Confessions of a Former Serial Recruiter

7 Simple Steps for Acing the Interview and Winning the Job

By Donald J. Strankowski
Ascend Career and Life Strategies, LLC

Above all, interviewing skills are the single most critical part of the job search process. 

To win the job you have to ace the interview.  It’s as simple as that.  As a former corporate recruiter, I have interviewed countless people who appeared to be the perfect fit for a position only to find out that upon meeting them, they looked much better on paper.  They were not a good fit regarding their soft or “people” skills or their personality was not a good match for the position.  Still others came in jaded and some were very unprepared.  A few even asked me for a piece of paper so they could take notes!

I have hired more people based on my intuition and judgment as to how they will relate to the organization and how they presented themselves, rather than how much experience and how many accolades they have accumulated.  Once you get to this point in the hiring process, resume criteria becomes rather immaterial.  If people were hired based solely on credentials, interviews wouldn’t be necessary.  

If you are one of the many who cringe at the concept of job interviews, take solace in the fact that you can become a highly effective interviewer in relatively pain-free fashion.  I will share with you some of the key ingredients needed for differentiating yourself from the other well-qualified candidates and shooting yourself, not in the foot, but to the head of the interviewing class.  By following these 7 simple steps, you can take the pain and stress out of the interview process and maximize your chances for winning any job. 

1-Do Your Research!

Back in my days as a corporate recruiter, I can recall numerous instances where candidates came in “cold” for their interview.  Essentially, they had not done a shred of research and knew very little about the company.  When this was the case, I basically had my mind made up that they were not going any further in the process during the first 5 minutes of the interview.  The remaining 55 minutes were academic; I asked the questions but had already determined that they were out of the running.  Even a moderately skilled hiring manger will pick up on the lack of preparation issue early in the interview.  With the advent of the Internet and proximity of local public libraries, there is simply no excuse for not learning about the company you’re interviewing with.

2-Map and Write Out Your Interview Strategy

The interviewer will probably have an agenda however, you need to have one too.  Remember, this is your chance to present your case for employment—don’t leave anything to chance.  Always carry a leather folder enclosing a legal tablet for taking notes.  Bring along any information you printed out from a web site or found while conducting your research.  Also remember your Day Planner or PDA to schedule a follow up interview.  Look like a success and a student of the game by being well prepared!  Sketch out in advance an outline or agenda that you would like to work with for the meeting so you don’t forget to present any important information or tools.  The fact that you took the time to thoroughly prepare will impress any hiring manager.

3-Draw Parallels to Prior Work in Prior Positions

Draw as many parallels as you can to previous positions and experience and the work you’ll be doing.  Gather as much information as you can before the interview.  Prepare to present your case for offering solutions to these issues.  Companies need the job transition to be smooth, so they want people who can hit the ground running with very little ramp-up time.  Give them the impression that with a little acclimation time, the transition will be seamless.  

If you are asked a question regarding your previous experience or how you would handle a particular situation, answer this by tying-in a previous experience from another position.  Tell an anecdote for clarification and to provide validation.  The more you can sell the interviewer on a smooth transition, the better your chances are for being hired.

4-Prepare for “Curveball” Questions

The interview is generally used to review the “hard to measure” things.  With this in mind, you are going to be asked some tough questions regarding your character, traits, and values. 

There are a number of “Curveball” interviewing questions that will most likely be asked that you need to prepare for.  Some questions can throw you for a loop during the interview and sink you immediately if you are not ready for them.  As a recruiter, I asked most of these questions on a regular basis.  By asking these questions, I was trying to measure the aforementioned hard to measure areas and gauge things like character, work ethic, and motivations—things that are hard to determine by simply reading a person’s resume.  Some of the questions also force you to think on your toes; similar to situations you’ll be in if hired for the actual position.  It is vital that you prepare and rehearse answers to these common questions as to not get caught off guard:

  • “Why do you want to work here?” / “What do you know about us?”
  • “How do you like to be managed?”
  • “If I were to ask your current (or former) boss what they value most about you, what would I hear?”
  • “What is your greatest strength?”
  • “What is your greatest weakness?”
  • “What are your one and/or five-year goals?”  “Where do you see yourself one/five years from now?”
  • “What is your greatest accomplishment?”
  • “What is your greatest failure?”
  • “How do you define being successful?”
  • “Why should I hire you?”

