Sales tips for the aspiring rock star!

Monday, September 21, 2009

Acing The Job Interview!

Our world has grown increasingly competitive. While our ultimate destination might be a new job our first challenge is becoming more memorable!

Having interviewed over 1,000 professionals and spearheading the Sales DNA program at Consolidated Graphics, I have truly seen it all. I've also been the dude on the other side of the desk getting interviewed. There were times where I knew I nailed it and other times that I left thinking "I can't believe I said that out loud!"

Today's blog is about you, kicking tail, taking names and wielding a little something called IMPACT! So strap in folks, its a lengthy one but this is your career so there will be no corners cut!

1) Get Current With Key Things You Should Know: Your industry, your craft, the local business landscape, national/international business landscape. Want to kick it up a notch? Have a quote, a statistic, a study to show your interviewer you take business seriously! Just in case you want to take it up two notches, come prepared with an interesting story pertaining to the areas I mentioned and watch how it can liven up your interview.

2) Meticulous Preparation: This is where so many people drop the ball. Its inexcusable in this day in age not to do your homework. Let's start with the obvious stuff. Study the heck out of their website, the about us section, press releases. Learn who the key players are. Google the company, the individual who will interview you as well as the key players. Never know when one of them might join you in the interview. Better be prepared. Know who their competitors are (who knows that might even create another opportunity for you). Look for things that enable you to get inside the head of your interviewer such as a blog, discussions on Linkedin etc. When I interviewed for my former position with Dale Carnegie, I found out my interviewer did a presentation for the Egyptian Chamber of Commerce on Leadership. I studied the powerpoint he used line by line and was able to understand how he thought, terms he used, his philosophies on leadership and was able to leverage that by getting him to talk about his favorite subject . . . himself! Isn't that what we all love to talk about, ourself? The other part of your research should involve developing preliminary questions based on your research. Things you want to discuss, get clarification on etc. It should also involve something cool you can keep "in your back pocket". When I interviewed for Consolidated Graphics, I found information which included a picture of my interviewer at a grill with the heading "Grill Master". At one point my interviewer called me out to see if I did my homework. I told him about articles where he was written up in Printing News and other publications. He wasn't impressed because he felt anyone could have found that out. I then presented him with the picture of "The Grill Master" and we had a good laugh. He explained the story behind the picture to me and we had an opportunity to connect. That's a critical reason why meticulous preparation is key! Important: Telling someone you researched them is one thing, verbally proving it is another, but showing them differentiates you. That's why you should bring your research with you in a folder. Feel free to tap that folder when you tell them you did your homework. The other part of meticulous preparation is understanding the basic questions and becoming fluent with your responses! I have included a link to some standard questions you should know. I'll get into more detail on some specific questions where you need to really be on your game later in this post. Oh, one more thing about proper preparation. There is a specific question you need to ask that can save your hiney big time. Before you hang up the phone feeling like a million because the interview is set, ask them "Is there anyone besides yourself who may join us?" That stupid question will help you research ALL the appropriate parties and even reveal that the person you are speaking with won't even be interviewing you. Wow, talk about a big waste of research and showing up unprepared, huh?

3) Get in the right "state" before you interview: This can be particularly hard if life has just dealt you a groin kick. If ever there was a time for a game face, its now. Listening to your favorite "pump up" music can work magic. How could you not want to kick ass after listening to some "Born to Be Wild" or some "Enter Sandman"? I wrote an entire blog post on this and you need to check it right now dude And while you are at it your attitude, quite frankly may need a mandatory enema. We can't be sure so for a quick exam go here Do you ever get nervous? Well Uncle Paul has you covered. Take two shots of Cuervo, just kidding. Seriously, hold a ceramic cup filled with warm water before you go forth and conquer. The warmth travels the nervous system and calms you down. I've coached people who have stage fright and call reluctance with this crazy remedy and it works! Visualize yourself saying the right things. Visualize your interviewer nodding their head in agreement and showing verbal and non verbal signs of approval. Now, pardon me for the "101" moment but part of meticulous preparation is allowing enough time so you don't have to rush. Do you think you are at your best when you just screwed up the punctual thing? Nuff said!

4) Unleash the Advanced Rapport Techniques: And no, I'm not talking about commenting on the trophy on the shelf or the pics of the kids. Do that and you blend in with everyone else and run the risk of sounding artificial. I'm talking about the holy grail of rapport as in understanding that each person is wired differently and therefore has a different code for you to crack in order to connect. Get the skinny by clicking here

5) Beware Of Certain Questions: When someone asks you about money, always give a range for what you are looking for. That leaves room to negotiate and keeps you in the game. Under no circumstances are you to answer the "Tell me about your weaknesses" question with that BS of "I'm a perfectionist" I would suggest telling them something more in the past tense of something you had to get a better handle on such as time management, delegation, prospecting etc. Then tell them how you did it, lessons learned, your biggest take away etc. You will come off much stronger and won't sound like you read the from the same script as the others. Beware of the "Why are you considering a change?" question. Many people look at this as an opportunity to get negative and bad mouth their employer. Use your head, think it through and you will be fine. Final advice: Beware of left hook questions from the interviewer. They are designed to ruffle your feathers to see how you handle (and sorry for saying this) other people's stupidity as far as I can gather. I mean stupid questions like if you could be any animal or travel to any place in the world. You wouldn't want to say "I'd like to be a Lion because who wouldn't want to be the king of the F'n jungle baby! And as for places I'd go if I could go any where, I'd go to wherever you got that question from and eye gauge the jackass that taught you the question" Anyway, sorry for that folks, I'm a tad jacked up on Mountain Dew!

