Promotion Interviews: Elvis, Tapeworms and the Great Potoo

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Promotion interviews are never something I fully understood. It’s one thing when the employer doesn’t know the person – but when it’s an internal process where the employee has already demonstrated their capability, it starts to get a little off. Sure – you might be able to do something in practice – but can you demonstrate that you can do it in theory? It’s a process reserved usually only for criminal cases – you know – axe murders, chicken molesters, and the likes – we know you did it – but can it be proven?

It was something that I was myself faced with in the not too distant past (a promotion interview, that is …). Now, traditionally, interviews have not been my strongest suit. I’ve muddled through a few – but never really understood what they were really all about. And so, this time around, I was determined to get it right once and for all. I did my research, trawled the internet for tips and called up everyone that I know that is half way decent at them or that had actually interviewed people.

Here’s what I found on my journey.

There are, it seems, three different basic strategies that an interviewee can adopt. I’ve summed them up and given them names. Most of us start out as the ‘Elvis Impersonator’. A few of us as ‘The Pro’. But very few of us try what I like to term the ‘Tape Worm’ – which is a pity – because tape-worms are quite successful at what they do.

The Elvis Impersonator

This is used when you aren’t exactly what they are looking for – but you pretend you are anyway. Who wants to see Phil from the local butcher’s shop dressed in a jumpsuit when they really wanted Elvis Presley? The answer is not as hopeless as you might think. Elvis is dead and won’t show up to the interview. So if you look enough like him and sound enough like him, you might just get the nod. In this role, you essentially have to work the margins – you might have been a team player – but you have to talk yourself up as a team leader. You may have been a cock-up – but you have to come across as half-cocked… (Is that right? Yes – I think it’s fine …)

The Pro

A few that I spoke with came across as really professional interviewees. They were not only good at interviews – they positively looked forward to them. When I asked them for tips to those tricky interview questions – such as “Where do you see yourself in five years”, or “How do you evaluate success?”, they told me to answer with “Look – I know that you have a better question than that. Find me a real question.” I asked my brother – himself an interviewer – what he would do if he asked someone “What are your weaknesses” and they responded with “That’s not a real question – ask me something you really want to know about”? He said that he’d make note of their weakness at answering interview questions and move on.

To be the ‘Pro’ is dangerous – but if you sense that it is right, maybe it’s worth a punt.

The Tape Worm

Most people, I suspect, go for the Elvis Impersonator. But I suspect that they really should try what I’ve termed the ‘Tape Worm’. It would, I think, work particularly well for in-house promotions. What does it involve? Simple – you need to convince them that you’re already well anchored inside the organisation and are already helping to keep it lean.

What amazed me most about my journey was the anecdotes from people who had served as interviewers. In particular, the answers that they had encountered to that old standard “What are your weaknesses?” question. The answers apparently ranged from the overbearing and unbelievable “I don’t have any” to the rather questionable “I’m slow to learn things”, or the downright insane “I’m particularly bad with money”.  For those of you who face this question in the future – what you’re really being asked is to demonstrate how you overcame a particular weakness rather than expecting ten Hail Mary’s for confessing that you touch yourself inappropriately whenever you hear the Hokey Cokey. They are not interested in your personal failings. Or – to put it another way – they are absolutely interested in your personal failings. It is your job to hide them.

So – in my own interview – what direction did I chose? Was I an Elvis Impersonator? Was I a Pro? Or was I a Tape Worm? The answer is, of course, that I was something else. I was one of those animals that adapts my answer depending on the question and camouflaged myself accordingly. I am no less than the Great Potoo of the interview world.

And did it all work? Did all my research and analogizing pay off?

Yes.

It did.

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