I call this Interviewing 2.0 (it’s probably really version 2.11374 but let’s not quibble) because I am trying to get into the entire interviewing lingo that seems to be bombarding job seekers leading into the New Year. And I was hanging in there alright until I got to “10 ways to destroy your personal brand.” Oh boy. Let’s get started on my rant (although I will offer some advice). So. Before we get to actual interviewing let me get this off my chest about personal brand and branding:
Ok admit. The way people throw around the word brand nowadays drives me nuts. And the whole concept of building a “personal brand” is such a foreign wacko concept to me it is hard to wrap my head around. With all the stress that comes with unemployment and interviewing (and all the zillion perspectives of interview advice you can find online) trying to develop a personal brand seems like a crazy decision to make. When I hear ‘personal brand’ all I can think of is Ricky Henderson (i.e., speaking about yourself in the third person).
- A typical Ricky Henderson interview. Ricky when asked,
“Well, Ricky, he is the best base stealer of all time.”
“Ricky came to play tonight.”
“Ricky was seeing the ball well.”
Skip to your own interview. So tell me something about yourself. (you answering)
“The Bruce brand is an engaging brand and really good at…bla bla bla ”
I believe the minute you start referring to yourself as a brand (figuratively not literally…I assume no one would actually talk about their personal brand in an interview) you have lost it.
I buy the fact that the principles behind establishing a brand in the marketplace and establishing yourself to a company are similar, but in an interview you are a person (not a brand) talking with another person (who isn’t seeking to buy a brand but rather hire a person). But. Hey. If you want to be the best can of soup in the interview, more power to ya.
BUT. Remember. It may be semantics but there is no such thing as “building a brand.” You can build a great product or service. Deliver it consistently over time. Meet or exceed expectations. Do it consistently within a personally or character type. And, well, at some point people will award a brand status to the product/service. Remember. You do not claim a brand status. You are given, or earn, a brand status. So. I would argue if you are aiming to “build a personal brand” you run the risk of ignoring the underpinnings necessary because you are aiming for “becoming a brand” rather than a superior consistent functional delivery person.
Anyway. With all that said. So. Back to interviewing. During an economic downturn, people can be pulled every which way with job searching advice from someone holding up a Bible quoting ‘eternal advice’ (just a note: I don’t believe Moses was the first choice for that job) to, well, anyone who has had an interview and wants to hand out their version of job searching wisdom.
This “deep recession” (sorry to tell you but it’s a depression) creates some desperation and that makes people vulnerable. And that is a bad thing when you are interviewing. This is a time where people really need wise counsel and not superlative buzzword lingo which confuses people from simplicity.
So. My advice? Forget about building your own personal brand. Forget about all the wacky voodoo incantations that will win you the interview question challenge. Focus on simplicity (or your head will be filled with so much goo it may explode – which is embarrassing in an interview – and you won’t be able to coherently answer anything anyway).
Beyond all the interview coaching and seminars and such (which make my head spin so much I am not sure I would actually know what to do in an interview if I tried to follow all the coaching advice) interviewing comes down to two things:
- Functional competency (can you do the job)
- Chemistry (do you fit into culture and team…or…do we like you)
I would argue that if you nail these two things in an interview then things like salary and benefits and titles all fall into place. Completing a great interview process is similar to when you find something you cannot live without – you will pay full price and not wait for a promotion – you have to have it now. So if you go do your job in the interview process that is the prize (and oh by the way … keep that attitude throughout: “Buy me at full price, this is not a promotion” it is a healthy perspective for you to have regardless how badly you need a job).
Okay now. Remember. There are some things you can control and some things you cannot control in an interview (so don’t waste energy trying to control what you can’t is what I am trying to say):
What you can control:
- What you are good at
- Being yourself
What you cannot control:
- Who they (the company) are culturally
- What they are good at
So. I am going to actually start with Chemistry to get it out of the way (because Competency is the key to interviewing).
What I am getting at with ‘You can’t control their culture’ is you actually can’t control the chemistry factor. Just like eHarmony relationships, you can get a ‘match’ but when you meet “it’s” either there or it ain’t (you know … the elusive “it” whatever it is that makes chemistry click). You may wish for a relationship to bud but you cannot fake it or make it. However, you can control who you are so they (and you) can judge whether you are a good fit for them.
“Be true to thineself.”
Bottom line is if they like you (or like the idea of you being part of their team) you are in the game. They won’t choose you solely on this but chemistry is valuable particularly in this day and age of lean company structure. So be yourself. Don’t try to be anything else <not even your personal brand>.
Sure. There are some cosmetic things you can be flexible with. They all wear ties and you hate wearing ties. Unless that is a deal breaker to you wear a tie and shut up about it (when you interview AND if you get the job).
