Interview for the Job You Want, Not the Job You Have

When preparing a resumé or for an initial interview, one of the most common mistakes people make when looking to move up the career ladder is to focus on everything they have accomplished in their current role. Well, isn’t that what we have all been told over the years we should do? Actually, no.

Over the course of my over 25 year career as an executive search consultant and now as an executive coach, I have reviewed thousands of resumés and prepared hundreds of candidates for their interviews. In resumé after resumé and in conversation after conversation, candidates made the same mistake; namely, they focused on the details of their current role, rather than on the job they are seeking.

Put Yourself in the Interviewer’s Shoes

It is critically important in all phases of a job search to empathize with an interviewer. By focusing on the needs of the interviewer and organization, you can better position yourself as the right person to meet those needs. You should put yourself in their shoes both when preparing a resumé and interviewing for a new position.

When you submit a resumé, it should address the needs of the new position and your ability to meet them—not just recite everything that you have done in your career. A resume should emphasize your experience, to the extent that you have it, that reflects the experience required for the new position as expressed in the job specification or description. For example, if you are a deputy general counsel seeking a general counsel role, think about what a GC actually does. If you have presented to a board of directors, add that to your resume as it is likely that board experience will be required of the new general counsel.

When you are being interviewed by the CEO, you should be focused on the questions being asked and not trying to impress by talking about all of your experience. For example, if you are being considered for a general counsel position at a public company, again, put yourself in the shoes of the CEO. What is he or she looking for in the new GC? Does the CEO really need to hear about every case you have litigated or every deal you have closed? Will knowing the details of the budget analysis you provided for the legal department tell the CEO if you are right for this new job?

If you have looked at the position from the CEO’s perspective, you will be better able to discern what he or she is looking for. As discussed above, that might be real board experience or knowing how to interact with directors. It could be experience with a particular geographical region, area of law or type of technology. Practicing empathy helps you understand needs. Understanding needs enables you to show how you can meet them.

Practice Active Listening

How do you truly empathize when you are in the middle of an interview, be it with a recruiter, an HR executive or a CEO? One of the most effective ways is to practice active listening. What do I mean by “active listening?” I mean listening with the goal of learning what is important to the other person—putting your empathy into action. In interview preparation, I work with coaching clients on their active listening skills so that they will be able to “hear” what the interviewer is really asking and respond appropriately.

If you have your own agenda of things to get across in the interview, you won’t be listening actively. You will be listening for an opportunity to make your next point. The best way to prepare for an interview is to not have an agenda. The first meeting for any new position is the interviewer’s meeting; if you do not impress the interviewer, your prepared points are for naught.

Be Clear and Concise

Let the interviewer drive the conversation; sit back, relax and answer questions as clearly and concisely as you can. Do not go into detail unless asked for it. The same holds true for your questions; they can wait – you will, hopefully, have opportunities to ask them either at the end of the interview or at a later date. What is important is that you listen hard, not be self-important, and remember that you are interviewing for a better job, not the job you have.

To learn more about how to interview for the job you want, contact Catherine Nathan Coaching for Lawyers to schedule a consultation.

Categories: Interview Tips