Sunday, April 20, 2008

The Joy of Interviewing

In drafting my recent post about tips, I am reminded of a strange challenge that some marketers face -- the job interview. You'd be surprised how many professional marketers that I have met who are nervous at the prospect of a job interview. On the one hand, it is a perfectly human expression for an awkward situation -- you have to talk about yourself and tell somebody about how great you are, but most of us don't want to be that guy who tells everyone how great he is. On the other hand, the guy who is thinking about hiring you doesn't really want a marketing guy who can't differentiate and develop effective messaging, and if you can't do that about yourself (the product that you've known and worked with all your life), how can he have any confidence in your ability to position and market his products.

Add in one more factor, and you've got a lot of the psychology wrapped into it's own perfect storm -- inherently, we all have some sense of the personal quality of our efforts (if you thought that everything that YOU did sucked, you would probably find not be looking forward to the prospect of doing more unfulfilling work). As a result, the job interview is also a personal evaluation of the mirror -- if the organization that is considering hiring you can't recognize the quality of your work, then you probably not going to want to produce work for them.

And then there is the other aspect of the equation -- if you're interviewing, that means that there is money on the table, and that revenue source has the potential to reshape your livelihood.

So what's a marketer to do?
The advice that I usually give to friends it to treat job interviews like you are pitching your services as a consultant to a prospective client. While they share a lot of common threads, the process and tone of pitching a new client is quite different from a job interview. Pitching services as a consultant always seems to be significantly less intimidating than a job interview.

Differentiation is it's own challenge. Consider:
Q - So, how would you differentiate yourself from the other candidates in our pool?
A1 - Well, I have good ideas and they don't.
A2 - Well, I know what I'm doing and they don't.

From an interview standpoint, this type of question is one designed to elicit conversation, to get the candidate to open up. But look at this from a marketer's standpoint: Differentiation typically involves research and analysis, understanding the market, your competition, their strengths and weaknesses, the audience, their unique requirements -- the whole landscape -- then developing positioning and messaging based on all of that analysis. Even when you're thrown into a brainstorming meeting, you typically have some basic understanding of the topic areas that you are faced with and you can anticipate some variables. But this is an interview and you don't know anything about your competition. You could be in a pool with Steve Jobs or Steve Ballmer -- they've got great jobs, but you never know; maybe they've just decided to make a change, explore some options. Of course, it's more likely that the pool of candidates is a handful of people who are a lot like you.

So what is your brand? How do you take you to market? What aspects of your brand have you focused your development on, made into strengths? If your able to communicate your unique brand strengths and your prospective customer/employer isn't able to connect with them, the answer may actually be that they weren't a qualified prospect -- but your demand generation programs are successfully driving traffic.

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