Interview Techniques with Kirsty Ferguson and PinStripe Solutions

Anybody that has even endured the arduous interview process or is soon to participate in the exercise knows what a nerve-wracking experience it is. In the short period of time that is allotted to the task of selling ourselves, we are somehow meant to prove that we are more worthy of the role than any other applicant, we are supposed to sell our life history in no more than that one simple question – “so tell us about yourself”, and we have to expose our personal and professional experiences in such a way that exposes all the best of our character traits. Above all, we are doing the interview in the pursuit of what is normally more fulfilling employment or a better life… so there’s considerable pressure to do well.

I’ve found that the best way of approaching an interview is to treat it as a marketing exercise in selling ourselves. We want ‘them’ to know all the fantastic reasons why they must have our product above any other, and give our panel of peers very good reason to want our product over any other (inferior) brand. We should approach the interview as an opportunity to properly define our brand and tailor make a (marketing) plan the same way we would if selling a traditional product. When we’re undertaking an interview the personal marketing potential is huge, and should be identified as such. We know our target audience (the panel of stooges), and we know what they’re looking for (selection criteria), so all we have to do is custom make a plan specifically tailored to the needs of our very limited audience. Our marketing counterparts in mainstream marketing would kill to have the opportunity to sell their product directly to an audience that’s specifically looking for the product they have to sell – and that’s the massive opportunity that we’re presented with. Our audience has commercial intent meaning that they have their wallets out and all we have to do is make the sale. The fact you are interviewed in the first place means they are interested enough to research your brand.

Seth Godin, marketing expert extraordinaire, wrote a book called “The Purple Cow” where he states that to create any kind of buzz surrounding a product or service (just like the purple cow everybody wants to stop and look at) is to make it different (in a good way)… make is stand out… and make it remarkable! That’s what we have to do; market ourselves in such a way that makes us outstanding… a ‘must have’ purchase that our potential employers simply can’t do without. Once we leave the room we want to leave a remarkable and positive impression so we don’t just meld into the huge mountain of perceived mediocrity they’ll interview before and after us. What will set you apart? How will you be remembered? When they think back to the sea of suits how will you stand out? What’s the unique story that makes you remarkable? What’s your Purple Cow? Remember, only dead fish swim with the stream.

Although I’ve used the marketing ‘hard sell’ analogy, the whole exercise might be better explained as a relationship. If you’re writing a personal ad on a dating web site, you’re probably not going to get much of a response if you provide one of those boring and generic responses that we read over and over… I love walking on the beach, music, movies and rain. Who doesn’t? I recently flicked through about a hundred personals on a popular Australian dating site and was surprised at how similar and repetitive many of the personals were – (I was even more surprised how many people listed Shawshank Redemption as their favourite movie). We’re not sheep so stop acting like one! We all have something that defines us as a character and sets us apart; so we have to milk the Purple Cow as best we can through the interview process. The panel is interviewing us for a potential relationship and you have to prove yourself to be a worthy asset and colleague above any other applicant. Telling them the same thing that everybody else did will get you nowhere.

I’m not saying we go into the interview and make a huge Amway style presentation to the panel in such a way as it paints a cult-like picture of our persona. All those basic interview principles apply. We need to be factual, truthful, unemotional, spirited, positive, non critical of others, short, succinct, lucid and clear – and at the same time not letting the process compromise our personality, since that’s a huge part of what they’re employing. The power of our presentation lies within the answers and examples we provide. Each question is an opportunity to make a statement and set ourselves apart. You do not want to be general, you do not want to provide a generic response and you do not want to be easily forgotten.

The whole interview process is easier said than done because most of us are only really good at what we would be employed to do, and we’re not necessarily geared up with the necessary arsenal to manufacture answers on the fly that’ll properly define who we are, or what we’ve accomplished, or what we’re capable of doing. We don’t understand the dynamics of marketing and we’re not human resource experts – so we don’t understand the damage some responses we provide could potentially do to our character. The only way of really getting to know how human resources think is to talk to one who specialises in your specific field.

I was interviewed for a job quite recently and like many others I didn’t know where to start or how to prepare. The nature of the interview was ‘behavioural’ meaning that discussion focus is on previous work experiences enabling the interview panel to predict future behavioural patterns. Questions are orientated around general work examples, coping mechanisms, communication, teamwork, motivation and work standards, conflict management, organisational, problem solving and initiative ? just for a start. Ask most people how to prepare for a behavioural interview and they’ll likely tell you that “it’s not an interview you can prepare for”. I can now unequivocally say that this statement is absolute nonsense. Not only can you prepare an array of answers that best fits certain criteria, but answers can be delivered in such a way that they address very specific criteria that the human resource panel is invariably looking for.

I was referred to a human resource specialist by the name of Kirsty Ferguson in Sydney, Australia. The friend that referred me had previously utilised her services to successfully obtain employment and assured me that I would likely have more chance of personal success should I make contact with her. In the first instance, I gave Kirsty a quick phone call and within about 30 seconds of talking to her I knew that she had something to offer. I booked in my first (and only) session for the following week and about 20 minutes later received an email packed with behavioural workbooks and notes relating to general interview techniques. I’m not somebody that really needed interview guidance on the subject but I figured that any and every bit of help I could source couldn’t be a bad thing. We always have something to learn.

The workbook was somewhat confrontational in a personal sense. As I said to Kirsty the day I met her; if she asked me anything about aviation, computer code or a number of other subjects I’d be able to regurgitate various details with relative ease, but when it came time to ask similar questions about myself, all of a sudden I had nothing to say. I seemingly knew an aircraft better than I knew myself. Kirsty’s workbook made identifying certain examples within my work history relatively painless and provided the basis for a structured response that was sure to address the needs of the interviewing panel. Most of us have productive answers to most questions but filtering down our employment history and isolating one particular incident can be a daunting task. Kirsty went beyond making this process easy and unleashed the power within each answer to make it work.

After having completed a session with Kirsty I can highly recommend her. She specialises in a number of fields and a broad range of occupations. Kirsty has become somewhat of a guru in terms of airline interviews and boasts a high success rate of applicant. The first session normally lasts about 2 hours and subsequent sessions, if required, are normally in blocks of an hour each. Irrespective of where you reside in Australia ? and even though she does do consultation via the telephone ? I would recommend seeing her in person. I felt that there was a certain advantage in presenting myself to her in the style of an actual interview. Having her comment on my body language and reacting to hers was a distinct and valuable advantage over telephone counselling.

PinStripe Solutions is located close to Sydney airport and there is plenty of nearby accommodation if you are able to present for more than one session.

If you do see Kirsty, let her know that you read about her here. Drop me an email or leave a comment and give us all some feedback. I’m sure Kirsty will help you achieve the success you deserve!

Visit Kirsty’s web site at pinstripesolutions.com

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