📖 Book Chapter - Interviewing as an Equal (Issue #34)
Maintain the correct power dynamic
This is a draft of Chapter 20 of the book I’m writing, Building the Invincible You. In it, I share a framework and strategies for:
Amplifying your power in your work and life.
Regaining your freedom to spend more of your time the way you wish you could.
Building the future you want for yourself and your loved ones.
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You cannot lie to yourself.
You cannot fool yourself.
If you're going into an interview and already thinking it is your only option, you are starting from a position of weakness.
You will not feel confident.
You will not feel powerful.
You will not interview as an equal.
When I use the word "interview," I would imagine it conjures the image of a job interview with a potential employer. But, interviewing for an opportunity isn’t just for job seekers. As a business owner, you interview with potential clients, too. I do it every week!
However, what many people get wrong is they assume a massive imbalance of power during the interview process. Job seekers act as if the employers hold all the cards, control the process, and own the decision. But you both do (or should). And, you should act accordingly.
Business owners can fall into a similar trap. When they lack confidence or times are tough, they give up all their power to potential clients and customers. They pretty much say, “Oh, please hire me!” or “Please buy my product!”
So, let’s talk about what it takes to feel confident enough to interview like an equal with employers. I also want to share ways you can boost your power as a business owner to talk with potential clients in a healthy and balanced dynamic vs. using a needy approach.
Be in demand
First and foremost, be in demand. That means you’ll need to focus your professional energy in a few areas instead of trying to be all things to all people. This is true for individual professionals and business owners.
If you’re a multipotentialite, it can be tempting to be a jack of all trades. I’m certainly guilty of that. If this sounds like you, too, I’m not asking you to give that up completely. Instead, identify the most in-demand areas.
We can love doing a million and one things, but there is probably only a handful of activities that are so valuable to others that we can leverage them in our career or business. What is it that you are both good at doing and enjoy doing?
Don’t think in broad strokes either. For example, if you are a designer, don’t say that you love doing design and you’re good at designing things. Yeah, no kidding. Go deeper.
For example, maybe you love designing iconography and have a real talent for getting it just right. Focus on the areas of intersection (passion and expertise) and be good — hopefully even great — at what you do.
You can’t be in demand or have freedom and optionality in your life if you aren’t that good at what you do. So, either uncover and identify what you’re good at doing or focus on becoming great at doing something valuable.
Interviewing is so much easier when there is high demand for you and what you are capable of doing.
Be great at what you do.
Be highly visible (refer to Chapter 15).
Be an opportunity magnet.
When you're in demand, you can say to yourself, "I don't need them. They need me. Heck, many people/employers/clients need me and what I offer. If this doesn't feel right, I will walk away with the confidence of knowing I'm in demand and will find a better opportunity."
Speaking of other opportunities…
“If you develop a skill with many possible job opportunities, you have more optionality than someone who develops a skill that only has one or two job opportunities. The advantage of optionality is that as the world grows increasingly difficult to predict, you can thrive in spite of not knowing the future.”
The more options you have, the greater your sense of freedom and power. It’s easy to tell someone “No” when you have other options. It’s difficult to negotiate and feel confident when you don’t. Seek optionality so you feel empowered during the interview experience and behave like an equal to the person across the table.
But, how do you create optionality? Well, as mentioned above, being in high demand is one way to ensure that you always have options. But, you can also take a more active role in fueling your “optionality tank.” Great salespeople understand this better than most, but you should think this way, as well:
Keep your "deal pipeline" full at all times.
In fact, keep it so full that it occasionally overflows. That’s a good problem to have, and it’s easily addressed later.
Always interview with multiple employers at once.
Always be in discussions with multiple potential clients.
When you’re an opportunity magnet, recruiters and hiring managers will reach out to you. But, you should also pursue the roles you want to keep your pipeline full with options you find attractive. Leverage your network to get those warm intros so your potential job options are a mix of people who are pursuing you and roles that you are actively seeking.
This also applies to business owners who should always be filling their sales pipeline with potential clients. If you’re doing a great job of marketing your products or services, you will have a lot of inbound interest. But, your deal flow should be both active and passive. Pursue the clients you would love to work with. Again, leverage your network and your referral partners to get warm intros to your most valuable potential clients.
