Imagine this. You’re being interviewed for a job. You’re somewhat thrown by this question, “Do you think you’re intelligent?” Of course you’ll answer in the affirmative. The next question, though, throws you even further: “How do you know you’re intelligent?” Several strategies follow. After studying them, gather a team of people who can ask you tough questions. Rehearse with them, in preparation for the actual interview.
In situations like this, you have a choice of Defining or Asking for a definition. A good example of the Define strategy would be a response like this: “To me, intelligence is knowledge and I know more today than I knew yesterday.”
This response—“Could you define what you mean by “intelligence’? Are you referring to ‘technical knowledge’ or do you mean ‘general intelligence’?”—is a good example of the Ask-for-a-definition strategy.
You’ll be the judge of when to use which strategy. Here are illustrations of both to demonstrate the applicability of such techniques in situations that call for you to make a good impression and/or to influence others to take specific actions.
You: “I’ve had an opportunity to serve in an interim capacity as a supervisor and I have a pretty good idea of what the job entails.”
Interviewer: “Why do you want to be a supervisor?”
One possibly response involves the definition of the word itself and the subsequent seque to your capability. This is shown as follows.
You: “I like the literal definition of the word: ‘super’ meaning ‘above’ and ‘vision’ meaning ‘the act of seeing.’ One of the things I do best is looking at the big picture and ensuring that all parts of the picture are in order. I’m good at ‘seeing above all the details.’ ”
Interviewer: “Are you saying you look more at the forest than at the trees?”
You: “I look at both.”
You: “I’m at a point in my career where I’m ready for a change.”
Interviewer: “Do you regard supervision as a change then?”
You: “It depends on how ‘supervision’ is defined in this organization. If supervisors are regarded as team leaders, then it wouldn’t be much of a change for me. But if supervisors are expected to direct the work of others, then it is a change. Could you define how the word is regarded here?”
Interviewer: “We definitely expect our supervisors to oversee the work others do.”
You: “Then this is definitely the job I’d like to have.”
- As challenging as the task of defining your values or purpose may be, the task is equally rewarding. It lets all others know what you stand for. It also lays the foundation for what you stand on—the common ground of purpose. To illustrate, at Southwest Airlines, voted the #1 company to work for by Fortune magazine, these guiding principles prevail: “Irreverence is OK”; “Take the competition seriously, but not yourself”; and “Hire for attitude and train for skill”. How would you define the principles that would ideally characterize the place you’d like to work. Have those ideas in the forefront of your mind so you can include them in responses if appropriate. (It goes without saying that you’ll prepare for the interview by learning as much as you can about your prospective employer.)
- Encourage both convergent (traditional, typical, expected) definitions as well as the divergent (creative, unusual, imaginative). To illustrate, the average adult would give a convergent answer to the question, “How does one get to heaven?” Even if you don’t believe such a place exists, you’ve read enough to know the prevailing wisdom, which emphasizes the importance of leading a good life. Ask a child, though, the same question, and you’re likely to get a divergent reply: “Go to hell and take a left!”
- This prompt, “Tell me about yourself,” is a popular one with job interviewers. The typical interviewee replies to it by citing the accomplishments on her resume. One applicant we know of gave an intriguing definition as her answer. “If you want to know about me,” she asserted, “I should tell you that I’m a non-conforming conformist. By that, I mean that I will conform to whatever policies, practices and procedures you expect of your employees. But….if I should be asked to do something I regard as unethical, I will not conform.” She got the job.
- National leaders, such as B ill Richardson, former head of the Department of Energy, employ definitions when they go on record with their intent. “One of my highest priorities at the Department of Energy,” he told a reporter, “will be to let the American people know the many ways in which we serve them and to determine how we can serve them better.” He continued the definition of his priority with a metaphorical definition of the role of his Department: “I want the American people to know that the Department is their public servant and that we are working for them.” You, too, can define priorities and have those definitions ready in advance of the actual interview.
In conclusion, define “success” in terms of how you will conduct yourself during the interview. And then, implement the vision you’ve prepared as you perform during the actual interview.
About the Author: Dr. Marlene Caroselli is an author, keynoter, and corporate trainer. She has published over 60 books, including Hiring and Firing, The Language of Leadership, and Principled Persuasion, named a Director’s Choice by Doubleday Book Club.