“I can assure you, your competition isn’t doing this. If you do this, you will be remembered” says Thom Besso*, President of Solomon Swann, a full-service talent acquisition, talent management, and search firm that caters to a wide variety of industries.
Thom sat down with me over a cup of coffee to discuss his expertise and share his adventures interviewing people.
Although we talked about dress codes, thank you notes, and the works - his biggest insider tip? BE PREPARED. He says there’s nothing worse than a candidate that is underprepared and that it can be the absolutely detrimental.
“You need to know more about the company than the person who is interviewing you. Honestly, it’s easier than you think. Chances are, unless the person is in the IT or marketing department, they are not constantly on their company website. This isn’t done by just looking at their website once, you have to do ‘mining’ research. That means looking at their recent news, PR, announcements, etc. Going deeper into what the company is really about.”
With the help of preparation, Thom believes everything else will fall into place. Worried about how to dress? Your research will show you the company culture including what is dress appropriate. Scared you’ll be too nervous to speak? Your notes will ease the nerves. Are you on edge about the questions they’ll ask?
Being prepared will help facilitate answers.
In addition to mining research, preparation also means being ready for what might come up in the interview. That means coming in with extra copies of your resume, the job description, notes about the company, and key talking points in your portfolio.
When you walk into the interview, present the person with a copy of your resume by saying “I brought an extra copy of my resume” and hand it to them. This is key for two reason
It gives you a reason to open your portfolio. Thom remarks “it’s a big pet peeve of mine when a candidate comes in looking sharp and has their portfolio, but never opens it. It’s like coming to an open book exam and leaving your book in your backpack.” A portfolio is not intended to be an accessory, it is a tool to be used during the interview.
It relieves some possible embarrassment on behalf of the interviewer. “Chances are the person interviewing you is not as prepared as you think. If they’re not HR, they are usually busy with a million other things. This is true the higher up you go in the hierarchy, CEOs have operations, financials, and tons of other things on their mind. Remember that although to you this interview if top of mind, to them you are not.” He says to use this fact to your advantage. This gives you the opportunity to make the interview as painless as possible for them and one easy way is to hand them your resume.
The last piece of preparation is internal. It’s easy to get lost in resume templates, research, interview etiquette, or color of ties, but what makes you stand out is your “unfair advantage.”
Thom says “I believe every human being has something that would rank in the top 5% of the people who have that skill. Meaning, each individual has a certain skill set (or potential) innate to them individually that would rank them within the top 5% of all others who have that similar trait or talent. Find what it is, develop it deeply, and then exploit your unique skill against all other competitors. Most people don’t know what it is.
There’s something unique about you that’s at the top of the food chain skill or talent. You need to find out what that is. Do some personal discovery and speak with a 3rd party person, not your mom who always thinks you're special, but someone with an objective perspective.”
At the end of the interview, always close with what makes you unique. Chances are they’ll give you an opportunity to mention this either by straight asking “what makes you more qualified” or at the close of an interview they ask if you have any questions. This is your in.
“I did have a quick comment. I know you have plenty of other interviewers, but here’s one thing they might not have that I do.”
Or “If you don’t mind, I did have one last thing. I realize that X skill is important to this position and I wanted you to know that I also have YZ.”
This doesn’t mean being boastful. You have to realize that you are the solution to their problem and this is one extra important benefit of hiring you.
Challenge yourself. Find that key piece that makes you better than the rest, and use it.
On your next interview, be prepared: mine deeper for intense research, use your portfolio as a tool, and always end in your unfair advantage.
*Thom Besso has been President of Solomon Swann for 19 years and has interviewed people for CEO positions, executive assistants, and everything in between for different types of industries including oil and gas, pharmaceutical, and IT. Before Solomon Swann, Thom worked 3 years as a Recruiting Manager, 9 years senior level retail for a total of 14 years in retail. He has been a speaker at conferences, sat on international committees, and has been gathering knowledge on recruitment throughout his experience as well as learning from his peers.