Editor’s Note: John is at the Congress for the American College of Healthcare Executives in Chicago. He and executive coach Dianne Dismukes will be teaching the course “Interviewing Skills for Senior Executives” at 2:15 PM on Wednesday, March 28th.  If a job change is in the offing, this is a must-attend course.

CHICAGO — In the world of modeling, strike a pose means to stand or sit in a certain way as to communicate a look and/or an attitude.  So too, the poses candidates strike for their interviews can make the difference between success and elimination.

To set the stage:  there is an abundance of competent executives in virtually all industrial sectors in the market looking for work. The Baby Boom effect — the number of executives retiring and leaving the workforce — seems to be offset in some industries by a changing business model,  industry consolidation, and expense reduction.  This is certainly the case in industries like healthcare, publishing and certain segments of the communication sector.  Baby Boomers are retiring and companies are tightening their belts, eliminating positions. 

How candidates position themselves  — the pose they choose to strike — is very important.  Anyone entering today’s job market must understand that the norms of searching for a job and the process of selection have changed significantly.  For an executive who has been laid off in a merger or lost their job in a restructuring, getting up to speed with these changes is essential.   

Did I mention that the competition for the top jobs is intense?  In one recent search for a President and CEO,  there were more than 40 candidates. Actually, there were more, but many of those either had no industry experience or were looking for work to gain a US entry visa.   But even 40 to 1 is daunting.  When there are these many souls struggling for the front of the line, a candidate better has what the employer is looking for and had better be memorable.  Yes, experience and accomplishments are important but with so many talented people who have both, looking for work, candidates must search for other ways to be memorable — to strike the right pose.

The best opportunity for that kind of differentiation is in the various interviews, especially the face-to-face meetings with the recruiter and, of course, with the prospective employer.  How a candidate positions himself or herself for those opportunities — sometimes called moments of truth — is important,  so advance preparation is critical. 

Years ago I interviewed a senior executive who had several interesting experiences in his early life and in some of the first jobs he took in order to work his way through college — from pot washer, warehouseman loading and unloading trucks, and construction crew gofer, to a successful sales clerk in a men’s clothing store.  He was a good storyteller and with an explanation of his earlier jobs came great insight into the type of leader this individual had become.  It was a thoroughly enjoyable and memorable, interview, but when he went to visit the client, he struck an entirely different pose.  It must have been very different from my interaction with him because the client decided not to pursue an offer.  When I asked why they said no one on the interview team could get comfortable with who this person really was.

When I explained to the candidate what happened he seemed frustrated. When I pushed for an answer as to why he did not use the same approach he had used with me, his response was startling.  He did not think those stories were relevant and he did not want to look foolish because he had a history of manual labor.  The position to which I was recruiting was a big, serious deal and he did not want to demean himself by sharing that type of information. He wanted to strike a pose as a competent executive who was all business, serious about the leadership task at hand.

He misread the situation and struck the wrong pose. 

Doing your homework is as important in the job search process as having a good resume and a stellar record of performance.   The homework will help you strike the right pose.