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If you ask late night talk show hosts like David Letterman or Jay Leno what frustrates them the most, it is the guest who comes on the set and sits there like a lump, answering questions but hardly working up a sweat; a mechanical interview of no insight or real lasting value that provides little entertaining information.

Watching one of these uninspiring, bland performances makes you feel like you just had a plate of mediocre Chinese food – it was filling but you cannot remember what you had 30 minutes later.

yellow umbrellaThe extraordinarily talented Billy Crystal tells the story of how, early in his career, he delivered a killer comedy routine filled with spot-on impersonations of controversial ABC sportscaster Howard Cosell, world champion boxer Mohamed Ali, Yankees broadcaster Phil “Scooter” Rizzuto and others.  The audience seemed to love his material but later, over drinks, his agent said that he did not like the performance. An incredulous Mr. Crystal asked why?  Because, the agent explained, you didn’t leave a tip.  A tip?  Yeah, the agent said, you told them what all your characters thought, but you didn’t tell the audience anything about how you felt, something interesting that they would remember you by.  You can keep doing what you are doing and it will work for a while, but it is not memorable.

The other day I asked a candidate to tell me something about himself that was not on his resume that the client might find of value, or at the least, interesting.  His response: “Why, what does that have to do with this job? I do not think that is relevant. 

Given that the best qualified person gets the job only about 30 to 35 percent of the time, based on our research – the job winner is usually a qualified candidate who did a better job interviewing – I cannot figure, for the life of me, why he was satisfied with not standing out in a crowded panel of candidates.

Volumes have been written by career consultants and recruiters — most of it seemingly ignored by candidates – offering tips for making a measurable and memorable impression on the recruiter.  At the risk of wasting time, here is my take on the subject, with apologies for repeating information I previously shared:

  • What do you do when a television show is boring? Change the channel.  Why do you think a recruiter, who must interview dozens of candidates to find three to five to recommend to a client, should be any different?   If you want to move up, you have to work at it.  Prepare your material. Think about events, successes, even failures, that can provide important, positive insights into who you are.
  • Do your homework.  Search firms typically provide information on the client although only a few offer more than an obligatory overview of the position. If a firm does provide a comprehensive document, read it, several times, and avoid asking questions that are covered in that document.  Moreover, even with a detailed Position Prospectus, like the one our firm routinely produces, it is not intended to replace a candidate’s research. If you want to make an impression, do your homework! Please!
  • Practice using the fruits of your homework.  Misunderstanding and/or misusing the information, or referencing it in a ham-handed way, is not impressive and does more harm than good. 
  • Engage.  Do not just sit there and simply answer questions.  Push information about your success – your value – to the recruiter.  Connect your experience with the needs of the client.  Make it interesting!  Recruiters are looking for a reason to include you in a search.  Give it to them.