6) Don't Over Talk Your Answers! I like to think of it as Guerrilla Warfare because you need to get in and get out. And while you are at it, watch those digressions (you know when you take someone around the block with your answer and ultimately drop them off some place else) Personally, I can't stand long winded answers, especially if they don't answer my question. Check their temperature after answering a question to make sure you covered what they asked. Here's a little inside secret for you. A good interviewer will allow a little uncomfortable silence after you answer to see what you do with that silence. Many times they will find out some pretty wild things about you simply because the average person has a need to fill silence out of nervousness. My suggestion, simply stare them down, confidently and with a smile as if to say "Your monkey style kung fu is ineffective biotch!" Gold star if you use silence on them!

7) Do This and Take It Over The Top Baby!: Proactively prove what you say. Don't wait for them to ask for proof. Show them! Here's how it works. I tell the interviewer that I was the grand freakin wizard of sales. Well, they may take my word for it or I can provide them with my sales ranking charts in the company newsletter, my W-2's etc. Have testimonials from clients? Bring them! Letters of recommendations from previous managers? Bring them! Better to come prepared and choose your weapon than get called out and have to look like everyone else when you say "I'll bring it next time" Always put your best foot forward and don't count on a next time!

8) Focus On Delivering A Congruent Message! If I want to project a message of being confident and well prepared, I'm not sure a verbal message littered with "ums" "you knows" "basicallys" and a non verbal message that includes squirming and breaking eye contact will help. The cure? Video tape yourself. Watch your body language. Do you look confident, capable and some other C word so I can complete the freakin C Trilogy I just started? Listen for useless "ums" etc. Consider using what I call "intentional language". This includes money words like reduced, increased, streamlined etc. And when you make it to the finals (and you will) use inclusive language such as we, us, partner, collaborate.

9) Come Prepared With Solid Questions! More candidates screw up this step by asking lame questions like "How much does the job pay" "Do we get Victory Over Japan Day off?" all during the first date so to speak. This is your opportunity to ask some of those cool questions you came up with during your meticulous planning as well as questions that sort of presented themselves as the interview progressed. Oh and please don't read them from a list. By all means take the list out to once again show the preparation, but know your material! If you want to score mega points ask the questions others aren't asking. You know the ones that make the interviewer stop dead in their tracks and say "Wow! No one ever asked us that before. Great question!" Here's a little secret (don't tell anyone, I mean it) The secret to connecting with people is obviously quality conversation. The secret to quality conversation lies in the questions you ask! Don't ever discount the importance of good questions as part of your strategy!

10) Ask What The Next Step Is: More candidates lose opportunity simply because they didn't have the stones to ask for the next step. You need to demonstrate your confidence by asking. Many interviewers (especially in the sales circles) will intentionally hold off to see if you ask! Don't fall into the trap of Not asking.

11) Proper Follow Up!: I wouldn't lose impact by sending a crappy thank you email! Too many people get caught up in this virtual stuff. If you want to stand out, you need to move it to real time by sending a handwritten thank you! Set yourself up for the win whenever you are asked to provide something by answering "(name of interviewer) I promise to get you that by Tuesday" Then call on Monday (because you want to brand yourself as on top of your follow up) you call with this "(name of interviewer) here are those TPS Reports as promised" Do that and you bond now on a subconscious level and in ways the others that interviewed missed!

12) Know What Makes You Different! Put yourself in their shoes. They are interviewing all these candidates and they so desperately want to find the difference maker. What's yours? Be able to articulate and demonstrate this throughout the entire process. In fact, this needs to be your focal point. Your difference!

I want to leave you with a final thought. You were wired for great things. More importantly, you deserve that greatness. Sometimes we forget that when times are tough or when life has stuck another needle in the Castain Voodoo doll. So if you read this today having been through a struggle, I hear you and want you to know that I have too had to rebuild my life a few years back after losing everything (including my self esteem). Please don't let it get to you. I truly believe that the best chapters in our success story are ahead of us, not behind us.
Now go unleash some of this on that interviewer.
Hurry up! A new chapter in your incredible success story awaits!
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  1. Paul,

    Thanks for this post! I just came across your site in the past couple of weeks and found it (you) to be funny, articulate,well-informed, and best of all, hope-inspiring! Particularly your closing...

