05/20/2010 01:11 pm ET Updated May 25, 2011

Make the Job Interview About the Pain

Dear Liz,

I don't mind interviewing with an HR screener, it's the hiring manager meetings that spook me. Any tips?




Dear Valerya,

Congratulations! If you are sailing through screening interviews, you are ahead of the game. For many people, the hiring-manager interview is easier, because you and the hiring manager already have something in common (you both work on the same kinds of problems).

The HR screening interview is hard for a lot of folks because in that situation, you don't typically have business pain to anchor the conversation. It is easy for the discussion to devolve into a "so, do you have skill X? What about a Y and Z?" type of deal.

Once you get to the hiring manager, you can use the pain-spotting approach to zero in on what's most pressing about the job opening the manager is looking to fill. What isn't working? What are the stakes, in other words?

Here's how that could go:

HIM: So Valerie - uh, Valya - um, how do you pronounce your name exactly?
YOU: It's Val-LEE-ree-ya; it gets easier once you say it a couple of times.

HIM: Thanks, okay, Valerya, can you tell me about yourself?

YOU: For sure! I've been in the field for about ten years, and... gee, I don't
want to keep you here 'til midnight; can I ask you a couple of quick questions
in order to tailor my comments?

HIM: Shoot.

YOU: Well, I had the impression from the ad and a bit of research that the job
is mostly concerned with getting new accounts up and going. Is that your view?

HIM: That's close. We do need to tighten up that process, but you would do a lot
of lead management, database maintenance, keeping the sales force up to speed
with new-product info, and trade show work as well.

YOU: So there's a lot of new-customer emphasis, between the trade shows and the
lead processing? A focus on getting new prospects in the door, setting them up
with the right sales reps and supporting them in getting those leads closed?

HIM: Well, it's interesting you say that, we do assign the leads but then we
don't actually do any lead-specific followup at the moment, in terms of tracking
what happens to the leads after they get here. We've talked about that, though.

YOU: At a typical trade show, how many leads would you pick up?

HIM: I think we'd be happy if we left the show with 50 business cards, and
twenty-five of them turned out to be reasonable prospects.

YOU: And a typical customer might be worth $50,000 in sales for the year...

HIM: That's a bit high, but we could say thirty thousand.

YOU: So we're talking about thirty kay times twenty-five prospects, or
three-quarters of a million dollars in sales coming out of each show, if we're
translating those leads into sales. Is that close?

HIM: Gosh, I should be interviewing you for a sales job!

YOU: Oh goodness, I'm pure marketing, but I love to support the sales process.
So, if there are about six shows a year, this role could contribute seven
hundred and fifty thousand or so in sales per show times six, that's four and a
half million dollars in new sales, managing the leads process and making the
shows incredible....

HIM: I hadn't really thought of the role as managing that process, but actually
that would solve a huge problem for me. Right now we sort of toss the leads to
the area reps and hope for the best, I mean, I'm overstating it...

YOU: Of course, I understand. Now the database piece, is that more of a CRM
focus, or drip marketing, or what exactly?

HIM: We do some ongoing marketing to the database, but what's really important
there is making sure people who have questions get them answered, which is often
a low priority for the salesforce.

YOU: I can understand that, they've got current accounts to service. Is there a
way to automate some of that Q & A, I wonder, or do some webinars, to fill in
the gaps and convert people from database leads to prospects?

HIM: Valerya, I like the way you think.

YOU: The projects we're talking about sound to be a bit far afield from the
Marketing Analyst role as it's been conceived in the past. Is there an appetite
here for supporting the sales force with this type of marketing help? I know
that's not the right answer for every company.

HIM: Listen, if I hire you, I'm going to give you free rein to get these systems
up and running.

YOU: Is this approach we're talking about the right thing for your business?

HIM: I think we've evolved to the point where we need to go in that direction.
The business we're leaving on the table right now...

YOU: What do you estimate that represents in sales volume, per year?

HIM: Oh, it's gotta be... probably one and a half to two million dollars in

YOU: I gotcha. What would it mean for your business, to have those incremental

HIM: Well, it would make my boss very happy. So what will it cost me to get
Valerya on the team?

YOU: I'm looking at opportunities in the eighty kay range. Is that close to what
you were planning on paying?

HIM: I was trying to keep it under seventy.

YOU: I can understand that. There are a lot of people in that salary range.
You're probably talking to people in this interview round who are at that level
or even less expensive.

HIM: But you think I should pay more.

YOU: I don't know your business as well as you do. If the seventy-kay people can
do what you and I are talking about, I think you should hire one of them.

HIM: Whoa! Confident!

YOU: The thing is that you have to do the right thing for your group. If you
said to me "I want to hire you but I'm really having trouble with that last ten
kay" I'd be nervous, but if you said "I totally see what I'm getting for the
extra eight hundred dollars a month" it could be a great thing for you and for
me, also.

HIM: So why would you take the job?

YOU: I love to get these systems going. Over at Acme Dynamite, it was the same
deal - business cards going in ten directions after a trade show, no management
of the leads process, lots of money left on the table. I put together a system
to shepherd leads through the system and we saw a spike, sometimes a million
dollar spike, after every show. Also, we used drip marketing very effectively
and built a roadmap of communication events during the year, webinars and live
events to converts leads and grow the business six times in volume while I was

HIM: And why did you leave?

YOU: My husband and I moved down here to Springfield, and I felt I'd learned as
much about dynamite as I ever wanted to know, frankly.

HIM: So, eighty kay would do it?

YOU: And three weeks vacation, but that goes without saying, I guess. What's our
next step?

Of course, our fictional interview is abbreviated. You'd want to learn more about the manager and his priorities, more about the work, etc., but you can get the idea of a pain-based interview from this example.