Interviews are a major part of getting the job that you are pursuing. It’s amazing, however, at the number of people who go into them unprepared. One of my employees came to me and explained that she had expressed an interest in a different position in our district. It would be a lateral move with no increase in pay. It held, however, the potential for advancement — with an accompanying pay increase — later. She was prepared to go in for the interview…so she thought. After a brief questioning, I found that she was not prepared at all. Since time was short, too short to prep her adequately, I gave her an intelligence-gathering strategy that I was taught many years ago.
Most interviews are not unique and creative. In fact, familiar questions can be found in many interview books that give hints on how to answer the questions. The secret is to know the interviewer and provide answers that focus on his/her areas of concern. As I was beginning to interview for a new principalship in my district, I had prepared the normal way and felt comfortable. I could explain data disaggregation, leadership qualities, motivation strategies, and all the other qualities that make up a good principal. The key, however that got me the job, was even simpler. I was to face 10 interviewers, each from upper management in the district office. These were high powered people who were experts, but, so was I.
The day before the interview, a man that had help steer my career to that point, asked me to meet his wife in her office in the largest high school in the district. After a brief mock interview, she was satisfied. Then she gave me the SECRET.
She drew a rectangle on a piece of paper. “This is the table,” she said. She began to draw small circles around the table — 10 of them. She named each circle. She identified them as the people who would be interviewing me. This was not secret information, this was the panel that every potential principal had to face. The SECRET came next. She pointed to the first circle, “This is John Williams (not his real name). John tends to ask many data related questions. He likes brevity. Keep your answers short to him. Make your point and be quiet.” She pointed to the next circle. “This is Mary Thomas, she’s very child-oriented. She’s very warm and friendly and loves to talk. Answer her questions and orient your answers to how children are affected. Talk a lot with her; elaborate all your points. She’s warm and fuzzy, so use many personal anecdotes.” She continued around the table and when finished, it was like I had the playbook of an opposing football team. I knew the type of questions they would ask. I learned the type of answer each interviewer liked to hear.
So how does one get this type of intelligence when one doesn’t have access to an insider? This was the advice that I gave my employee. I told her to call a friend she knew who knew the interviewer and elicit this type of information. I advised her to seek out other employees on the same level of the interviewer and get this type of information. I advised her to seek out people who had been successful in getting the same type of job that she was seeking. I told her to ask about questions they received and the types of answers they gave. I told her to also ask if the successful interviewees had received feedback after their hire. I advised her to seek out that feedback.
For most job vacancies, the top three applicants will be very similar in skill sets and qualifications. Even their answers during the interview will be very similar. If you want that job, set yourself apart from the competition. Being able to provide the correct answers to interview questions, and orient those answers to the interviewer’s true interests and preferences as well as use terminology that “clicks” with him or her, gives one that edge in the interview.
In most business, this is known as “doing your homework”.