Early preparation can make the difference between a thumbs up and a thumbs down
If you think you’ll wait until a couple of days or even the night before an important interview or sales call to get some “tips” on success and be fully prepared, think again. Preparing the night before is too late. There is far more effort required to ensure that what you say results in the best use of the precious few minutes your audience allows you. An impersonal presentation or generic answers to interview questions may have helped you do well in the past, but now people have less time, listen less and are more preoccupied, and grasping their attention is much harder to do. Knowing more before you go into a meeting allows you to respond more specifically to questions and appear as if you, or the product you are selling, are a great fit.
Preparing the night before is too late.
The investment made in preparation will ultimately pay off in your moving forward with an opportunity that is a good fit vs. coming in as a runner-up. The following steps will help put you ahead of the competition.
- Fully vet the organization and your fit. This means conducting online research and talking with people who work there. Do you really know how they operate/communicate/deliver? Unless you are clearer about what is “acceptable” behavior or “expected” outcomes, your responses may sound the same as all the others. There is a wealth of information available online to give you clues about an organization’s operations and culture. Real people in or outside of your network will provide insight into what is real and what is really only great marketing.
- Script your answers and your presentation. Don’t expect to think of pertinent examples on the fly. If you understand their business model and are able to adapt your experience to their needs, you are going to be much more successful driving a point home. It’s difficult for anyone to have exactly the right words in stressful situations. (That’s why people use speechwriters and publicists to tell their stories.) Don’t expect to sound super brilliant without crafting your answers in advance and making sure you are saying exactly what you intend for them to hear.
- Practice. It’s not uncommon for people to pick a few questions to practice and use the answers across the board with any organization or for a salesperson to make a generic product presentation using the same description of features and benefits for every customer. You may have been on the receiving end, and it may have sounded like “la la la la la” to you because none of the information applied to you. Practicing is more than saying rote statements over and over. It means thinking through your audience’s scenario and editing your story to make sure it resonates each and every time. It also means being able to veer when a question is posed differently or the intent is different. Practicing first and paying close attention to the questions will help ensure you are using the right examples for each scenario and thoroughly hitting the mark with what is needed.
- Know how to read between the lines. A literal answer to some questions can take things off course. Make sure you know what your audience is really searching for before you launch on a path that takes things off course. You may have heard the old sales response to “Can it be delivered tomorrow?” which is “Do you need it tomorrow?” Instead of launching into “Oh, no, it takes three days to process your information first and blah, blah, blah…”, you simply reconfirm what is really Their response then might be “No, actually, it would be fine next week,” to which your response is “Great! We can set that up for Monday. How will that work?” On the same note, an employer may ask “What are your salary expectations?” This really is to determine if you fit within their budget, so responding with a number outside of their expectations can remove you from consideration. Do your homework so you can ask “Please tell me your range” and recognize whether it is reasonable or, if they insist that you tell first, you are able to provide a range that is broad enough to cover their expectations. Once again, knowing more about their business before you go in will help you make some assumptions that can easily be confirmed.
- Craft great questions. Express an interest in them and what they need or are doing. Asking questions that only appear to express your interest in “What’s in it for me?” is less attractive to an audience than asking questions about “What’s in it for them?” The questions should be about the people you will be working with, the team’s current challenges, departmental goals for the upcoming few months or company initiatives that may be expected in the next year.
Researching the organization and the players will help you to zero in on the information about your skills, experience, knowledge or products that will resonate most strongly with your audience. Having conversations with people who work for an organization, in-depth research and the careful consideration for appropriate questions and answers requires more time than a last-minute swipe. Make sure you think carefully about your process and give yourself your best shot by preparing ahead of time.