Job interviews are so fundamental to professional advancement. Every executive has had a few times, if not many times, when the executive did not get the offer. The executive may feel that the executive “blew” the interview. The executive may be thinking: Was I too nervous? Was I too rambling in my responses? Did I not ask the right questions? Was my body language off putting? Was my voice too squeaky?
The executive will analyze the perceived failed interview a thousand different ways. What is more frustrating is that many executives extensively prepare for interviews by researching the company and its people, anticipating kinds of questions, and practicing scripted answers. They were prepared, or so they thought.
What most executives do not know about or consider is an interview coach. Even at the pinnacle of their talents, world class athletes hire coaches to improve their “skills.” Why wouldn’t you get help on how to nail a job interview?
My blog guest, Corinne Vargas, is just such a person who can help you “up your interview game.” She is the founder of CVC Consulting, a firm that offers, among other services, coaching for professional and business interviews.
FINCH: Corinne, we know that a successful interview has a huge impact on whether an executive makes it to the next round and hopefully receives a job offer. Why do you think it does not occur to most executives that it is worth the investment to hire someone to hone their interviewing skills?
VARGAS: In my experience, the investment is often not the barrier to hiring a coach. Instead, I have found many executives do not consider interview coaching and support for two reasons: 1) they are eager to start the process of finding a new position and feel they want to tackle it as quickly as possible, which often means alone, OR 2) do not know coaching is available for tailored situations. Unfortunately, many clients find coaches after attempting to tackle the process on their own and in various states of rejection, frustration, and desperation.
However, post-coaching, clients often express the lessened anxiety and frustration they felt during the process compared to going it alone. They explain having a coach “on their side” to help them through various steps in the process proved invaluable. Skilled coaches can help clients though different steps or aspects of the process including interview question preparation, nervous and anxious manifestations, content presentation, transition story framing and storytelling in the interview context. Coached clients frequently state feeling more control over the process and a higher level of confidence and preparedness, ultimately bolstering a better representation of personal brand and better outcomes.
My advice to an executive in transition or looking to transition, is that it is worth the time to at least explore a coach as it can save time, frustration, and help you achieve your goals with more confidence, focus, and many times speed. If an executive decides to explore the option, they should look for an interview coach who provides focused, tailored coaching sessions offering perspective and actionable feedback.
FINCH: We live in a credential oriented society and executives want assurances for the value of the money they spend. As a professional interview readiness coach what is it about your education, certifications, training and experience that should make people want to hire you?
VARGAS: G.A., I am glad you ask this question. First and foremost, whenever an executive is looking for coaching (of any kind), they should absolutely look into the coach’s background and should not hold back in asking for more information from a perspective coach.
That said, I came to coaching through a very interesting route. I studied actuarial science and was a consulting actuary for one of the “Big Four” for six years. That experience enabled me to understand the true value of communications in various forms. I was responsible for communicating high level, complicated analyses to both technical, mathematical and non-tech/math clientele. I also realized it was the relevance of the results to the audience, that mattered most (sadly not the amazing excel work and fanatical number crunching I completed) in terms of creating an effective presentation.
I found I enjoyed the experience and the challenging task of engaging my audience based on their needs and interests. As I trained other staff to do the same, I quickly realized there was a lack of support in this “fuzzy” communication area. At this point, I decided I wanted to learn more about the craft from a biological perspective and become an informed professional. I completed my speech-language pathology degree, became a licensed speech-language pathologist, and added a clinical background to my experiences in cognition and communication.
Overall, I would say both my coaching style and philosophy are anchored by my professional corporate experiences and substantiated with my educational knowledge. This unique background enables me to empower my clients through clinical and technical approaches and provide an expert perspective to help them achieve their goals.
FINCH: Walk us through the process of interviewing coaching. What is the first thing you would do at the initial meeting with your client?
VARGAS: I often start with an informal call with a client to decide if the relationship will be the right fit for the client and their needs. If the fit is right, the initial meeting can be held in multiple modalities but I prefer in person or via web conference as this allows me to not only hear the client but see how they carry themselves as well.
The first meeting is focused on relationship building and learning about my client. It usually consists of an open, free-flowing conversation. I try to gain insight into why he/she has come to me, where the client comes from, and what they hope to gain from working together. The open conversation is followed-up with some structured information gathering including the client’s: current job description, desired job description, elevator pitch, separation/transition story, and perceived difficulties and strengths within interviews.
From here, the conversation becomes more focused including client identified interview difficulties, my perceived strengths of the client, and my account of the client’s growth areas (based on their Communication Profile). I must say, this conversation is always much easier than many clients anticipate it to be as my approach to coaching is conversational and collaborative. At the conclusion of the call, the client and I have identified focus areas, action items for each of us, and a framework for setting goals in advance of the next meeting.
FINCH: Could you tell us about the concept of a client’s communications profile?
VARGAS: Sure, I created what I call a “Communication Profile” which is a framework that consists of five distinct aspects pertaining to interview readiness:
- Mechanics – grammar and articulation
- Content – quality, length, and plausibility of responses, elevator pitch, and summaries
- Vocabulary – appropriate to desired position/industry/company, positive/negative connotation
- Prosody – melodic features of language including stress, intonation, and speaking rate
- Pragmatics – cultural and social cues in language
As a side note, it is interesting as technology has changed the scope of what is considered “language” in the interview domain. Today social and cultural “language” norms should be considered not just in in-person interviews but also in technological interactions including text, email, phone, and web conference.
Some executives may excel in some areas and require additional support in others. The background system I use enables us to identify their strengths and development areas and create an interview style that works for them, they are comfortable with, and can use in a dynamic way to acquire the job they desire. The goal is to use our time wisely and create effective change quickly.