Yes, overflow will happen. That's when you can give back to your network and partners.
Refer good job opportunities to other good people you know (e.g., talented folks you worked with at past companies). Refer potential clients to other trusted business owners (i.e., referral partners). Referrals are the lifeblood for many small businesses and solopreneurs.
This is also where scalable offerings come into play if you're a business owner. Sure, you can only handle a few 1-on-1 clients at one time. But, you can serve many more clients with group services, courses, digital products, community support, etc.
Finally, you can boost your sense of optionality by having a solid financial cushion. When you have six months to a year of liquid assets that can cover your personal and business expenses, you always have that as an option to fall back on vs. taking a job you’ll hate or going into business with a client you’d rather avoid.
Partnering vs. serving
The language we use often sets up an imbalance of power that carries over into the interview process. We speak of “working for” an employer or client, so it’s no wonder we put ourselves into a position of serving them.
As a past corporate leader and manager, I deliberately avoid using that kind of language now when I talk about people who worked on my teams. I doubt anyone even notices, but it matters to me. For example, I’ll introduce two people in an email, and I’ll say, “This is Susan. We used to work together at Yahoo.” I do not say, “Susan used to work for me at Yahoo.”
Why would I carry over that power dynamic and relationship from a past work environment? It feels strange, and I think it immediately places the other person in a bizarre subservient status relative to me. It’s ridiculous.
Yet, I’ve had precisely that experience with a few of my past bosses. Even when several years have gone by since our last working relationship, they still like to introduce me to someone new as, “This is Larry. He used to work for me.” Sorry, but it rubs me the wrong way.
So, I want to help you establish the correct dynamic from the start when you interview with a potential employer or talk with a potential customer. You are discussing a potential partnership. A partnership in which you provide a valuable service and they pay you for the incredible value you deliver.
You are not serving them. I don’t care who they are or what their title is. They are not better than you. They are not in a position of power and control over you. You are choosing to work with them. And, you can just as easily choose to stop working with them.
Remember? You have options. You always have other options.
I once had a client who thought they owned me because they were paying me for my services. They expected me to be at their beck and call, 24x7. One weekend, they became upset because I wasn’t responding quickly to their messages on a Saturday night when I was relaxing with my family.
Crazy, huh? Imagine that!
So, I had to establish boundaries with this client. I explained that we could terminate our consulting arrangement immediately, if they didn’t want to respect those boundaries. It was a learning experience for me, which I carried forward in all future partnerships with new clients.
If you treat the interview process as you should, you’ll get a good sense of what a potential employer or client will be like if you decide to move forward. Anyone who expects you to be in a position of servitude should be avoided. When you have multiple options, it’s easy to say “No thanks” and move on.
Maintain your power
Maintain the appropriate power dynamic during the actual interview process, too. You want their money, but they need your talent, skills, knowledge, and experience. You need each other.
An employer is not doing you a favor by giving you a job. They have a problem you can solve. They need you, and they need what you are capable of doing. They will pay you in return for solving their problem.
The same is true for a business interview and transaction. The customer isn't doing you a favor by buying your product or paying for your service. You are helping them. In return, they give you money for being the answer to their problems.
Keep that balance in mind.
We’ve talked a lot about interviews in my Career Accelerator community. Most of us have sat on both sides of the table as candidates and hiring managers. So, we’re familiar with the good, the bad, and the ugly of the process.
In particular, we discussed how some interviewing teams seem aggressive. They hammer you with questions and don’t give you much time to ask your own questions.
In the worst cases, it seems like the interview is deliberately structured to trip you up. They ask one type of question, and then they flip it around and ask why you didn’t answer the question differently.
“We really need someone strategic and innovative. Can you tell me about a time that you drove strategy in your last job?”
“I see. Well, we need someone who can get their hands dirty too. It sounds like you only like to operate at a strategic level. Don’t you have any examples of times when you could roll up your sleeves and be more tactical?”
You must control your story and tell it the way you want it to be told.
Don’t wait for them to ask a question you’d rather not answer yet. Don’t ask for their guidance on what they want to hear.
