Developing an agenda for your interviews is one of the most important interviewing skills you can gain. If you will be competing against people with more direct experience than you, devoting time to developing your agenda is critical.

Your Agenda

Establishing an agenda is simply a process of determining in advance the stories and strengths you must sell in order to get the job offer. Very few job seekers, however, take the time to develop their own agenda. This is a major mistake. By having a plan—an agenda—you can take advantage of all opportunities that present themselves during an interview. By identifying the strengths and experiences that will best sell you, prioritizing them, and determining the questions that would enable you to describe them, you will rarely fail to take full advantage of each question. The questions that are most useful are open-ended questions such as, “Tell me about yourself,” “What is your greatest strength?” and “Why should I hire you?” Open-ended simply means it is a question that gives you wide latitude in answering it.

When asked such open-ended questions, you will have the opportunity to cover points from your agenda. If you’ve prioritized your stories and strengths, you can cover the most important ones first. It’s important to sell these points as early in the interview as possible since you may not get another chance to do so later on.

There are several ways to make your key points. One way is to have a resume filled with results and benefits, causing the employer to ask about your results. A second is to jump at every opportunity. If you are asked one of the open-ended questions, such as describing your top strengths, you should be ready to bring out those strengths that will add the most weight to your side of the scale. Your analysis of the job description will enable you to do that.

A third way is to answer the question and include an example. Then, as you finish the story, state the specific strength you were emphasizing, and then add another strength. For example, if the interviewer had asked an interviewee whether she was a good team player, she would first describe what makes her a good team player and then back it up with an example. Once she finished telling the story she would state:

I think that experience demonstrates that I am a very good team player. I believe it also demonstrates that I’m a person who comes up with unique marketing ideas. On that project I listened to all of the ideas of the team and utilized the best ideas from everyone. When we met a couple of days later, I had incorporated those ideas and mixed them with some unique ideas of my own. The group really liked it and that’s what we went to management with. The product that came out of those marketing meetings has been one of our most successful products of the last five years.

Notice what the person did. She answered the question regarding being an excellent team player and provided a very good story to back it up. She then reminded the interviewer of what she had sold to him—proof that she was an excellent team player. This is important because sometimes interviewers actually forget the question they had asked you. When that happens, no matter how effective your answer is, you won’t get maximum points. So develop a habit of restating the strength you’ve just discussed in your answer. Having restated the strength, it was then appropriate for her to mention from her agenda, at least one other strength that the experience demonstrated. It can be as simple as saying, “So I am a very good team player, and I think that experience also demonstrates that I develop effective marketing ideas.”

The reason this technique works is that as soon as you mention the other skills that were being demonstrated in the example, the interviewer will instantly agree. This technique requires practice, so when you’re rehearsing, be sure to add those additional skills. You’ll get weight added to your side of the scale every time. If you have a friend act as your interviewer, be sure to practice it then also.

The Steps To Developing An Agenda

Below are the four steps needed to develop your agenda and to ensure that you fully sell yourself.

1) Identify Your Accomplishments And Skills

Identify your top 30-50 accomplishments (see pages 41-45). Remember that an accomplishment is any experience that you enjoyed, did well, or got satisfaction from. Pick twelve key accomplishments and write 100-400 words describing each experience. Identify 5-15 skills in each one. (See pages 46-48 for examples of describing experiences and identifying skills.)

After writing about your top twelve accomplishments, spend a couple of minutes with each remaining accomplishment and identify the 2-4 skills that jump out at you. The key here is to be quick and not get bogged down by spending more than two minutes with any of these remaining accomplishments. It might look like this:

Skills Used

Work effectively with computer programmers

Find more efficient ways to do things

Make things happen/take initiative Work hard for my customers

Accomplishment

Worked closely with a programmer to develop a computer program that allowed for automatic reorders for a customer, a 38-store chain.

By doing this, you will now have 30-50 stories to share in interviews. You will then be able to choose which story would best suit a particular question.

2) Identify Your Most Important Strengths

Identify and list the strengths, skills, and areas of experience you have that will virtually always be desirable for the types of positions you’ll be applying for. It can help to clip out want ads for desirable jobs to determine what employers are typically seeking. But don’t limit yourself to the ads. Ask yourself what personality skills (see pages 69-70), transferable skills, and technical/work content skills are important for success in your field. For more on transferable skills and work content skills, go to www.cmr-mvp.com and click on Books and Booklets. Prioritize these strengths. This will enable you to bring your top strengths into the interview at the earliest point possible.

Review your 30-50 accomplishments and determine which ones used the skills you most want to sell. The table on page 58 shows how this can be done. If you don’t have a good example for a particular skill from your list of 30-50, take a couple of minutes to recall the experience in which you best demonstrated that skill. Then write it down.

3) Practice Your Stories

Practice describing all of the accomplishments you think you might use in interviews. Practice so that for each accomplishment you have a one-minute, a two-minute, and a three-minute version. With your longer version you can add details that reveal more about the experience and more about you as a person. With a one-minute version you have to work hard to determine the most critical points. It takes effort to remove all but the most important points from a story. Use the two- or three-minute version when you believe it will best sell you and if the interviewer appears to have an adequate attention span.

4) Match Your Strengths And Stories With 40 Key Questions

Examine the following 40 questions which are all covered in detail in chapters 21-28. Determine which strengths and stories you would likely mention when asked those questions. In that way you’ll always mention your key strengths at the earliest opportunity.

Review the following questions. They come from the list of 101 toughest and most frequently asked questions. These are the most open-ended questions and the ones most likely to give you an opportunity to present the points you want to make.

1. Tell me about yourself.

2. What is your greatest strength?

3. What can you offer us that someone else can’t?

4. What are your three most important career accomplishments?

5. How would you describe yourself?

6. Why should I hire you?

7. Describe your biggest crisis in your life (or career).

8. What is unique about you?

26. What do you think determines a person’s progress with a good company?

27. Who has exercised the greatest influence over you?

32. What have you done to increase your personal development?

36. What was the most useful criticism you ever received?

37. What is the biggest change you’ve made in your life in the past ten years?

39. Can you work well under stress?

40. Are you a team player?

43. What are the things that motivate you?

45. What have you done that shows initiative?

46. What personal qualities are important for success in this field?

48. Are you willing to take calculated risks?

49. Can you establish effective methods and procedures?

51. We need someone who is resourceful.

52. What has been your biggest challenge?

53. Describe a team project where you are proud of the team’s result as well as of your personal contribution.

54. Describe a difficult decision you’ve made and the process you went through to reach that decision.

55. Give me three qualities that are really helping you get ahead and three qualities that you must work on if you are going to achieve your career goals.

59. Why do you want to get into this field?

61. How long will it take before you make a positive contribution to our organization?

62. What do you like most about this position?

63. Tell me about your duties at your present job.

64. What is the most important aspect of your job?

67. What is the most difficult situation you ever faced?

69. What jobs have you enjoyed most? Why?

70. What duties have you enjoyed most?

74. Why would you like to work for us?

80. What kind of recommendations will you get from previous employers?

84. How has your supervisor helped you grow?

85. What did your supervisor rate you highest on during your last review?

89. Can you supervise people?

93. How would your subordinates describe you as a supervisor?

95. How have you improved as a supervisor over the years?

Once you’ve completed all four steps, you’ll be ready to ace your interviews. Take the time to put all of these pieces together. Yes, it will take time—5-15 hours is typical—but the quality of your answers will bring about better results than you’ve ever experienced.

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