FINCH: How do you develop client communications skills?
VARGAS: In a variety of ways and every coach has their own approach. However, if I had to summarize my process with executives, it consists of three phases: awareness, technique, adaptability or generalization. As a coach, it is my job to understand my executives. This not only includes their intentions for our work together and their perceived needs but also the way they “work”.
Different techniques work for different people. Referencing the client’s Communication Profile I choose areas of biggest change and find actionable solutions. Some examples include:
- An executive who struggles with social language difficulties like anxious leg shaking may try alternatives like moving their toes within their shoes or holding a paperclip under the desk.
- An executive who struggles with vocabulary that exudes confidence and positivity in their work may try a simple noun change from “we” to “I” which will make all the difference.
- An executive who struggles with engagement and content… now this one is a little harder. My approach often includes challenging him/her to decipher some of their most interesting and noteworthy stories (work, relational, and personal) to use to answer many different types of interview questions. This approach develops a conversational feel within an interview and increases listener engagement.
As I said, every coach will work differently but I often tell my executives, I’m not doing my job if I can’t devise a strategy that will work for them.
FINCH: Can an executive project a brand in an interview?
VARGAS: Absolutely. In my opinion, brand projection is the culmination of an executive’s experience, character, and presentation, as well as their ability to convey this information in a meaningful, effective way. Brand recognition and identification are imperative to interview success. If an interviewer walks away without a clear picture of who the interviewee is, what they do, and their values, it means that the executive did not project their brand. Clear personal brand presentation will dictate suitability for the job for both the executive and the company.
FINCH: What is clear messaging in the context of an interview? How do you enable a client’s clear messaging?
VARGAS: Answering the question. Answering the question. Plain and simple, it is important to answer the question asked. Often helping executives listen first and answer second is a skill in and of itself. The reality is, we all get nervous in interviews, after all we are being judged (that is what an interview is…). I find many times executives are so focused on one part of the question (perhaps the beginning of a long built up question or a multi-part question) they miss the boat on what the interviewer was actually asking OR, alternatively, they are so concerned about getting their great attributes highlighted they veer off topic.
Plain and simple, if you do not understand/hear the question, you cannot answer it. Given that, I work with my clients to: 1) listen and 2) concisely answer questions with their experience while creating an interesting, engaging response based on their communication profile and style.
FINCH: What are the ways you create client confidence?
VARGAS: Oh creation is an interesting word. I believe all executives contain the confidence they need to achieve their goals. The aspect that is often missing is the tool(s) to show that confidence. For example, you may be the best CFO in the XX industry with great experience and powerful ideas on how to impact companies from the ground up and top down. If your communication of these ideas is lackluster and your brand is unclear, the confidence is most definitely not forefront in your interviews and meetings.
Coaches work in many different ways to “create” confidence but I often find that identifying and using an executive’s strengths to tackle their development areas is the simplest and more effective approach. This creates not only a great foundation for confidence but an excellent boost to personal brand representation.
FINCH: How does a client connect the client’s written resume to the client’s verbal interview?
VARGAS: This is a great question. I have often found that resumes do not match the individual in tone, presentation, and format. If your resume is composed of your highest accolades but excludes the process you pushed to get there, what good is talking about those accolades?
It is important to have a good connection to your resume, what it includes, what it highlights so that your interview can and will be more focused on the aspects of your career that you are proud of and/or enjoyed and that you want to talk about. Your resume should set the stage for your interview. For example, an executive may use words like “combated”, “gained”, or “enlisted” to infuse emotion into their accomplishments and start with their “how” statement to create emphasis. “Enlisted entry-level associates to create new, relevant performance metrics increasing company morale by 5% on the quarterly survey.”
Simply changing structure and presentation of information can infuse energy, character, and personality into your resume and make you stand out. Moving on to the next experience can be intimidating but also an exciting opportunity and it starts with your resume.
FINCH: What are the two most common mistakes in how clients have interviewed?
VARGAS: First, Clients often come off as too nervous or too sure of themselves. This sounds contradictory but there is a fine line in interviews as the expectation is for the executive to answer questions and to do it well. Well, what does that mean? This is where an outside, objective perspective can be helpful. An executive could choose a trusted friend or a coach but it is important to know how your communication is perceived.
Second, not asking enough about the company and/or potential coworkers. Let’s face it, we all love to talk about ourselves. Most of us don’t prefer to be in an interview when doing it but it is one of those traits we all share. Asking about the individual across the desk from you, their experience with the company, and their perceptions of the company can be a great way to engage your interviewer, learn more, and frankly engage in a conversation. Interviews that feel more like conversations, or where you do less of the talking, often yield better perceptions from your interviewer (because we all like to talk).
FINCH: Should an executive go for the home run in an interview or can hitting a single and not make any mistakes be just as effective?
VARGAS: I would say the most important aspect of an interview is authenticity. If you are authentic in the interview, the result will be what it should be. Not every company and executive are compatible and that is okay. Walking away from an interview, an executive should just be sure to have no regrets on how they represented themselves. Non-perfect answers and food in your teeth are not going to stop you from getting a job. Not appropriately representing your experience, qualifications, and self just might.
FINCH: Any parting advice for future executive interviewees?
VARGAS: I often tell my clients, if you are sitting in the seat (or on the phone), you are already qualified. Interviews serve as an opportunity for the company to find out more about you but also for you to find out more about the company. The interview should be thought of as a conversation and the information gleaned from that conversation is relevant to both parties. Understanding that you are looking for a great fit is just as important as the company looking for a great fit is important. Your experience is relevant, you are qualified, and you are also in a position to make a decision too. This mindset often helps executives retain perspective in conversation, errrrrrr I mean interviews.