Yesterday, household names such as Caterpillar, Home Depot and Sprint Nextel announced they are laying off a combined 35,000 workers. This only reinforces the severity of the worldwide recession. More job cuts are likely as consumer and business spending keeps falling. Some economists say the worst job losses are still ahead of us.
If you’re looking for a management job right now, the going is tough. Just landing an interview is a challenge. More likely you’re going to be meeting at first with friends and acquaintances who can help you along the way. And, once you do have the opportunity to interview for a management position, you have to make the most of it. There is little room to “fail” when competition is fierce.
If you are seeking a management position, you may feel concerned that the companies “failures” will reflect on you. There will likely be questions about what happened, decisions that were made, your knowledge and involvement in those decisions. You need to be prepared for these questions, and also be ready to redirect the conversation to highlight your leadership qualities.
If you prepare effectively for an interview, you can handle tough questions and position yourself as an outstanding leader. It may have been some time since you’ve interviewed. Be sure that you write down all the tough questions in advance, and then write down your answers – you don’t want to be “making it up” on the spot.
Here are five steps to preparing for an interview for a management position in a tough economy.
Step One: Take Stock of Your Career
Employers are looking for not just experience, but leadership qualities – decision making, analytical skills, people skills, as well as the right combination of personal qualities, such as a balance of humility and confidence. Before you even go on an informational interview with a friend, spend some time taking stock of your career. What challenges have you faced? What have you learned? How have you used those lessons to become a better leader? Get some personal perspective on the road you’ve taken, so that you are able to articulate your value to a future employer.
Step Two: Write Down Stories That Highlight Your Leadership
A job interview is an opportunity to tell the story of your management career. This is not something you do “on the fly.” It’s best to write down these stories, and discover the point of the stories, so that you can effectively and briefly share the highlights in a job interview. Time is precious and your story needs to tell well, and make a powerful point. You don’t want to be searching for the point of your story while you’re speaking to the interviewer, or wandering aimlessly to get to the end. Write down these stories and practice out loud so that when you go to the interview, you know it cold.
Step Three: Emphasize Qualities That Differentiate You
Among the qualities that differentiate great leaders is the ability to communicate, motivate and inspire their teams. In writing my new book, Motivate Like a CEO, I learned that many business people rise to the top because of their business and technical skill; however they often plateau because they lack the ability to communicate, influence and motivate others. Your stories should emphasize these skills. Have you brought together a group of individuals that worked tirelessly on a project because they were so engaged? What was the outcome? Why were they so inspired? Can you point to instances where employees were excited about what they were doing? These are the stories that a future employer will remember when considering you against other candidates.
Step Four: Don’t Wait to Be Asked
You have the ability to manage the interview –find ways to share these stories no matter what you are asked. For example, let’s say the interviewer asks, “What are your strengths?” Instead of ticking off a laundry list of skills, share one of the stories that highlights a leadership quality. Brag about your team, brag about results, not about yourself. The message that comes through will be that you care about your teams, care about the companies you work for, and care about results. Don’t wait for the perfect question – many interviewers are not skilled interviews– even at the senior levels. Look for the opening to share those highlights. Take responsibility for making it a great interview.
Step Five: Make it a Conversation – Ask Your Future Employer to Share Stories, too
The best job interviews are really conversations where there is a meeting of the minds. At the end you want to have created a feeling, an impression, that this would work. People want to work with people they like and respect. When you connect with people by asking them to tell their story, they remember you and are impressed by your curiosity. Their stories also give you a chance to size up whether the organization is a good fit for you. People love to share their stories and appreciate someone who is interested in them. Make it a conversation you’ll make a far emotional stronger connection to a prospective employer – and this will make you a standout candidate in a crowded field.