March 28, 2013
Facing the media is often a stressful, anxiety-ridden and strenuous ordeal. It is high-risk and high-reward. There’s even an entire industry devoted to preparing people for these events.
An industry has evolved around job interviews, which can be highly stressful, too. While job interviews aren’t broadcast to millions of people, like some interviews in the media, they have the possibility of moving interviewees one step closer to the job of their dreams (or perhaps, a great summer internship).
Since the two situations are similar, it’s logical to ask if you can apply the same skills and techniques to both.
According to career counselor Belinda Plutz, founder of CareerMentors, Inc., the answer is: “Yes.”
In each case, the most important element is preparation. Media trainers help clients create an agenda for a specific interview. What key points should they make, what questions are the most difficult and how should they answer? Media trainers also teach how to segue from those difficult questions so that interviewees can make the specific points that they want to. They spend the bulk of the training day in simulated practice interviews, which we immediately critique and play back on video.
Preparing for a job interview should follow a similar pattern. Before the interview, it’s a good idea to prepare the three key points that show the interviewer you are the best job candidate who will ever walk through the door. And it’s a great idea to reflect on your areas of weakness, and how you are going to deal with them.
Most people walk into an interview in a defensive posture; their goal is to handle every tough question ably and hope that is good enough.
But survival is not thriving. Walking into a job interview with a specific agenda — one that is targeted to that particular company and position — is one of the best ways to stand out from other candidates. Using the techniques taught in a good media training session can help you get your message across and will result in a candidate who is focused and displays leadership capabilities.
According to Plutz, there is a critical aspect to the job interview that people don’t face in a media interview. “In job interviews, candidates are also judged on the quality of the questions asked — not just the ones answered,” she says. “In addition to the three things a candidate wants to make sure interviewers know about them — the ‘key points’ — identifying three things they want to learn about the company or position will help frame the meeting as more of a conversation.”
The ability of the interviewer can also be another important difference between media and job interview. “Many interviewers are really not good at interviewing candidates,” Plutz says. “They talk way too much, dominating the conversation, explaining things. A good interview is one where the candidate talks 80 percent of the time, with the interviewer talking 20 percent of the time.”
As in media training, it is a good idea to practice prior to a job interview. Have a friend or spouse play the role of interviewer, record your interview, and then watch the video and critique your performance. Look for opportunities where you could have made your points. Think about the questions that you struggled with. And look at your body language to see if you are coming across as confident and secure, or anxious. Plutz recommends “using the job posting and going over the candidate’s résumé to frame questions to make the practice even better.”
One of the biggest mistakes that people make in media interviews is “just answering questions.” This doesn’t work well in job interviews either. Always have a story to tell, and make sure that you tell it well. However, Plutz cautions, “while you may have an ‘agenda’ it is ‘their agenda’ that matters.”
What about the cosmetics of an interview? These include non-verbal factors, such as making eye contact and hand gestures. What is the person conducting the job interview looking for? He or she wants to see a capable, credible, dynamic candidate — someone with confidence, intellect and verve. The cosmetic side of the interview helps to create this impression.
In a TV interview, the most important element for building credibility is eye contact. Keep your eyes focused on the interviewer, especially during the most difficult questions. Looking away, up or down while responding to a tough question gives the audience the impression of evasion and deception.
The same is true in a job interview. Maintaining direct eye contact with the interviewer during these types of questions shows that the candidate does not have anything to hide, can handle the toughest challenges and has a good story to tell.
As for gestures, people often use them on TV to burn nervous energy and make themselves more visually interesting. They also help show passion, which leads to increased credibility. This is also true in job interviews, but it is not as important as it is with the media. Those who never gesture in a normal conversation should not force themselves to do so in a job interview — they may risk appearing “puppet-like” or overly animated. However, people who naturally talk with their hands should absolutely do so in this situation.
Plutz recommends paying particular attention to your body language, so that you avoid appearing awkward or insincere, such as fidgeting.
The best media interviews involve knowledgeable interviewers and interviewees who have a story to tell and can tell it convincingly. The same is true for the best job interviews. The challenge, according to Plutz, is “to succinctly tell the story of your professional life as it relates to the specifics of the position.” Using the techniques that help convey a corporate life story in an interview can make the difference between a good interview and one that gets you the job.
Ken Scudder, co-author of “World Class Communication,” is a writer, media and presentation trainer, and crisis consultant. He is also head writer of the award-winning sketch comedy troupe The Mistake.
Email: ken at kenscudder.com