While I spent Interviewing 2.0 mostly ranting about the use of branding and actual interviewing, my good friend (and a guy really smart about this stuff) Scott reminded me of some things you need to do before you start interviewing.
Oh, like what? (you may ask)
Oh, well like what you are good at. (that whole competency thing)
You really need to nail this down before you even think about interviewing (and this is a tough one).
So. I am not going to get hung up on branding (that will be another post soon where I will attempt to show people how we have bastardized the use of brand from its origins to a point it is meaningless and misused) and move on to how to decide what you are good at to help out on interviewing.
It is interesting, because having played a role as business development director at several advertising agencies, I learned a lot about articulating competency. Let’s say for simplicity sake there are three tiers to defining competency
Tier 1: The most basic competency
I have the skills or past experience to even be in the game. So. This is like interviewing for an accounting job and saying you have the best accounting skills because you worked at one of the largest accounting firms in the world. Or saying at a marketing interview that you have worked at some of the largest marketing firms in the world. It gets you in the game, but its all puffery. Ultimately, if you get stuck in this tier you will lose because everyone will figure out how to make their basic skills sound like the best and it becomes white noise to someone who is interviewing dozens of people.
So check the box on tier one and get to tier 2 as quickly as possible.
Tier 2: The basic problem the competency you just outlined solves
Because of my skills I am faster. Or maybe I resolve issues faster. Or maybe you get things “unstuck” better. Or maybe you allow others around you to be more productive. It reflects an understanding of what your skill has to offer and how a future employer will benefit.
Once again checking the box on tier 2 is nice (and you can win here on rare occasion). This tier typically aligns you with whomever you are talking with. You show you understand what you need to do, understand the problem and you know how to solve that type of problem.
The problem with tier two is there are a lot of smart people out there and (as in business development) you will find that a lot of people will check this box well. Doesn’t mean you don’t need to check it. Just that when you figure out that this is what you are good at providing benefit-wise, you need to understand that it may simply be a parity place (which isn’t necessarily bad if during face-to-face the chemistry is great).
Tier 3: Ah. Then there is tier three. This is where you figure out why you are good at what you do and explain an unexpectedly relevant benefit.
It reflects a higher understanding of what it is you have to offer. (And at the end I will spend a minute explaining how to make who you may end up talking to care about it).
This level of relevance is not just talking about results. This is more about what kind of results specifically you are good at. For example, in my world, in retail not talking about sales but saying “the programs I develop are really good at generating foot traffic”.
Or. My skills are really effective in fragmented or multiple constituent organizations.
Here’s the deal with the Tier 3. It’s yours. It’s you. It’s kind of “your thing” that you are good at. It can’t be vanilla (good with people, good team leader, good at tough decisions, etc.) it has to be an insightful attachment to your competency.
How do you keep your competency Tier 3 unchangeable but relevant?
So. This is really important.
A lot of people talk about customizing for interviews. New business taught me a huge lesson on this.
Never change who you are and what you are good at. Tier 1, Tier 2 and, absolutely, Tier 3.
Never. (There is a litany of reasons for this I won’t waste the space on. But suffice it to say in the ad agency new business world, inconsistency is an unforgiving trait where people can compare notes. And you should treat interviewing the same).
In fact your tier three opening line/paragraph/whatever should always remain the same. At my agencies the “what we are really good at” never changed. The only thing that changed was the following “and here is why it should matter to you” paragraph. That is the relevance part. That is what changes for the interview (and, oh by the way, it kinda shows you have done some homework).
Some risk? Absolutely. Sometimes you will hear (rarely if you get the “here’s why” right) “well. I don’t get why it matters” in an interview…and that is ok. Sometimes you are not a good fit. Or maybe tier three is not in their “interest zone”. It happens.
But figure Tier 3 out. More often than not this is the level that makes who you are talking with cock their head and make them think really hard about you (and that is a good thing in an interview).