Approach a Job Interview as a Life-Changing Opportunity… Because It Just Might Be

WW, a reader, asks for tips on interviewing for a job…

Hi Mark,

 I recently learned about your amazing success through the Mike Dillard Self Made Man podcast (Episode 2). Coming across this episode this week was very serendipitous for me because I have the exact big opportunity that you talked about in this episode.

 You said, “The way to become rich as an employee is to go to work for an entrepreneurial company that’s growing.”

 A digital agency that I’ve been doing contract work for over the past three years has asked me to come on board as a team member to help grow the company and help especially with client retention.

 Early talks have revealed that I would be getting a salary (~80k) plus many benefits that are important to me.

 I would be employee #5, but I don’t want to just be an employee because I don’t want a hard limit on my potential income.

 I have already proved to be a “valuable” employee as a contractor, and as an employee, I would on the “right side of the ledger” because I am currently involved in digital strategy for clients but will soon be involved in client retention efforts. 

 My question to you: What is the most important question that I should ask in my negotiation for joining this small but growing company? 

Dear WW,

Yes, I did say that being an early employee of a fast-growing entrepreneurial business is a smart and fast way to become rich. If the owners see you as a superstar – a valuable (and eventually invaluable) team member – you’ll have every right to expect a share in the company’s equity growth.

You may not be given actual stock in the business. But asking for the equivalent guaranteed by an employment agreement (shadow shares) is nearly as good.

The fact that there are only four employees is a good thing. It means a better chance to get equity and a chance to get more than you might have otherwise. And the fact that you are currently self-employed and apparently doing well also works in your favor. You can do the interview without feeling you need the job. Being needy is usually seen as weakness. Negotiating a deal when you feel comfortable walking away from it gives you bargaining power.

It reminds me of the time I made a deal with BB. I had just retired after 20 years of grinding it out and had no desire to go back in business. So when BB asked me to join him, it was easy for me to demand a lot. I didn’t need the job and BB sensed that. What I got was everything I asked for.

So the first thing you need to do is detach yourself from the goal of getting the deal. In other words, make friends with the idea that you will walk away from the interview and happily return to your current job.

If you can do that, you can approach the interview in a relaxed but purposeful way. (It’s what is called “detachment with intentionality” in Zen theory.) You can answer the questions easily and honestly. You can be sympathetic to the company’s perspective on your compensation without feeling the need to yield to it.

Feeling free to say “I couldn’t do that” is enormously powerful. It will help you convey the confidence the company wants to see in you. Remember, they are not hiring you for your sake. They are offering you this position because they are hoping you can be their superstar. Your job, then, is to assure them that you will not only meet but actually exceed their expectations.

I’m not sure what you mean by, “What is the most important question that I should ask?” I’m guessing you are asking me what to ask in order to determine the company’s growth potential.

But you should know the company’s growth potential long before your interview. You should also know its biggest problems and challenges. And you should know how you could help solve those problems and meet those challenges to help them grow profitably. Conveying that to everyone you meet during the interview process is the single most important factor in your chances of getting hired on the terms you want.

That said, I have some additional suggestions.

The following is an excerpt from something I wrote on this topic more than 10 years ago. I just reread it and updated it a bit. I think you’ll find it helpful.

– MM

Don’t Leave Anything to Chance

Job interviews should not be treated lightly. To put yourself in the best negotiating position, you have to do your homework.

Here’s what I mean by that:

  • If you have any control over the situation, try to interview after all other candidates have finished. Consultants say that the last person interviewed has a slight edge over previous interviewees. And having any edge over the competition can never hurt.
  • Be prepared to tell your interviewer exactly why he should hire you. This is a chance for you to put your research to the test. Show that you know the company well enough to know how you can help solve its problems. Don’t boast. But be confident in your abilities and your desire to be a key player.
  • Have an idea about how you hope to advance within the company.  Your interviewer may want to know where you see yourself in three years, five years, or 10 years. State your ambitions in terms of accomplishments (“I’d like to have helped you break $10 million in sales”) rather than titles (“I’d like to be Marketing Director/CEO”).
  • Think about what you will say in terms of your extracurricular activities. Interviewers often ask about hobbies and pastimes. According to an article in USA Today (“Common Interview Questions”), they are not simply curious as to whether you have a life. They are looking for non-work-related evidence of your fitness for the job. Rather than telling them everything you do, tell them what they want to hear. If, for example, you play chess or bridge, that shows you have analytical skills. Reading, music, and painting demonstrate your creativity. Individual sports show that you have determination and stamina. And participation in group sports indicates that you are comfortable as part of a team.

Channeling Your Inner Salesperson: 5 Techniques to Land the Job

At the interview itself, don’t waste the good work you’ve done so far by doing what most everyone else does.

What do most people do? I’ll tell you.

They come in (dressed in their best suits), sit down, and try to smile. They answer the first few questions nervously. As time goes on, they relax and start talking about themselves. The more questions they are asked, the better they like it.

By the end of a half-hour, they’ve spent 20 minutes talking about all the ways they think they are wonderful and every hobby they enjoy. If they are lucky, they’ve devoted five minutes to a discussion of the job they will be doing – and in that time, they might have said something like “I’m sure I can do the job.”

As I alluded to above, this is not going to get you hired. Or if it does, it’s only because the other interviewees were even lamer than you were.

You don’t want to be hired because you were the best of a bad lot. You want to set a fire in your future boss’s imagination. You want to get that boss thinking about how much better his life will be the moment you start working for the company. In the words of Jeffrey Fox in Don’t Send a Resume, “If you don’t know why the company should hire you, it’s a good bet the company won’t know either.”

Basically, you have to think of the interview as a sales call… with you as the product. Here are some specific techniques to help sell yourself to your “customer” (the person doing the interviewing/hiring):

  • Let the customer talk as much as he wants. Listen. Nod your head. Smile and agree. When he asks a question, give the answer that he wants to hear. If you have been listening closely, you will know what that is.
  • Consider showing something – a customer survey, industry data, or the like – that illustrates work you’ve already done and helps make the case that you can contribute to the company’s success. The tactic of showing is a time-honored staple in the repertoire of strong salespeople.
  • If you interview at a restaurant, don’t drink alcohol and/or order something and eat very little of it.
  • In your research, discover dress preferences, if any, of the company you’re interviewing for. Don’t be a rebel. Conform.
  • If it looks like you might not get the job you are seeking, suggest that you could do a project for the company on a freelance basis. Perhaps even free. “That way,” you can say, “you can find out if I can do what I’ve promised, without any risk on your part.” This works in selling vacuum cleaners. It should work when you’re selling yourself.

It’s Not Over When It’s Over: The All-Important Follow-Up

After the interview, write a thank-you note. You don’t have to write pages and pages. Just a few lines will do.

A thank-you note has three purposes. It reminds your prospective employer of your interview. It gives you a chance to restate your most persuasive argument for why you deserve the job. And it shows that you have good manners.

An effective thank-you note has the following characteristics:

  • It is on stationery, not a random piece of paper.
  • It’s handwritten, not typewritten.
  • It addresses the interviewer by name.
  • It says something specific about the interview.
  • It includes the words “thank you.”

Writing a thank-you note is an extremely simple task. But, simple as it is, most people don’t remember to send one. You should do it immediately after any interview, informational or formal. The fact that you took the time to thank your potential employer for meeting with you will set you apart from the other applicants.