Job candidates: Take control of the interview

This guest post is by Chris Ruisi, a human resources and executive coach, leadership expert, professional speaker, and author who’s challenging business leaders to "Step Up and Play Big: in his book. To learn more, visit

An employment interview is a classic “buy/sell” transaction. The employer starts out as the buyer, with goals of getting the most value for the dollars they are willing to invest – hire the best person they can at the salary level for the position. The applicant is the seller, with a simple goal – convince the buyer that they offer the most value for what the buyer is willing to invest. If the applicant impresses the employer, the interview dynamic switches to the employer becoming the seller – trying to convince the applicant to want to work for them. The applicant then turns into a buyer – considering all of the reasons why they would want to work for the employer. The overall goal of the interview process is for the employer and the applicant to each arrive at the “buy decision” at the same time.

The employer has the advantage

Although the employment process is a buy/sell transaction and it appears that both the employer and the applicant have an equal position, in most cases, the employer has the distinct advantage. As such, far too many applicants allow themselves to be victimized by the process more times than they should. Why? Because they don’t realize that they can exert more influence over the process than just answering some questions and hoping that they did alright.

Preparation is the key

While an applicant may never control the interview process completely, they can take control of how they present themselves and what they want the prospective employer to know about them. How you might ask, by spending the right amount of time in preparation for the interview beyond how you smile and greet the interviewer. To properly prepare for an interview, an applicant who wants to be a serious contender for a job must do the following:

  • Have clarity on their value message — i.e. here’s how I can help your company. You can be bold in an interview without coming across as being obnoxious. To do so means you have to be able to demonstrate your value to the employer. Be prepared to offer specific answers as to why they should hire you and how you can contribute to the company’s efforts.
  • Have a strategy to create interest in the mind of the interviewer beyond what is written on your resume. A basic principle of sales is “stories sell and facts tell.” This story is very much applicable to the interview process. If the opportunity presents itself, tell a short story about how you helped a previous employer move forward. The stories exist, take the time and be ready to tell them!
  • Do your research. Be in a position, if the opportunity presents itself, to ask really good and relevant questions about the employer, what they do and how they do it. Too many applicants stand like a “deer in the headlights” when asked if they have any questions.
  • Connect the dots. Most interviewers have full and busy schedules, don’t assume because they saw your cover letter and resume and spoke with you, that they know who you are, what you do and how you can help their company. Fill in the blanks and connect the dots on what you offer so it becomes easier for them to see the value you bring to the table. With all of the applicants they see, connecting the dots helps you to be “memorable” – that’s the ultimate goal!

Last but certainly not least, identify at least three things you want the interviewer to know about you before you start the interview. If you are like most people, as soon as you conclude an interview, you are struck with that knot in your stomach when the following runs through your mind —“geez how could I have forgotten to tell them that” or “why didn’t I say that?” Well, the answer is simple, you did not prepare properly for the interview. If the interviewer doesn't specifically ask about one of these three things, look for an opportunity to bring them up — maybe in one of your “stories” I mentioned earlier. By now, someone is thinking, “this is all good stuff, but the interview is never long enough to get any of this discussed properly.” That’s fair, but I would counter that you must start right away by being engaging and trying to create interest for the interviewer to want to know more. If you do, you’ll have plenty of time. Take control of the interview.