Sunday, March 14, 2010

Change the Conversation

Whether networking or evaluating employment prospects we tend to assess how we feel about the opportunity: How can this new person I’ve met help me? Does the compensation for the new job fit my goals? Will I have the authority to accomplish what is expected of me?

As job seekers, we’re encouraged to know and articulate our value; tell our story; build our brand. And I’m among the guilty: working with clients to get them comfortable conveying the value they bring to the table.

An unintended consequence is the What’s In It For Me syndrome or WIIFM in today’s electronic shorthand; a rather egocentric approach to a conversation, where we’re pitching ourselves and our talents to anyone willing to listen.

How many of us want to engage in conversations where the purpose is for someone to pitch us on how good they are? How many of us are comfortable in conversations where we feel compelled to pitch ourselves?

But what if the conversation changed? What if, instead of pitching ourselves, our intention is to find out how the other guy is doing? What’s on their mind? What are their big challenges and problems? Maybe, instead of WIIFM, we ask HAYD How Are You Doing – or WOYMWhat’s On Your Mind?

Now how do you feel? If you’re asking someone what their problems are, are you more inclined to listen to how you might help them? Does your intention flow from being of assistance rather than from pitching yourself?

Shifting the conversation doesn’t absolve you from knowing and articulating your value. It just means that you’re not obligated to lead with you, but how you might help. So change the conversation. Ask about how they’re doing; and listen to what they say.


  1. You make a good point, but managers are often reluctant to share what their problems are with applicants for fear of being embarassed or scaring off a highly desireable candidate.

    Applicants should pry this "negative" information loose by practicing an old interivewing tactic. By building rapport and establishing relational ties with the interviewer, one also builds a bridge of trust which in turn enables the interviewer to feel more comfortable in disclosing sensitive information, because s/he trusts what you're going to do with that information. This strategy incorporates the emotional side or EQ portion of the exchange.

    Morgan 4/4

  2. Hmmm, intersting point Anonymous, but frankly I'm not sure I agree that managers are unwilling to share their problems. Most hiring managers are more than willing to discuss the challenges they face; especially if they "trust" that the listener might provide a solution.

    And speaking of trust, I'm not sure that "tactics" to "pry 'negative' information" from an interviewer is the way to obtain it. We're not talking about interrogating the enemy here; rather building rapport and trust through genuine interest in the other person's challenges.

    ~ Scott

  3. Would you agree that the art of building relationships is a skill often missing or misunderstood by many job seekers? Recognizing that the interview is a stressful and artificial meeting at it's best, the ability of the average person to make a friend before making the sale is often neglected or lost in the environment most interviews create. I think the advice here is good but putting it into practice difficult.

  4. I do agree, Bill, that the practice of "changing the conversation" is not easy; but I would argue that it's because we've been conditioned to "playing defense" in job interviews (responding to questions put to us by the interviewer) and the rules of the job boards, which require a more passive approach by the applicant.

    My point here tries to address the pre-interview stage of the search process and change the networking conversation from a self pitch to focus on the challenges of the other guy. It's not so much being their friend as opposed to being interested in their challenges and perhaps being viewed as their solution.

    Part of the larger issue is that the rules of the job search have changed for candidates - from a reactive approach to a more responsive, proactive approach. How those rules manifest are still being determined.

    ~ Scott