Treat Your Next Interview Like a Press Conference

Christian Knutson | Comments | May 13, 2013

Think your VP position or partner status means that you’re not vulnerable to having to find a job?  Think again.  In the past year I personally know of several colleagues who have been offered the chance to find a new opportunity.  And I too am in the midst of navigating a transition.  Even successful engineers have to be ready for an interview, so treat your next interview like a press conference.

Having recently gone through a two-day battery of tests and an interview it dawned on me that a great way to approach the process of preparing for an interview is to treat it like a press conference.  Senior leaders such as the President or UN Secretary General are masters at preparing for and delivering a consistent message during press conferences.  Think about it:  they’re faced with a room full of people, some of whom are hostile, who are armed with questions that may or may not be in the rehearsed material.  Because of this, they have to be ready not only for the message, but for sensitive questions as well.  The kind that leads to bad sound bites on the news.  To do this, they stick to a theme.

Select Your Theme

You’re interviewing for a position. You’ve done your homework and the position is one that you want.  Begin by focusing on your skills, past accomplishments and experience along with the desired qualifications for the position.  From this mix of material, begin looking for three main themes.  These will be your main talking points and the foundation from which you can launch into any direction based on the questions thrown at you.

Use the three main themes as your home base, or your security blanket, which you return back to over and over.  The benefits are that the constant return to the themes will drive the message home to the interviewers on your competitive advantage and the three themes give you a way out of difficult questions. More importantly, the three themes give you a port to call on in case you loose your bearings and need to abort a question.

Does it Work?

On a recent interview I used experience, professionalism, and initiative as my three themes.  These were specifically tied to the qualifications desired in the candidate and they worked.  I spent an appreciable amount of time rehearsing in front of the mirror and using my Mac’s camera to record my responses to questions.  The rehearsals meant that I was prepared to stay on theme and that I was ready for the ubiquitous ‘what’s your greatest weakness’ question.

The next interview the main themes may be my program management acumen, ability to develop relationships, or my international experience.  In short, keep it to three themes and develop them enough that you:

  • Have specific examples to back up the three themes you present.
  • Don’t sound like an artificial, paid advertisement.  You need to know the material and make it sound conversational.
  • Are confident on the material such that you can transition into other topics as needed.  More importantly, that you can comfortably fall back to the three themes if you get in a bind.
  • Can effortlessly tie the three themes into a rehearsed closing comment.

Preparing for your interview like the President preparing to face the press in the Whitehouse Briefing Room is a great psychological play for you.  I have no doubt the President’s full of anxiety when he has to take the podium on a hot topic.  But he’s paid to look cool, calm, and collected and stay on message.  And if you want to get paid, by being hired, you’ll develop your message to stay on.

“I try to see interviewing as performance art, and just take it as it comes.”  Liz Phair

Chris Knutson, P.E., PMP is a leadership and strategy coach, practicing engineer and program manager. He is co-founder of The Engineering Career Coach, a company providing engineers and engineering companies core skills, leadership, and lifestyle design services enabling them to execute their vision. Chris is a retired U.S. Air Force civil engineer officer with over two decades of active duty service leading engineering organizations and multi-million dollar programs around the globe. Learn more about his work and access more resources at The Engineering Career Coach.

Image courtesy of MDGovpics.