10 Secrets for Nailing the Job Interview | Career Rocketeer - Career Search and Personal Branding Blog

I am grateful for the opportunity to share with you the following career advice from Pat Williams, senior vice president of the NBA's Orlando Magic. Pat co-founded the Orlando Magic in 1987 and is one of America's top motivational, inspirational, and humerous speakers. He had addressed thousands of executives in organizations ranging from Fortune 500 companies and national assocations to universities and nonprofits. Pat and his wife, Ruth, are the parents of 19 children, including 14 from four nations.

Pat Williams is the author of over 55 books including the recently released Nail It! 10 Secrets for Winning the Job Interview, written with Peggy Matthews Rose.

1. What inspired a sports executive and father of nineteen to write a book on job interviewing?

Life is all about being prepared for what’s next, Brent. Whether you’re an eighteen-year-old heading out on your own for the first time or an 81-year-old looking for ways to stay in the game, we are always looking for our next job. Wouldn’t you agree? As a dad, I’ve seen more than my share of wobbly beginnings. As a sports executive, I’ve seen stellar careers ended overnight, lives in desperate need of a new beginning.In addition to my wonderful and often challenging family, I’ve been blessed to work in professional sports my entire adult life. And I can say that nowhere is the demand for high caliber employees greater, both on the court and behind the scenes. So it’s just made sense to me to study what makes one candidate stand out over others. Winning jobs is really an elimination contest in so many ways. When no one is keeping score, what defines a winner? Over the years I’ve had many opportunities to share the insights I’ve gathered one-on-one. And now with the competition for jobs higher than it’s been in decades, I believe it’s time to get those tips into more people’s hands. That’s why I wrote this book.As a dad, I can say that the challenges of raising 19 children, many of them from international cultures, and helping them find their way in the professional world, has been often daunting. By now they’ve all begun charting their own roadmaps, but a book like this one would have come in handy for me then—and it’s a great resource for them now.

2. You've been involved in professional sports for over 40 years. How did you get your career started in that industry?

As a kid I was so blessed to have a dad who loved sports and who inspired me to love sports too. Baseball especially was a big part of my life and I aspired to be a major league catcher. I was good enough to play in the minor leagues but not good enough to make the “bigs.” So at age 24 I became the general manager of the Spartanburg Phillies. I figured I’d stay in baseball, but the next year, 1968, baseball legend Bill Veeck, with whom I’d been blessed to develop a close relationship, recommended me as general manager of the Chicago Bulls—and my NBA career was launched from that moment on. What a great ride it has been! Parents, if your kids are inclined to love sports, I can’t urge you more strongly to encourage them in every way you can. Sports offers the best training field for life I can think of. And if it’s a job you’re looking for, sports involvement offers a great way to make connections that lead to satisfying careers.

3. You've outlined 10 secrets for nailing job interviews. What information can you share about each?

These “secrets” were culled over the years by top human resources professionals and represent the qualities they look for in a successful job candidate. In reviewing them, I found they are practical life principals as well. They include:

