Supporting Internal Interview Success Through Selling Techniques
By Carol Sommerfield
A human resource goal of organizations is to get the right person in the right job. As logical as that may sound, it is a daunting task. Often internal employees with proven track records, who already know the organization and culture, are excellent and talented candidates. However, they may not present well in interviews. This is a loss to both the organization and the employees: organizations overlook the best candidate for the job and employees miss out on development opportunities and career progression. Additionally, employees may get discouraged after numerous rejections and begin to look outside the organization to advance their careers.
Why do talented employees fail in the internal interview process? My interviews with managers and HR professionals reveal some common reasons. The internal candidate is:
- Unable to communicate his or her fit for the position
- Provides too much detail to interview questions, losing the audience
- Does not demonstrate enthusiasm for the position
- Fails to succinctly communicate his or her fit and strengths
- Neglects to answer the interview questions accurately or concisely
- Displays a lack of knowledge about the position/department
- Lacks competitive interviewing techniques
I then conducted interviews with internal employees who were unsuccessful in obtaining jobs for which they were qualified. They listed some key barriers to their success:
- Modesty: speaking about themselves is seen as egotistical and disingenuous
- Nerves: failing to attentively listen, diving into too much detail, and appearing wooden and unenthusiastic
- Preparation: failure to research the position, understand the specific ways in which they are the best candidate for the position, and develop a strategy to succinctly communicate the fit
- Positioning: not spending time prior to the interview to network, contact the hiring manager, or interview other people associated with the job.
My interviews with managers and employees in two large global corporations pointed to an overriding problem: the employees’ inability to sell a unique value proposition. What if those very talented and qualified employees were taught selling techniques to help them overcome their poor interview performance? My hypothesis was that a focus on sales techniques could help employees:
- Craft solution-focused targeted communications
- Listen attentively to identify the problems to be solved and opportunities to be exploited
- Provide a model and process to help employees successfully navigate the interview process.
The 3P Model
Internal employees are not sales professionals and so a simple selling model was needed to help them navigate the interview process. I developed an easy to remember model, the 3 P’s, as a roadmap to successfully sell a solution (the employee) to a problem/opportunity (the purpose of the position).
HR professionals and career management consultants may want to coach their employees and clients on the techniques of Preparation, Pitch and Post activities to increase interview success.
Preparation (prior to the interview):
- Clarify the goal for the interview
- Know the audience – who are they and what information do they need?
- Do the research on the position, the manager, and the department
- Know who the decision maker is
- Understand the problem/opportunity and how to specifically address the problem or opportunity
- Anticipate concerns and be prepared to address them
- Develop questions for the interviewers to show knowledge of the position/department, and to communicate interest
- Define and prioritize the key messages to deliver
Pitch (during the interview):
- Build rapport/trust by being vulnerable, honest, and asking questions
- Be yourself. Remember that you, as a whole package, are a solution
- Ask questions to showcase research, analytical thinking, and interest in the position/department
- Be succinct, clear, direct
- Sell the solution to the problem, which is the interviewee’s value proposition
- Keep it high level – resist the urge to go into details. Ask if further explanation or detail is needed after providing a succinct, high level answer.
- Use the power of stories. Tell concise stories using the STAR format to be clear and prevent rambling. ST: What was the story or task? A: What action did you take and why? R: What was the result?
- Actively listen
- Read body language
- Be positive and honest
- Demonstrate an ability to solve similar problems
- Know the key messages and communicate them consistently.
Post Activities (after the interview):
- Immediately follow-through on actions
- Thank them for their time via email or a note
- Follow-up on the status of the position
- Maintain the relationship with the interviewers
- Don’t take rejection personally
- Ask for feedback on what was done well during the interview and where improvement may be needed.
Exercise to Build Skill
When working with one or more employees on improving their interview skills it is sometimes useful to provide a low risk, fun practice exercise. Instead of using the 3P model by selling themselves in a real interview, ask them to first practice selling a highly unusual product that is for sale on the Internet (e.g. hissing cockroaches, edible insects). This exercise is enjoyable and provides the following benefits:
- Builds skill in preparation, listening, identifying the problem, seeking a solution for the problem, and selling the ‘fit’ between problem and solution.
- Increases confidence in the ability to sell with integrity
- Allows for constructive feedback and practice in a safe environment
- Provides easy bridging to selling a value proposition for a job using the 3P model in an interview.
After the exercise, then ask them to use the 3P model to sell themselves and to perform mock interview with you or others to build skill.
The Principles of Selling Work
The 3P model increased interview success and confidence for those who used it. The 3P model also helped internal employees sell their ideas and proposals within their organizations. The process forces preparation and practice prior to the interview or presentation and builds confidence. It also stresses the importance of focusing on the customer (the hiring manager) and ensuring there is a good fit solution (the employee). The 3P model also works for external job searches.
The 3P model reinforces two key selling principles: It’s not about you – it’s about them and sell the suit and not the buttons.
Carol Sommerfield, Ph.D., CMCS, GCDF, SPHR is the owner of Frogs Leap Consulting, LLC (www.frogsleapconsulting.com). She provides career management, leadership development and communication training and coaching to organizations and individuals. Prior to starting her own business, she was a corporate HR and IT executive with large global corporations. She can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.