04/24/2010 05:12 am ET Updated May 25, 2011

Don't Throw Up in the Job Interview

A job interview is stressful. There's a lot you want to accomplish. You want to leave a good impression, letting the interviewer know lots of the fantastic things you've done over the years. You want to establish rapport. If you get a chance to, you want to learn a few things about the job. You've only got an hour. No wonder you're nervous!

Most job-seekers go to a job interview with the wrong agenda, in my view. Their agendas emphasize to-do items like Telling their Story, Making their Pitch, and Scoring Points. They forget an essential rule of selling (and let's be clear: a job interview is a sales call), namely, you have no pitch when you walk in the door.

Your pitch emerges as you learn more about the customer' s (employer's) pain, throughout the meeting.

Any attempt to score points, be impressive, or otherwise move up in the interviewer's estimati without nailing the pain first, is a big mistake. Here's why: the interviewer doesn't care about you.

Everyone is impressive. Everyone has praiseworthy accomplishments and qualifications. None of that matters, unless it's relevant to the hiring manager's nagging business pain.

Perhaps you've been in the hospital once or twice. (If you haven't been, be glad, and imagine what it would be like.) You're lying in a hospital bed, and a person walks in. It's your neighbor, the kindly elderly woman from down the block. How nice of her to visit. You're in pain. You don't really want to socialize. But what can do you?

You press the bottom on your remote and lift the head of the bed up. You straighten your hospital gown so it covers most of you and you straighten your hair. You put a smile on your face. "Mrs. Whittington," you say, "how nice of you to stop by."

Mrs. Whittington clucks and aahs over your poor battered body, and tells you she'll feed your cat until you get home. That conversational topic is exhausted in forty-five seconds, but the dear lady has come all the way downtown to visit you, so you try to be a good host. "Now, what's new with you?" you ask her.

She begins. "Well, since you ask, my niece in Memphis is expecting twins!" she says. You look in her face. You try to concentrate. Niece, twins. You are looking past Mrs. Whittington to the open door, through which you hope a nurse will walk any minute, bearing drugs. Drugs are good. Drugs are top of mind for you right now. Mrs. Whittington cannot hold your interest, because you're in pain.

Now you know how the interviewer feels! We can prattle on about our past jobs and accolades, and the poor guy (a unisex term) is sitting there thinking My Pain, My Pain, My Pain. He or she won't volunteer the pain -- you'll have to dig it out, based on your research and by asking experience-backed, probing questions.

The last thing you want to do is blather on about yourself. Salespeople call this technique Throwing Up on the Customer. It's bad in sales. It's very bad in a job interview.

You won't have the right drugs until halfway through the interview, at least. You won't have the answers when you walk in the door. You'll use your interview time to dig in and figure out what's not working.

Once you know the pain, you won't say "I have the morphine, right here!" You'll keep asking questions. You'll tell a relevant pain-killing story, and get the hiring manager's reaction to it. This kind of interviewing is fun. It's Interview Nirvana when you hit the pain point. Now the hiring manager is engaged. No more "After I went to grad school, I...." No one cares about that -- least of all, you!

When you get a job without talking about yourself, you learn something profound about hiring managers' motivation. Your competence comes through more strongly in your questions than in your answers. Who knew?