To those of you wondering: YES, this does happen!
In fact, the more high-profile the role you’re after, the more likely it is that you’re going to find yourself in a conference room during the initial stages, trying your best to communicate your unique value to a person with little-to-no understanding of what it is that you do.
Now, your first reaction might be annoyance. How come you had to prepare while this person didn’t? Next might come the fear and doubts. You start questioning everything you’ve come to the table with, and picking it apart mentally.
I urge you not to do this!
Instead, follow the principles below to save the day:
1) Share a Human Story
When mutual understanding is missing, it’s time to go back to basics. And when you take a moment to share a story from your life, a struggle you overcame, a fork in the road that tested your character or brought something essential about your spirit to the forefront, something NO ONE could ever glean by reviewing your Resume or LinkedIn Profile, you forge that mutual understanding. You’re essentially saying, “We’re fundamentally alike. And I’m trusting you enough to show you my true self, not just the sanitized version.” That’s how strangers become allies. And it works for interviewers too.
2) Identify the Pain (and then Filter Your Answers through Them)
Make the pain this company is trying to solve the running theme of the interview. Ask questions about what’s been going on behind-the-scenes. Ask questions about what they’re looking for in an ideal candidate. Ask questions about what would be the BIGGEST priorities in the next 30/60/90 days after job start. Take notes. And every time you’re asked a question, keep returning to these pain points and strive to answer in a way that addresses them. Remember: there IS such a thing as good repetition! If an idea’s important, it’s perfectly ok to come back to it more than once.
3) Stick to a Classic C-A-R Format When Sharing Career Stories
We’re trained to respond to classic storytelling formats…even when we don’t fully understand the details (a.k.a. your interviewer). Take advantage of this by using a time-tested format to structure your stories and interview answers: C-A-R (Challenge-Action-Result).
First, highlight the challenge you faced. “6 months ago we found ourselves in a crisis on the cybersecurity front affecting our XYZ platform, with challenges across PROBLEM A, PROBLEM B, and PROBLEM C…”
Next, highlight the actions you took to address it. “Working round the clock with our Houston and UK-based security teams, we quickly hashed out a plan and took the following steps: SOLVE for PROBLEM A, SOLVE for PROBLEM B, and SOLVE for PROBLEM C.”
Finally, talk about the end result. “Our actions headed off what could have been a catastrophe, and brought operations back to normal within 2 weeks. Also, by taking these steps we’ve now set the stage for a much stronger platform with minimized risks across AREA 1 and AREA 2.”
4) Keep Checking In
An interview is a two-way street. Consider every answer you give as an opportunity to ask a follow-up question in return. Are you getting what you’re looking for? Does that make sense? Is there anything I’ve said during our meeting that would make you hesitate to move me forward as a candidate of choice? Miscommunication thrives in silence. Remove that barrier, honestly listen to what your interviewer’s saying, and make the attempt to meet him/her halfway. You won’t regret it.
One last tip: leave the industry jargon at home. The LAST thing you want to do when facing a less-than-knowledgeable interviewer is to barrage them with acronyms and terminology only an insider would know!