  1. Networking – Getting your next job is less about who you know than it is about who knows what you know. Start where you are and widen your circles of influence. Get involved in professional organizations, social networks, affinity groups—go anywhere you can meet people in your area of expertise who would be glad to know what you can do for them. I’ve always said that life is about “collecting people,” and nowhere is this truer than in our professional lives.
  2. Being ready for the questions an interviewer is likely to ask you – and the best way to do that is to have a life plan. Know where it is you are headed, what you want to “be when you grow up.” When you have a clear sense of your purpose and your goals, you can see the mile markers along the journey that each job interview represents. Beyond that, study sample interviews and do your homework regarding the companies with which you plan to interview.
  3. Being prepared – In all my years as a speaker, I’ve found that at least 90% of each event is what happens in advance. If I’m not prepared to go up there and address the audience, they’re not going to be happy with me. The same is true when we go in for the job interview. In these highly competitive days, we’ve got to see it as auditioning for American Idol: only the top performers are likely to be called back. So before you speak to anyone, whether in person or on the phone, have a solid hold on what you’re going to say and how you will say it.
  4. Display professionalism – Here’s an elusive word, “professionalism.” What does it really mean? We spend this chapter helping you get a grip on this concept, from what not to wear, to developing a mindset, to seeing professionalism as a standard of living. If a world-class career is what you’re after, it’s critical to dress, think, and live as a professional, 24/7.
  5. Exuding self-confidence – If you’re naturally shy or insecure, this one might seem the most challenging of our tips. But the winning candidate is the one who knows she knows what she knows, and can confidently communicate that image. In this chapter, I tell the story of my son Alan, who did NOT want to hear Dad talk to him about leadership. Then came the day I picked him up from school and he excitedly told me he’d been selected captain of his basketball team. “Well guess what that makes you, Alan?” I said. He thought a moment and squeaked, “A leader?” Turned out to be one of the best things that could have happened in his life. It’s all about believing in yourself. So if you have any doubts, I’m telling you right now that I believe in you! You should too, for that is the person most likely to win the job interview.
  6. Exhibiting communication skills – Harvard Business School Professor John Kotter tells us, “Without credible communication and a lot of it, the hearts and minds of others are never captured.” It may not seem to you that this is your mission in the job interview, but it is! Your goal is to convince the hiring manager that you are the person they’ve been looking for all their lives. That means you’ve got to sound like the right candidate when you speak and that anything you’ve written—from your resume to an email—to that individual reflects a polished, confident, professional demeanor. If you need to, join a group like Toastmasters to improve your speaking skills or take a business writing class.
  7. Radiating energy and enthusiasm – Have you ever spoken to someone who seemed to blend in to the wallpaper? Perhaps you’ve forgotten the experience because that person was so, well, forgettable. Don’t let that be you! The way to stand out from the crowd is to do so with energy. Think Richard Simmons here. You don’t have to jump around or dress in strange gym shorts—please, don’t do that! But you do need to “look alive,” as they say. I’ve found the best way to make sure you radiate energy is through choosing a healthy lifestyle. Eat right, exercise daily. Read inspiring books. Become the person anyone would be proud to hire. It really is a mind game, in that it begins and ends with how you think of yourself.
  8. Revealing your extraversion – Some of us are naturally outgoing, while others are like that guy we just talked to, Wally Wallpaper. But we can all practice being more outgoing. My writing partner in this book, Peggy Matthews Rose, remembered her first job working in retail when she was asked to greet “perfect strangers.” The requirement did not feel natural to her, but in time she was able to turn on the smile and make the customers feel welcome. That’s what it’s all about. It’s about being the best you that you can be on behalf of your employer.
  9. Being a person of integrity – In a world that often seems to be turning upside down before our very eyes—a world full of corruption, dishonesty, uncertainty, and often fear—we are hungry for men and women of integrity. People who say what they mean and mean what they say. People who are honest, undivided, and trustworthy. People who can be counted on to always do the right thing. It may not always seem like it when you read the headlines, but that is the kind of person every company wants representing them. That is the person who will change his or her world.
  10. Revealing your creativity – No matter what the position is you’re interviewing for, every company appreciates creativity. Don’t think that’s you? You might surprise yourself if you just try. It begins with realizing that you are a uniquely created individual, made in the image of a creative God. We imitate him every day, whether we know it or not. So look for creative ways to express yourself in the interview. It might be through a portfolio, or you might be like the guy who sent the Magic office pizza with his resume printed inside the box! The possibilities are only limited by your imagination.
Those are the top ten, Brent, but of course—every game needs a free throw. So we added what I think is one of the most important tips:

Be yourself – And to do that, you first need to see yourself as you really are. Who are you? Try stepping outside yourself and sit for a few minutes on the other side of that interview desk. Would you hire you? If you’re out of work right now or looking to transition into a new position soon, take some time first to figure out who you are and what it is you really want to do. If there is any way possible, go after your dream job. And then be realistic. You may not get that job. But if you don’t it won’t be because you didn’t give it all you’ve got. It may simply be that it’s not the right time for you, or there is something better down the road. At the end of the day, the most important thing is to be a person you respect and someone others can look up to. If you can nail that, you are way ahead of the game.

4. Over 1.4 million college-educated individuals will enter the U.S. labor force this year. What advice can you offer professionals who are just trying to get their foot in the door?

Be persistent. Never give up. I can’t think of better advice than that. It’s so easy to become discouraged in this highly competitive world we live in. Don’t let the gloom of a failure or two settle in on your soul. Get back out there in the game and keep knocking on those doors. One day a door will yield to your knocking and it will lead you to just the place you need to be in that moment. But when you get there, don’t rest on your laurels. Keep growing and stretching. Keep networking and keep on knocking.

5. In conversations I've had with unemployed experienced managers, they are questioning whether to accept significantly lower salaries or keep looking for the right opportunities. What are your thoughts?

That’s a tough one, Brent, given our current climate. My gut response is to say “go for the gold”—keep looking for that right place. But ultimately it does come down to putting food on the table and making the monthly rent. We must keep in mind that all work is honorable, so we shouldn’t have the mind set that, well, that job is beneath me. If it offers you an opportunity to grow and become a better person along with making those monthly bills, you might need to accept the lower salary for a while. Remember that all things come to pass. So roll with the lumps when you have to but don’t get stuck in them. In other words—take the lower salary for now if you must. Be practical, for goodness sake! But keep your eye on home plate. Never stop looking.

6. Nationwide unemployment is approximately 10% while overall underemployment is closer to 20%. If you could offer one final tip for job seekers, what would it be?

I’ll go back to my last remarks if I may and say—folks, it’s a tough world out there and very tough times we are facing. There is no doubt about that and no easy answers. We all want the dream job, the killer career, the fourth floor corner office. But now might not be the right time for it. I fully believe God has a plan for each of our lives. But we must be patient with the process and face facts when they are staring at us. Be patient, keep looking, stay strong. Never compromise your integrity. Do what you must. Keep growing. Keep looking. As Phil Jackson might say to his team, “Move the ball. Make the shots.” Stay focused and you’ll win in the long run.


Brent Peterson, PMP, MS, MBA, is the founder of Interview Angel Inc, a company that offers a comprehensive guide and toolkit for job seekers to use in interviews. Interview Angel is in use at universities, corporations, non-profit agencies, and local governments.

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