that many interviewers seldom do.
Some people will like your non-standard approach to answering a traditional, done-to-death question. Some of them will be horrified to hear you utter words that don’t come straight ouf the standard Sheepie Job Seeker script. Which type of manager would you rather work for?
One of the interview questions I especially hate is “With all the talented candidates, why should we hire you?” I hate this question because it come from the outmoded Grovel, Knave school of interviewing.
The question forces a job applicant to fawn and beg for the job. Why should you have to do that? The boss isn’t begging you to come and work for him or her.
Why should a job interview be an unequal conversation? When you call the auto body shop because you got rear-ended, you don’t quiz them about their capabilities.
You might ask a few questions, but after a while the person who answers the phone at the body shop is going to say “Look, do you want to make an appointment or not? I have other calls to answer.” You called them, after all.
In business, we treat other business people with respect, whether they are vendors, customers or partners. It’s only in the employer-employee relationship that respect is assumed to go in only one direction. We’ve grown up with the idea that bosses are superior to non-bosses and that organizations are loftier than individuals are. Both of those ideas are false.
Most of us grew up with the understanding that an employer is mightier than an employee is, and that that power imbalance goes double for job-seekers.
That is patently false, but it is a useful fiction for fearful managers and recruiters to maintain because it keeps job-seekers off balance.
It is hard to fill job openings with smart and capable people. Listen to any recruiter or HR person talk about their recruiting headaches and you will hear this theme over and over. It is not an employer’s market, and if you believe it is, you have made your job-search task much harder.
Your belief in yourself is more significant to your job-search success than any other factor.
If you want to shift the frame and the energy in your job interview, you can answer the question “With so many talented applicants, why should we hire you?” like this:
MANAGER: With so many talented applicants, why should we hire you?
YOU: Great question! You could even say that this interview boils down to answering that question. You’ve got the advantage in making that determination, obviously, because you’ve met or will meet the other candidates and I won’t. You also know the culture here and you know exactly what you need, way beyond what the job ad could convey. I couldn’t responsibly tell you that you should hire me, for those reasons. But I have confidence that if you and I are meant to work together, we’ll both know it. What do you think?
If you take this approach, it’s a good idea to end your response with a question the way we did in the script just above.
That way, you are opening the door for your manager to expand on what you’ve said or add his or her own thoughts. Your answer is a conversation-starter then, and not a conversation-stopper.
Your non-traditional answer to a thoughtless traditional question may lead to a stimulating conversation with your next boss, or it may blow his or her circuits. You’ll have to try it and see. Keep in mind that it’s you who will have to sit at that desk and deal with the people you’re meeting on your interview.
That will be you in the job and no one else. Don’t you want to know in advance whether it will be a mojo-building experience or a mojo-sucking one?
It’s your right and responsibility to step just far enough out of the standard script and the Sheepie Job Seeker role to see whether your next boss can deal with a non-script-following team member.
You’ll be able to tell in an instant whether your possible next boss is irretrievably stuck in the script or whether s/he can step out of the Grovel, Knave frame and have an equal and human conversation with you.
You owe it to yourself to find out!
This article originally appeared at linkedin.com/pulse
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