How to Ace That Interview

Turn the tables on the interviewer, says executive-recruitment expert Jeffrey Christian.

What are you looking for when you make that first call to a candidate?

I’m looking for somebody that doesn’t want to talk to me. If I’m recruiting by phone, they’re too busy for me. They immediately start to ask tough questions and try to take control of the conversation, and I have to wrestle with them a little bit.

I’m hearing their intellectual horsepower and I can tell that they’re real busy. I’m looking for people who are real happy in their jobs, and don’t have an interest in leaving, and say that in fairly short order. The best candidates are the ones that don’t want to be recruited. That’s true with everybody — it’s like, you want to date the guy who’s hardest to get.

So should people pretend they’re not eager, even if they are?

Absolutely. But they need to be professional, too. They should act as if they need to be sold. They should never be [the one who is] selling. Everybody thinks they need to sell, and no one should ever sell at any stage of interviewing.

What’s your best interview advice?

I suggest reversing the roles and interviewing the interviewer. Everybody remembers what they say, not what you say. So you should be able to exemplify your expertise by asking insightful questions about the company, its challenges, its competition, and about their philosophies. Write down 20 questions, three per page with room to write. In postinterview discussions, you’ll be remembered as the person who was prepared and smart. Ask both generic and specific questions.

What are some good questions to ask?

“Tell me about your culture.” That’s a simple question, but you follow up with, “Is that the culture you have today or the culture you’re striving for?” (And almost all the time it’s the latter, not the former.)

“Tell me a little about how your business model has changed over the years and how you anticipate it going forward.”

“Why do people stay here, and why do people resign?”

As you’re asking questions, you’re gaining information that will allow you to respond to their questions better, which is a great way to do real-time research on the company. They’re going to be asking tough questions; you want to be asking tough questions too.

What should people do if they’ve been fired?

They need to collect their best references from the past. Have positive things to say about your experience. Have a crisp description of what you were able to accomplish while you were there. If it’s based on a performance issue, explain that things didn’t work out, you didn’t see eye-to-eye with your boss. Then suggest that they talk to other people from the company and people you’ve worked with in the past.

How does somebody recover from a major career blunder—say, for example, someone got canned for lying on his or her resume?

That’s tough to recover from. Surround yourself with your advocates. Take them out to dinner; ask them how they would handle the situation. Find friends fast. Do it in person, if possible. Respond proactively to protect your brand. Go out and find your next success as fast as you can—even if it means taking a smaller job at a smaller company. Do something that’s humbling. Talk to journalists, maybe write an op-ed in the newspaper, if it was in the press. Apologize, both in public and through individual letters to everyone. Do some things that are really classy, and be a man or a woman about it.

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