This is more important the more senior the role for which you are interviewing. If you are pursuing a leadership role with a company, they expect you to take some control. You should be calm and aware of your power in the situation.
Obviously, you don’t want to behave like a control freak, but you should demonstrate that you are there to learn about them, as well. The interview isn’t just for the company to evaluate you. You are evaluating the opportunity, too.
You’re trying to decide if you even want to work for this employer. Don’t forget that!
If you’re a business owner being interviewed by a potential client, they’re trying to decide if they want to hire you. But you should also be trying to determine if you even want to work with this client.
Prepare your elevator pitch, back story, and answers to expected questions. When they ask you, “Tell me about yourself” or “Tell me about your service,” you should immediately dive into your intro and pitch.
You only have a few minutes to demonstrate that you are the perfect candidate for an employer’s role or the perfect solution to a client’s problems. You can’t take a chance that they will ask a question that weakens their first impressions of you.
Own your story, and take control. Ask the questions you need to ask. Make it clear that you are a strong candidate who is evaluating them as deeply as they are assessing you.
Follow up every answer to their question with your own question.
One useful interview tip I discovered during my personal job interviews was to get the interviewer talking and let them roll. I used to feel like I had my story to tell and I wanted to make sure to demonstrate my brilliance with verbose answers.
So, I would focus on opportunities to speak up when I should have been looking for opportunities to ask more questions. This works quite well with potential customers, too. Listen more than you talk.
I don’t remember a specific “Aha moment” when I realized this. However, I do remember one interview when the senior exec interviewing me dominated our meeting and talked endlessly about himself, the product, their strategy, and future plans.
I was worried I hadn’t performed well during the interview because I barely got a word in edgewise. He really didn’t learn much about me. However, I was in for a surprise. He was delighted with the interview and thought I was a great fit for the team.
Most people like to talk about themselves. Most employers are proud of their products and company. They are happy when you show interest in them and the company by asking smart questions.
From that day forward, I would answer a question and immediately use that context to pivot into a question for the interviewers to get them talking. A minuscule number of people didn’t seem to like it, so they would quickly return to asking me questions. Many interviewers would answer the questions and talk for quite a while. A few people would talk and talk and talk.
Occasionally, you will run into rude interviewers who will cut you off, pepper you with questions and criticism, and tell you to hold your questions until the end. Keep calm and maintain you power by politely asking, “Is this what would it will be like to work here?”
I mean, do you really want to work for an employer that treats you poorly during an interview? I don’t think so.
As a business owner, if a potential client is unpleasant and demanding during an initial discussion, simply ask, “Is this what our engagement will be if we decide to work together?” Again, I think you already know someone like this will be a nightmare client. It’s best to move on and pursue other leads.
Finally, be prepared to walk away
When you interview as an equal, you can decide at any time that the opportunity isn’t right for you. You can walk away with your head held high.
When you know your value, you’re in demand, and you have options, it’s pretty darn easy to walk away. You already have other opportunities to pursue with better potential employers, or better potential clients.
Your time is too valuable to waste with anyone who doesn’t respect you, value you, or treat you well. Your life is too precious to spend even more of it with an employer or client who will make you feel like less than their equal.
You deserve better! So, be confident and demonstrate that the next time you’re interviewing with someone.
Job seekers interview with potential employers, but business owners interview with potential customers, too.
Never start an interview process from a position of weakness.
Boost your confidence and power to interview as an equal.
The first step is to be in demand. Be great at what you do, be highly visible, and become an opportunity magnet.
Create optionality so your “deal pipeline” is always full of multiple potential employers, multiple potential clients, and lots of great opportunities.
Change your point of view to one of partnership, not servitude. No one owns you.
Maintain your power during the actual interview process to control the flow of the conversation to yield the best outcomes.
Be prepared to walk away from a bad situation. When you have options, this is much easier to do.
I’m looking forward to sharing more of my book with you this year! Become a subscriber today to keep reading the draft chapters as I complete them.
Hi, I’m Larry Cornett, a Personal Coach who can work with you to optimize your career, life, or business. My mission is to help you take complete control of your life so you can become a more “Invincible You.” I currently live in Northern California near Lake Tahoe with my wife and our Great Dane.