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Robert De Niro on Job Interviewing

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As a marketing recruiter, this week I had the pleasure of coaching a candidate on an up coming Director of Ecommerce job interview in Dallas.  When it comes to interviewing, I am a firm believer in two things...

  1. Every candidacy needs a "central selling theme" and

  2. Attitude is everything.

When I say every candidacy needs a central selling theme, I mean that there should be one simple, relevant theme surrounding WHY a candidate is the best fit for the organization.  Seriously.

Abraham Zaleznik of the Harvard Business School said nearly 35 years ago that all too often, it is not the most qualified candidate who gets hired -- but the one whom the hiring committee believes can contribute something lasting and meaningful to the company's existing management mix.  Not much has changed.

Indeed, I have seen incredibly qualified C-level candidates come out of interviews in a body bag because the "chemistry" just wasn't there.  And one key element of chemistry is being able to convey your selling story to a hiring committee in a way that is short, punchy, and memorable.  Like Johnny Cochran's "If it doesn't fit -- you must acquit."  Just like in jury trials (See Pg. 5).

My client is relatively new to ecommerce, and some of their VP's are nervous that a top-flight Director of Ecommerce will bring about revolutionary change (as opposed to evolutionary change).  So I told my candidate that his drumbeat should be "With ecommerce behind it, _____'s best days are ahead of it."

Granted, this tagline didn't trumpet my candidate's name all over the place.  But humility is a key element of my client's culture, and any attempt by my candidate to sell himself so brazenly would have killed his chances.  So it was best for him to elevate the client's existing management team through his tagline.  By making himself the Best Supporting Actor, he gets himself hired.  At least that's the theory.  I'll let you know next week if he got the job ...

The other aspect of chemistry is attitude.  And as my father-in-law would say, "Stay loose and you can win."  Somehow, with job interviews, the harder you try, the worse they turn out.  Not sure why that is.  But if you try too hard, you come across as trying too hard.  And companies can smell a disingenuous candidate -- unless the company is so dysfunctional that you'd be crazy to work there.

So how does one stay loose?  Well, you simply have to keep things in perspective.

Which brings me to Robert De Niro.  Several years ago I read an article in Esquire about celebrities and their Big Breaks -- when they got them, how they recognized them, and how they handled them.

The writer asked Mr. De Niro about his Big Break -- which Mr. De Niro said was the audition for the role of Travis Bickle in Taxi Driver (strange, I know, since Mr. De Niro had previously won an Oscar for his role in Godfather II.).

I'm not a movie buff, but the story goes that every talented young actor in Hollywood was dying for the part.  And a ton of great actors auditioned.  But Mr. De Niro strolled in for his audition, read the part, and nailed it.

So the article's writer asks Mr. De Niro "Were you nervous?"

"Nope," replies the star.  "I never got nervous before auditions.  Ever."

"Why's that?" asks the interviewer.

"Because I didn't have the part when I arrived.  What's the worst that could happen?  I'd leave without the part.  The way I saw it, every audition was pure upside.  All opportunity and no risk."

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Harry Joiner is an executive recruiter specializing in integrated marketing and "new media." He has been featured in MarketingSherpa's Great Minds in Marketing series and received coverage in the Wall Street Journal's Career Journal Online. According to Viral Garden's weekly rankings, Harry's weblog is one of the top 25 marketing weblogs in the world.

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  • by Michael Morton Fri May 18, 2007 via blog

    Excellent post Harry! It helps me to keep things in perspective.

  • by Paul Barsch Fri May 18, 2007 via blog

    Harry, I love your posts. I've found that, "staying loose" and not trying too hard is a euphemism for being authentic. You can't act your way into the job role, and interviewers can usually see right through your facade. I've found, if I'm just me and I'm qualified for the position, I'll get the job--I bring a lot to the table. If I don't get the job, I don't ever have look back and say "what if". I can hold my head high, know I gave it 100% and that I interviewed with integrity and authenticity.

  • by tonybrown Fri Feb 27, 2009 via blog

    please help me to prepare a better resume

  • by Dalbir Singh Malh Tue May 5, 2009 via blog

    Pls mail the email. address

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