The Denver Test

“So, tell me about yourself?” It’s both the easiest and most difficult question in the world to answer. Having worked as an executive recruiter for over 10 years, I’ve probably heard thousands of answers to this question. And often what you’re looking for are not the actual details, but the manner in which they are delivered. Is it enthusiastic, inspiring, thoughtful? In an interview, the medium is the message, revealing all kinds of information. Does this person have a healthy self-esteem, a sense of humor? Does he speak confidently, articulately? Is he able to think on his feet and engage in a way that is concise, interesting and honest, or did he just put the room to sleep?

One of the recruiters I used to work with had his own formula, jokingly referred to as the Denver Test: “Is this someone I wouldn’t mind being stuck with on a four-hour flight to Denver, or do I need to pack a parachute?” Whether you’re currently looking for a job or not, it’s important to keep those interview skills sharp as we look for the next opportunity.

Think Connectors
Over 60% of all jobs are filled by personal referral. That’s a fact. What it means is that your cousin’s friend, your alumni base, your community 5K race roster, your extended family network, your book club – all are important tools for getting and staying connected to the world of work. A “warm referral” is the greatest gift you can give to someone, because you’re putting your own reputation on the line. But if it works out, both parties stand to benefit from the introduction. Give freely and often, and don’t worry about getting it back.

Targeted and Specific
One of the biggest complaints I hear from job hunters is that they get zero response from jobs posted online. This is accurate. Because about 10,000 other people saw the same job you did and also applied. Computer programs root out those with less than a 98% match up using keywords. It’s not ideal, but it’s a way for companies to cast a very wide net. You need to be very targeted in your approach, and fortunately, there has never been an easier time to do this. If you can find somebody on Linkedin at the company you’re interested in, ask for an informational meeting to “pick their brain” on corporate culture, their own career or whatever it is. If it goes well, who knows, it may lead to an actual introduction to a hiring manager. But don’t leave it up to chance, or worse, computer programs.

What’s Your Story?
What is the story you are telling about yourself? I’ve written in the past about “story fondling” and how this can hurt us. The dating metaphor is apt here. You don’t want to reveal your ugly divorce story on the first date. Nobody wants to hear how your last boss was a narcissist who stole your retirement when he went off his meds in Cancun and embezzled company funds. Or how your great idea was stolen, and now you’re too old because “the goalposts have shifted.” People don’t want drama, they want creative solutions to their immediate problems. So leave old baggage behind, and reframe your resume as an “adventure story” that someone might be interested in hearing. And keep it concise- know when to stop talking. Whatever the content, the tone of that story must be positive, hopeful, forward-focused.

Don’t Forget The Basics
Good basic manners still count for a lot. That means confirming your appointment, showing up ahead of time, being overdressed rather than underdressed. If you are meeting with a Fortune 500 company, you’d better be well-versed in any recent press, whether positive or negative. Understanding the “prevailing winds” shows you are interested and have done your homework. It may sound obvious, but a well-written thank you note is as rare as it is effective. I always remembered those candidates who wrote to express gratitude after they had landed in a position. It’s about respect for people’s time, and treating everyone you meet with dignity, whether they can help you or not. As the saying goes, “Be nice to the people you meet on the way up, because you might meet them again on the way down.”

It’s Only a Conversation
Think of every meeting you have as a “conversation,” not an interrogation. The goal is to keep the conversation going and make it pleasant and memorable for everyone. Body language is about 80% of how you are perceived. So be cognizant of what your eyes, hands, nails are doing. If you’re in career transition, can you see it as an opportunity to share, learn and grow? Devote only a portion of your day to the job search, and the rest of the day to developing interests that enhance your value as a whole person. Travel, reading, volunteering – all make you more interesting and give you something to talk about. Sometimes a small part-time hustle can turn into a fulltime job. (If you haven’t already, I highly recommend you check out the movie Lemonade.)

People don’t really care about what you “do” – they care about who you are, and what you’re passionate about. It is an old maxim of mine that “People don’t hire resumés, people hire people.” The good news is that regardless of where you find yourself, we all have the ability to be a good travel companion on that four-hour flight to Denver.

(Next month, I’ll talk about the “Art of the Deal,” and what to do once you’ve got a foot in the door.)

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