Last thought on ‘Be true to thineself.’ If you try and act one way to get the job and then you get the job one of two things happen:
- You revert to yourself at some point and they get confused and probably unhappy (and want to break up at some point), or
- You try to act that way all the time and are pretty unhappy every morning you wake up to go to work.
Chemistry in this case ain’t created. It either is or it isn’t. And the only way you can be sure is if you just be yourself. Don’t worry. Most companies aren’t seeking clones so they aren’t expecting you to act like them. Just that you fit in their culture and there is some chemistry (and chemistry takes an even higher priority these days because everyone runs so lean things can get a little stressful on occasion).
So. Let’s talk competence.
Here is where I disagree with many of the wise interview experts. I hear sell sell sell. Make sure you show results. Bla bla bla. Yeah. Sure. But here’s the deal: Stay within yourself and your personality. If you don’t like talking about results because you feel uncomfortable about it, don’t. Trust me. If you feel uncomfortable talking about ‘results you have generated’ it will show. And who knows. Maybe their culture is one of humbleness. Anyway. The whole “quantify what you have done” rule kind of throws me a little.
And let’s be serious. If you interview for a sales position you talk all that sales gobbledygook. If you interview for an engineering slot you bring the calculator and show the whizz-bang co-tangent of a molecule. If you are interviewing for a mechanic position then know how to change brakes. And if you are an accountant, bring a green visor and abacus. You pretty much know the gig on your competency.
And competency. However you define it comes down to “Can you do the job they are interviewing you for?”
I personally don’t care how you prove that. Show results? Sure. Track record of successes? OK. Talk your way through your process to get things done? Sure. Just pick a way that feels comfortable for you. Because if you do then you are aligned with your own chemistry <and thineself> and your answer will be comfortable and not some made up mumbo jumbo.
And, frankly, if you can’t show you are competent in the role then chemistry doesn’t matter. But I also have to tell you … most people who are interviewing for a particular job are revealed in the first five minutes of an interview whether they are at least in the competency range of adequacy or not. You can’t prepare for questions or bone up on things (although I am all for doing homework on job and company before going into an interview) to showcase competency … because … well … you are either competent or not.
Here is a thought. Competency means you know the vocabulary and you talk it well enough that an outsider doesn’t understand a frickin thing if they eavesdrop on one of your in depth conversations <at least that’s my criteria for you knowing your stuff>.
But, oh, by the way. It should be you talking and discussing (and if you are passionate about something go ahead and be passionate). Don’t try and bring out the latest marketing fad (or suggest that something isn’t part of your personal brand DNA. Ouch).
Ok. Someone is going to start jabbing at me on preparing for interview questions. Look. The questions you receive are typically a reflection of their culture. You may get thrown a curve ball but you cannot go wrong if you stick with “competency.”
They have a job open. They have a functional need. Tell them how you can meet that need completely.
I swear to you. If you stick with functional competency as fall back you won’t go wrong (please note the word ‘fallback’). What I mean.
Specific questions you answer specifically. Unfortunately that means “listen” and then “respond” <yeah … you actually have to listen to the question … oh … and feel free and ask for clarification if you aren’t sure>.
Vague questions (like “tell me about yourself” or “what are you like in the office” or stuff like that). Competency. Fall back on answers centered around delivering on the functional need of the role you are interviewing for. If they want a “fuzzy feel good” answer they will ask you that question (hint: “I know you can do the job but I want to get a feel for what you are like”). By the way. Even feel good answers revolving around competency ain’t bad like “Well. I am pleased you believe I can do the job. That is actually a reflection of what I am like. Performance or doing the job well is important to me.” Then go ahead and bla bla bla about yourself.
Next. I am gonna get jabbed on “competent means average”. Baloney. Get in the game first. Superlatives are dangerous. Being “exceptional” is a very dangerous game. That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t be confident you can fulfill the role they have outlined. Pound away on consistently capable of delivering on functional need of the role you are interviewing for <see … this isn’t about building your brand … this is nuts and bolts stuff>.
It’s possible I have simplified this too much but I don’t think so. In times of stress I have found simplicity is the way to go (and interviewing is stressful). That said I imagine my biggest issue with all this online advice is that while I may not be the sharpest knife in the drawer I have interviewed hundreds of people as a manager and interviewed for jobs myself a number of times and even I get confused on what to prepare, how to prepare, what to say, what not to say and how to act.
So. In the end I aim for simplicity:
- Be prepared.
- Be yourself.
- Be competent for what they need done.
Anything beyond that and I am not sure what good it does. Oh. Maybe that’s the stuff that builds your personal brand.