Taking The Lead In The Interview Dance

By Stephanie Loiacono AAA

Fred Astaire is one of the most celebrated dancers ever. But have you ever noticed that Ginger Rogers had to follow him, moving backwards and in high heels?

Like partner dancing, an interview has a "leader" and a "follower." It's the role of the hiring manager - as leader - to set the tone of the interview and guide you on its structure. But you are Ginger Rogers. It's your role to listen carefully, take the subtle cues given and follow that lead expertly. Landing a job in the competitive financial industry can take some maneuvering. Read on to learn the steps that will help you glide effortlessly through your next big job interview. (For related reading, see Finding Your Place In the Financial Industry.)

Warm Up
If you have always been one of those gawky kids who sat near the punch bowl while everyone else was out on the dance floor, don't panic. There are ways to prepare so you can cool your sweaty palms and relax those knocking knees.

First, be sure to look the part. Ginger Rogers would never dream of doing the Lindy Hop dressed like a gangster. Look neat, clean and business-like. When in doubt, it's always best to dress up rather than down.

Arrive at your interview on time. Better yet, be a little early. Make sure you have extra copies of your resume and samples of your work on hand and, of course, business cards, if you have them.

Arrive prepared by researching the company ahead of time. Nearly every company now has a website that's packed with useful information about its senior team and its business. Read through press releases and annual reports, and get to know the company's strategic vision and day-to-day challenges. By doing your homework, you'll be able see where you might fit into this company. This knowledge will enable you to talk intelligently about how your skills and experience can help the company solve its problems and achieve its strategic goals.

Practice Makes Perfect
Before you arrive for your interview, you should be familiar with the typical interview questions and how you'll answer. Like any successful dance move, it's important to practice, practice, practice! Have a friend or colleague role-play with you so you can practice answering typical interview questions out loud. There are many books and web resources on effective interviewing. Read them.

It's important to have a simple, easy-to-use strategy for your interview in case you get rattled. This becomes even more important when you're interviewing with financial types, who are introverts by nature and usually struggle with social contact and interpersonal exchanges. We'll call this strategy the "top three reasons" method.

Use The Top Three Method
Before arriving at your interview, ask yourself this question: What are the top three reasons that I should be hired for this job? Three is a good number; three reasons are easy for a hiring manager to absorb and remember.

Choose your three reasons carefully. For example, you might choose something like this: 1) I have a passion for this industry/this company/this specific job, 2) I am self-directed and driven; and 3) I am smart as hell. Whatever your talents and skills, boil them down to the top three reasons that you are right for the job. Practice delivering those reasons in a way that seems natural, not programmed.

Charm Your Interviewer
Your simple, three reasons strategy may pay off in ways you can't imagine. Sometimes, you'll encounter a hiring manager who is ill-equipped or unprepared to interview you. Maybe that person is stressed, has not yet seen your resume or feels caught off-guard. That's when you take over.

"Let me make this easy on you," you may offer. "Here are the top three reasons why I am the best candidate for this job."

Having your top three reasons also works as a nice summary of your candidacy when an interview draws to an end. How many times has a hiring manager asked you, after you think you've exhausted all new information about yourself, if there's anything else that you'd like to add. This is when you respond, "Yes. Let me review the top three reasons why I am the best candidate for this job."

Take A Bow
Doing the interview dance doesn't end when you exit through the front door, either. You have a unique opportunity to close the deal with how you write your follow-up thank-you note.

Lloyd Feinstein of Career Marketing Consultants developed an approach called the long thank-you letter. Feinstein points out that impressions from interviews don't last long, especially when there are multiple candidates for a job and all you've left behind is a resume. The long thank-you note aims to refresh memories and set you apart from the pack. Typically 2-7 pages long, the notion of such a lengthy follow-up note is intimidating at first. He recommends that you begin by taking good notes during your interview, which you will reconstruct later in a summary format. That summary is the basis of your letter.

Feinstein suggests the following format for your long thank you. The opening paragraph should thank the interviewer for his or her time, candor and the information provided about the company. The second section is laid out in a column format. In the left-hand column, state what problems or issues you heard from the hiring manager during the interview. In the right-hand column, list which of your experiences, skills or accomplishments can help to solve those problems. This approach allows you to target your accomplishments to the hiring manager's needs. It also demonstrates that you're a problem-solver. The more issues or problems discussed during the interview, the longer your thank you will be.

The Finale
The most accomplished dancers communicate in a way that allows the leader to incorporate the follower's ideas, abilities and creative suggestions into their next moves. With good preparation, including the top three reasons and the long thank-you letter, you can convince a hiring manager that the company can't afford to take the next step without you.

For more job tips, see Fitting In At Your Firm and Career Shift: Get In The Driver's Seat.

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