Thursday, November 4, 2010

So the techniques actually work...

This is a guest post by Assad Faquir. My appreciation and thanks Assad!

As one of the millions of people "in transition" I have experienced the highs and lows of "funemployment." As most unemployed people can tell you, one of the highest highs is when you get a call back for an interview. Similarly more than a few us can agree that the lowest low is when that same interview leads no where. For me, I had a few interviews that ended with a "your skills are impressive, BUT we are going with another candidate." Which I know is the professional version of "its not you its me."

After my 3rd or 4th dead end interview in 8 months, I changed the focus of my job search to selling my skills on a contractual basis. The change worked, but I was facing the same "interview" problem with the decision makers I was meeting. I simply couldn't get a commitment from any of them. However I was determined not to squander all of my new opportunities, so I crowdsourced my problem to the experts I know on Twitter. A few people offered advice but one, David Graziano, offered a few minutes of his time to give some techniques. I explained to him that I have a hard time selling myself, and since all interviews are sales calls he offered some good advice. I asked David at what point should I stop trying to sell and let the interviewer sell themselves? David gave me a tip from his personal bag of tricks. He said, when you reach that point of selling yourself too much, ask two questions:

1) What are the problems/issues you have run into trying to get the job accomplished currently?

And after they answer and you have some brief discussion, follow up with:

2) What solutions have you attempted to overcome these issues?

I took David's advice and ran with it. The next morning when I had my 2nd interview with a local bank I reached my maximum sales volume and deployed question 1... and the interviewer ate it up. The interviewer confessed all the struggles they had with the job. It gave me a chance to both empathize and dialogue my experience with similar problems. Then came question 2...again the interviewer ate it up and shared with me all of the solutions that led nowhere. The answers provided by the interviewer allowed me to again empathize with the struggle, but now I could offer some real examples of how I could solve the problem beyond what they had already attempted. In other words I was selling myself as the solution without making it obvious.

Well needless to say David's trick worked to perfection and within 2 days I had a 4 month contract offer in hand. The advice David gave me broke my habit of focusing on ME in the interview and allowed me to focus on the real needs of the company. Which when you think about it is the key to any interview or sales presentation...focusing on the problem and becoming the solution, not assuming you ARE the solution to an unknown problem.


  1. Would have liked to see some of the dialogue reproduced Andy.

  2. Not a problem @animal. A quick little bit of background. The job/work was for a project management role for the bank. This bank, like all banks, has more than a few regulatory based projects and technology based projects, that management simply doesn't have the time to complete. It is definitely not a matter of skill or competency but merely a time management issue.

    So in any event, during the interview we discussed several projects but one technology project in particular allowed me to ask the questions above. The response and dialogue to the question were as follows (paraphrased obviously):

    "The problems we are having revolve around determining needs for the product offering. Compounding this is the number of competing technology solutions, which all seem to do the same thing. The integrated solution offering from our core system makes the project easier, but the rapid advancement of the technology makes other technology solutions better overall. Also, we just aren't sure that demand for the solution is there from our customers."

    Having worked on a very similar project before when the technology in question was truly "bleeding edge", I could easily emphasize with all aspects of their problems. I offered up how in my past experience we had a hard time even getting our integrated solution to work because my former bank processed in a unique way. I told them our project was internal and not client facing, but often times that makes it more difficult to implement. So I simply reiterated using my past experience that I knew the point they were at in the project.

    After that I asked the second question and the dialogue was even more important to closing the "sale." The answer came:

    "We have brought several technology vendors in to pitch their solutions. We liked most of them but preferred the integrated package for its ease of use, but still felt it wasn't a perfect fit. We have tried to gauge customer demand, but I have only just asked some branch managers to ask their biggest and best customers if they would be interested. So nothing formal."

    Again I was able to draw on my past experience with these same problems to offer "fresh" solutions. As far as selecting the technology, I said it is my experience that the products aren't designed to be a perfect match. However, where I had success in the past was determining which elements of the products were needed and which were bells and whistles. Once you know what you need, the bells and whistles become negligible to the products value, kind of like unwanted option packages on a car. As far as the customer interest and enough demand to support the costs I said there are a number of standard reports that can be generated which will tell you more than the manager can. Plus you can "trust" that information to be more accurate and you should follow up with direct customer contact to verify the information and sell them on the product before you even buy it. Finally, I said, beyond the cost/benefit of customer demand is the reality of setting the price to the customer. You can overcome the costs associated with the project and create even more demand for it by pricing it right. I used an example from my non-banking experience where a bank charged $20 per month for the same technology. My company thought this fee was too high. However, I know had they only been charging $10-$12 we would have used the technology without question.

    So that is an example of the dialogue and how it opened up the conversation. It let the interviewer really define the problem in her own words, and let me offer solutions that were based on valuable experience.

    Hope that helps clarify some of the short narrative in the blog post!

  3. Congrats Assad, one of the things that has impressed me about your job search has been your openness to suggestions and guts to put them in action. Kudos to David for offering (yet again) pragmatic wisdom that works.

  4. Assad, thanks for sharing how the technique worked in a "case study" of defining the problem and offering your solutions based on you experience.

  5. Thank you Karen, and Assad executed quite well I would say.

  6. Can you write more about "So the techniques actually work"..?
    I am making a list of the "So the techniques actually work"..

  7. I think the real reason you did well was because Dave's question suggestions gave you confidence and therefore you had a certain amount of control over the interview.

    So instead of the (unfortunately) usual and predictable interview questions you actually had a conversation.

    A great lesson for candidates and also recruiters.

    Great post Dave, getting into the day to day gubbins of recruiting.

  8. This is great advice...

    In the 70's the book "Spin Selling" quantified the idea that buying is 'emotional first, rational second.' So selling has to get to the emotional issues, or you're never really going to get a chance.

    Questions like the ones mentioned are great. I also like:

    *Let's say you hire someone and they really knock it out of the part - they do so well you want to give them a promotion and a raise...what would someone have to do to get there?

    And just as (if not more) effective:

    *Let's say you hire someone and they really botch it up - what would that look like?

    The idea is to get into the emotions - and people's primary buying emotions are pain, fear and desire for gain (or greed if you're OK with that word).

    If you can't interview (or sell, you recruiters) that way, you'll never really connect...

    And you'll get lots of activity, but no deals!

    Great advice David!

  9. Thanks Scott. Emotional first and rational second. Be genuine and sincere and all else will follow.

  10. That is a great story with fantastic advice from David. Interviewing is sales so brush up on your sales skills, read up on sales techniques, ask for sales advice, etc.

  11. Textbook classic.. Great advice by Dave and excellent execution by Assad.. It might sound hokey but I learned this technique while selling timeshare in Mexico in the early 90's and have applied it to every area of my life. It has opened many doors and closed many deals.

  12. Martin makes a great point above....the best interviews (whether it be with a recruiter or a hiring manager) happen when we throw out the interview rules and just engage in a dialogue. I think David's suggestions really helped Assad open the door to do that....

  13. This post and comments make a wonderful case study and prove the importance of understanding how to sell! It also proves the importance of sharing stories/examples. Finally, as most have already noted, the interview has to be a dialogue.
    Why can't more people on both sides of the desk get it?
    Could it be some employers can't answer question 1 and 2?

  14. Loving the advice David gave you Asaad and most importantly that you used it and it worked. So much great stuff out there, people read it and then change nothing. Congratulations on winining your new contract.

  15. Hi

    Tks very much for post:

    I like it and hope that you continue posting.

    Let me show other source that may be good for community.

    Source: AT&T interview questions

    Best rgs