Interviewing: Defining and Highlighting Your Strengths

I have been wanting to write about interview preparation for quite a while, as the last time I addressed this important topic was almost two years ago, but other topics kept coming to the fore. Last weekend I made a commitment to myself to finally write an interviewing post. I was directed by a friend in top management to a book that outlined preferred strategies to identify and hire the “A” players that every organization wants (or at least should want) on their team. Although written to advise the interviewer, I “reverse engineered” the book (titled“Who: the A Method for Hiring”) so as to extract tips that would be valuable for the candidate being interviewed.

The most valuable section of the book specifies competencies that organizations look for in candidates they’re interviewing. Of course the list of competencies varies considerably depending on the specific organization and position, but the twenty-four listed below are worth considerable attention. Think of which ones you can accurately claim to possess, filter out the ones that aren’t particularly relevant to the job you’re seeking, and then develop a familiarity and comfort with them (along with specific examples of how you demonstrated those qualities) so that you can “trot them out” at appropriate moments in your interview. You should think about them as building blocks for constructing your resume. People who work in occupations where quantitatively measuring accomplishments is difficult or impossible.

Some Relevant Qualities

  • Leadership – Inspiring and influencing others to accomplish a common goal. Efficiency – Able to create tangible results with limited resources
  • Honesty / Integrity!– Doing what is right, not simply expedient. Earning trust and maintaining confidences. Avoiding ethical shortcuts.
  • Organization and Planning – Defining and focusing on key priorities. Planning, organizing, scheduling, and budgeting in an efficient, productive manner.
  • Aggressiveness – Able to move quickly and take a forceful stand without unduly antagonizing others.
  • Intelligence – Learning quickly; demonstrating ability to apply information from one context to another.
  • Analytical skills – Able to structure and process data and draw insightful conclusions from it. Exhibiting a probing mind which achieves penetrating insights.
  • Creativity – Generating new and innovative ways of looking at, and solving, problems.
  • Attention to detail – Not letting important details slip through the cracks and derail projects.
  • Persistence – Demonstrating tenacity and willingness to “go the distance” to get something done.
  • Initiative / Proactivity – Acting without being told what to do, bringing new ideas to the table.
  • Ability to hire / manage people – Able to identify and recruit “A” players; coaching people in their current roles to improve their performance so that they are able to become “A” players.
  • Calm under pressure – Maintaining stable performance when under heavy pressure or stress.
  • Flexibility / Adaptability – Adjusting comfortably to changing priorities and conditions. Coping effectively with complexity and change.
  • Strategic thinking / visioning – Able to see and communicate the “big picture” in an inspiring way. Identifying opportunities and threats through rigorous analysis of the environment and relevant trends.
  • Enthusiasm – Exhibiting passion and excitement about work; having a “can-do” attitude.
  • High standards – Expecting personal and team performance to be nothing less than superior.
  • Listening skills – Letting others speak; welcoming and seeking to understand their viewpoints.
  • Work ethic – Possessing a track record that demonstrates a strong willingness to work hard and sometimes devote long hours to getting the job done.
  • Openness to criticism and ideas – Willingness and openness to accept negative feedback. Open mindedness to considering alternative solutions to problems.
  • Teamwork – Reaching out to peers, smoothly cooperating with supervisors, and motivating subordinates.
  • Communication – Speaking and writing clearly, articulately, and concisely. Persuasion – Ability to convince others to pursue a course of action.

It’s the rare (and lucky) individual who will secure a job offer from the first interview. You may have to interview for many positions before you get the offer you want. Use your unsuccessful interviewing experience to sharpen your presentation. In particular, focus on whether you clearly and persuasively articulated your competences AND whether you did a good job of explaining how they aligned with the specific challenges of the position. There’s no more important task in selling yourself.