    "I want to leave you with a final thought. You were wired for great things. More importantly, you deserve that greatness. Sometimes we forget that when times are tough or when life has stuck another needle in the Castain Voodoo doll. So if you read this today having been through a struggle, I hear you and want you to know that I have too had to rebuild my life a few years back after losing everything (including my self esteem). Please don't let it get to you. I truly believe that the best chapters in our success story are ahead of us, not behind us."

    posted as anonymous because I didn't know how to do it otherwise.

  2. Well anonymous, what can I say except Thank you!

    Double rock horns to you!

    Paul Castain

  3. Paul,

    Great stuff, as always!
    I enjoy and get something everytime i read your posts.

    Jay Gillespie
    Dallas, TX

  4. Hey thanks Jay!

    You're alright dude!

    Much appreciation!


  5. Hi Paul,
    This is a huge dose of "woop a__" for alot of individuals who need this right now.
    Great job!

  6. @Deborah: Thanks for the kind words. Its always a pleasure to give back!

    All the best to you and have an awesome day!


  7. Paul,

    I must say brilliant stuff and wonderful observation. I am working with a company however looking for new opportunities, so I am going to keep these advice in mind and will let you know the result.



  8. Thank you Prasad!

    Wishing you incredible success in your search!

    Paul Castain

  9. You rock!
    Here's something that can help to help frame examples of your achievements:
    Story - the situation
    Target - the difficulty to be overcome
    Action - what you did - you superstar!
    Result - What happended - quants are good here

  10. Hey Paulie!

    As always, you're full of humor, wisdom and Jedi inspiration. Posted this a couple of places for you, and had some nice compliments from people about you AND your great advice!

    Thanks for such a great round-up of tips. I will refer back to this many times, I'm sure!

    :) mb, who is still just a girl who prints!

    PS: Here's your 3rd "C": Confident, Capable, and Credible!

  11. @David: Thank you Sir! I love that S.T.A.R. acronymn. And you rock too amigo!

    @MB Thank you for helping us pay this forward as well as your kind words.

    For those of you in the industry you must click on MB's profile above and visit her "Girls Who Print" blog. Fantastic content to say the least!

    Thanks again!

    The artist formerly known as Uncle Paul

  12. Paul-

    I always like to read your posts. They're funny, and they are to the point. It's funny, I had an interview on Thursday last week, I did most of the things you suggested, without reading the blog first.

    However, like in other posts to you, I've been unemployed over 7 months, and have been "Crafting" my interview skills. I have been able to pick out what works and what doesn't. But it's good to see what someone else thinks as well.

    You are a STAR.

  13. Hi Paul,

    Great post and one I could have used 15 months ago when I was in the job market.

    Your article made me think. I have 3 good friends looking for work right now and rather than just providing a recommendation on LinkedIn or being a reference once an offer is about to be made, I have decided to hand write a letter of recommendation for them to take into the interview (point 7 above).

    Not a lot, but I hope it helps fill their 'whoop-ass' can.

    PS - I am definitely passing this article on to them. Thanks!

  14. Hey Paul,

    I just found your site for the first time and I'm diggin' it! High octane info to help those in need slant the playing field in their favor.

    Keep up the good work!

    Sean McCaffrey

  15. You really know when someone is different or is intelligent when they can mix curse words and eloquent words together and they have such a profound meaning.

    I'm a college student who is trying to break into HR by any means necessary. This info is going to be used in my next interview.

  16. Hi, Paul. Yours was an excellent article--very thorough and easily understood. One question I have for you--in #6, did you intend to say "Guerrilla Warfare," or did you intentionally use "Gorilla Warfare?" (Don't worry-regardless, it doesn't detract or diminish the power of your article.)

    Harvey Daniels

  17. First of all. Thanks very much for your useful post.

    I just came across your blog and wanted to drop you a note telling you how impressed I was with the information you have posted here.

    Please let me introduce you some info related to this post and I hope that it is useful for community.

    Source: Sales interview questions

    Thanks again

  18. @Harvey: A belated thank you for calling that to my attention. I 'spose I could respond with the old tried and true "I meant to do that" but, truth be told I was in idiot mode and botched the word up. Thanks for the friendly reminder :)

    @Ngo: Thanks for sharing that with our Sales Playbook community.

    Thanking you both for contributing!

    Paul Castain


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Paul Castain is the Vice President of Sales Development for Consolidated Graphics (CGX) one of North America’s leading general commercial printing companies. Paul has over 25 years of sales and sales leadership experience. He has trained, mentored and coached over 3,000 sales and sales leadership professionals. An accomplished public speaker, Paul has delivered numerous key note addresses. He has authored numerous training manuals, articles, blog posts and is currently working on his first book for release in 2011. Feel free to email Paul This has been a paid announcement by the friends of Paul Castain!

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Paul Castain's Sales Play Book is blog dedicated to strengthening our sales game, supporting rock star development and developing jedi like skills. All that is required is a willingness to learn and a sick sense of humor!

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