In addition to Curveball questions, prepare for the questions that an interviewer may ask about certain shortcomings or deficiencies such as poor to average grades, a gap in employment history, being terminated from a previous job, lack of industry experience, or perhaps a litany of jobs in a short time frame.  The rule of thumb is that whatever you feel uneasy about going into the interview, the interviewer probably also recognizes and will want to discuss. Prepare an answer and define a plan for covering or filling each “hole.”  The good news for you is that everyone has holes in their case.  No one is ever a perfect fit for any position.  So take some time to prepare in addressing certain shortcomings and issues.

5-Ask Introspective Questions of Your Own

Sometimes during an interview, candidates would ask me what kind of company car or laptop they would be getting.  Others asked me what time they could come to work and go home.  Unbelievable!

The questions you ask in an interview are just as important as the answers you give.  The interviewer will interpret your motivations and work ethic by the types of questions you ask.  Put some thought into them.  You want relevant information but also want to portray yourself as someone who is a top performer.

Keep your list to 5-7 questions total; time is usually limited in an interview situation.  Kick off with one or two “success-related” questions such as, “What are the characteristics of your top (job title)?”  Or, “What are the common denominators to success in this position?”  Questions like these pique an employer’s interest and show that you’re serious about your success and being one of the best at what you do. 

6-Utilize New Tools and Strategies to Differentiate Yourself

One of the biggest concerns I had when interviewing candidates was that the person sitting across from me stating their case for employment was not being 100 percent accurate when describing what they could do and offer.  Not that they were all-out lying, most people are generally pretty honest.  Perhaps they just exaggerated a bit in order to impress me.  Without any validation regarding their skills, accomplishments, or traits, how was I to know? 

One of the most successful strategies a job seeker can utilize to separate themselves from the job search masses is to assemble a Brag Book.

A Brag Book is a professional portfolio—usually a three-ring binder with page protectors—that details documented academic and professional achievements.  By employing this strategy, you are stating to Company X that you are someone who always does more than expected, are a high-achiever, and approach your job in a very well organized and pragmatic manner.  You are validating your top skills and traits.

Another tool I recommend using for gaining notice and differentiating yourself is called the Job Business Plan.  I am convinced that if implemented properly, this tool will put you at or near the top of the list for hiring consideration.

A Job Business Plan is a two to three page mini-business plan you present to the prospective employer during the interview or, in certain cases, before the interview phase.  It is designed to show the employer that you took the time to assess their business needs, perhaps by speaking with an inside coach or the hiring manager, and have used your creativity and business intellect in designing a results-based action plan to offer solutions.

7-Close the Deal!

I also played the parts of a sales executive, sales manager, and sales trainer in a prior life.  One of the most common mistakes salespeople made—and it didn’t matter at which level they were at (entry, mid, or executive)—was to not ask for the business during a sales call.

The job search model, especially the interview phase, is a selling model.  You are the product and also the salesperson.  You need to sell the client, in this case the employer, on them hiring you over the competition.  You’re being hired or not will depend on how well you can sell your “product”— you!  It is imperative that you ask for the business.

So to close the deal, the most important question you can ask during the interview is:

“Is there anything that I have said or didn’t discuss that would disqualify me from further consideration?  Do you need further clarification regarding anything that I have said?”

Ask this question when you feel the interview is winding down.  In essence you are asking, “Mr. Prospect, is there any reason at all you would not buy my product?”  By asking this question, you are basically giving them another chance to address any concerns they may have with you and/or anything else they need further clarification on.  Don’t allow yourself to be bumped from consideration because they were misled or unclear about something you said.

Great interviews win great jobs.  Develop the belief that you are the best candidate for the position!  Present your case with passion and enthusiasm, providing validation that you can do the job and drawing a correlation to past experiences along the way.  Above all, you need to sell them on the fact that you are the best candidate for the position and tell them you want the job.

If you would like a free TIP sheet on how to handle Curveball Questions and ideas for Introspective Questions of your own, send an email to [email protected].

Donald J. Strankowski Jr. is founder and president of Ascend Career and Life Strategies, a career training and management firm for businesses, professionals and executives.  He works out of Boulder, Colorado and can be contacted at 303-245-7049, via email at [email protected], or on the web at
Just Published!  Get Hired!  10 Simple Steps for Winning the Job You Desire—in Any Economy by Donald J. Strankowski
Available online at