Mark Ford

From Mark Ford, editor, Creating Wealth: He’d been recommended for the job. So when I got on the phone with him, I was expecting a sharp, take-charge guy.

Instead, I got this:

“I’ve been involved in strategically important roles with communications companies for 25 years. Throughout, I’ve focused on my core competencies, building brand recognition and interfaces with key personnel.”

To which I responded: “Huh?”

I’d already made an initial assessment: This guy was a fraud. But to give him a chance to redeem himself, I tried to keep the conversation going.

“So,” I asked, “what exactly have you been doing all these years?”

I could almost hear him thinking, what kind of dummy am I dealing with?

But this is what he said:

“Bringing in a bottom line and achieving optimal results have always been goals that resonate with me.”

That’s enough, I thought. I couldn’t take any more.

“I’m sorry to do this,” I said. “But I have to jump off the phone now to handle an emergency. I enjoyed talking to you. I’ll be sure to look at your resume and get back to you if something comes up that meets your qualifications.”

And with that, I bid farewell to this young man… and any chance he had of ever working for me.

In their book, Why Business People Speak Like Idiots, authors Fugere, Hardaway, and Warshawsky say there are three reasons executives—and people applying for management positions—sometimes speak like this.

  1. Their focus is on themselves rather than on the person they’re speaking to. “When obscurity pollutes someone’s communications, it’s often because the goal is to impress and not to inform.”
  2. They fear using concrete language because saying exactly what they mean can make it hard to wiggle out of commitments. “Liability scares [some people], so they add endless phrases to qualify [their] views, acknowledging everything from prevailing weather conditions to the [many] reasons we can’t make a decision now.”
  3. They want to elevate—even romanticize—their thoughts and deeds because they’re afraid they aren’t impressive. They do so by using lofty language that disguises the mundane truth.

They’re afraid to appear ordinary. Their solution is to attempt to bamboozle everyone they speak with—particularly those with power.

This is a very bad strategy.

In a job interview, it makes the interviewee look pompous and vacuous—two traits any sensible employer wants to avoid.

When applying for a job, only two things really matter: what you know (your skill set) and who you are (your integrity).

Pretending to know things you don’t is a waste of your time. You’ll soon be found out. Getting tossed into the street after only a few weeks on the job is embarrassing… and an ugly blemish on your work history.

You can demonstrate your good character by being honest from the outset. Be candid about what you know and what you’ve done. But make it clear you’re confident you can quickly learn to do anything required of you.

In granting you an interview, your future employer is trying to find out if you can help him solve his problems and grow his business.

He isn’t looking to be impressed. He’s looking for someone who can make his life easier by doing a great job. Your job during the interview is to sell yourself as being that person.

And the first rule of selling yourself is to make sure you’ve got the basics down pat:

  • You must be good at something—really good.
  • That something must be useful to the success of the business you’re attempting to work for. This can’t be just any skill… it must be a financially valued skill.

    Generally speaking, that’s one of five things: marketing, selling, creating profitable products, avoiding risk, or managing profits.

  • You must prove you’re good.
  • Then you must deliver.

So how do you do all that?

Before the interview, study the business in detail. It isn’t enough to know what sort of products it produces and its “mission”—things you’ll find on its website’s home page. You have to dig deeper.

You must understand why its products are unique (if they are), what sort of customers it targets, the kinds of offers it uses, the media it buys, etc.

What you’re looking for is an insight into the core knowledge of the business—an inside view of the strategies it uses to grow and profit every year.

And while you’re looking for that, you should think about the problems the business is likely to encounter. Because solving those problems, in one way or another, will be your job—if you’re hired.

If you can do this detective work on your own, great. But if you can’t, there’s nothing wrong with calling ahead. Ask the person who’ll be interviewing you where you can go to learn more about the business. If he’s looking for a superstar (as he should be), he’ll be impressed you want to spend time preparing for the interview.

The bottom line is this: When it comes to winning a job, the conversation must be about how you can solve existing problems and provide future benefits to your new employer… not how wonderful you’ve been (or think you’ve been) in the past.