Remember Samantha Smith? She was the ten-year-old peace activist whose forward-thinking, persuasive letter-writing gestures led to an invitation from Yuri Andropov to visit the Soviet Union! Her take-a-risk approach just might help you get an invitation to join the company of your dreams. Plan on taking a few verbal risks in your next job interview. But first, there are a few verbal guidelines to follow.
Don't hesitate to stand out from the crowd by making use of an oxymoron. (In Greek, the word literally means a "wise fool.") Note how this job applicant used an oxymoron to land her the job she deserved. (Of course, she had the qualifications, but so did the other applicants!)
When given the standard prompt, "Tell me about yourself," this applicant intrigued the interviewer with her reply: "You should know I'm a non-conforming conformist," she said. Then she elaborated, "By that, I mean that I will do whatever is asked of me in this job. I will conform with your policies and your procedures and your expectations. But," here she paused for dramatic effect, "if I am ever asked to do anything illegal, unethical, or immoral, I will not conform."
Don't risk life and limb with your limb-climbing, but do find an interesting way to define yourself so you'll have a response ready when you're asked to talk about yourself. Create an interesting oxymoron of your own to define yourself. (And keep in mind the words of Will Rogers: "Why not go out on a limb? That's where all the fruit is!")
Find a quotation that's easy to remember. If possible, keep a few in your frontal lobe. After all, you can anticipate most of the interview questions. Your memorized quote will help you answer these questions admirably. For example, the much-revered General Colin Powell has observed, "Optimism is a force-multiplier."
Here are some of the questions to which this quote could be adapted:
What is your greatest strength?
What are your career aspirations?
What can you bring to our company?
What weakness do you have?
How well do you work with others?
What would you do if a co-worker didn't pull his or her weight?
What is your strategy for handling nearly impossible tasks?
Let's look at one question-one of the tougher ones to answer: "What weakness do you have?" Powell's quote could be applied this way.
"Sometimes my can-do spirit may strike others as unrealistic. I've been accused of taking on jobs that others run from. But I have confidence in my ability. And....I have confidence in the abilities of other people. When Colin Powell said that 'optimism is a force-multiplier, he knew that when people join forces, great things can happen."
Another easy-to-remember quote comes from Don Petersen, the former CEO of Ford Motor Company. He maintained that "results depend on relationships."
How could you use this simple phrase? To illustrate, let's apply it to one of the harder questions, "What are your career aspirations?" You could reply,
"I happen to believe there's honor in all work, even entry-level jobs like the one I'm applying for. In the short term, my aspirations would be limited to doing the best job I can. 'Best,' of course has many meanings. If I'm doing my best, I'm probably encouraging others to do their best, too. And, when people work well together, the company and the customers benefit. I believe what Don Petersen said, 'Results depend on relationships.' In the long term, I would hope my ability to develop good relationships would lead me to a position like first-line supervisor or team leader."
By the way, quoting famous, well-respected leaders works to your advantage in several ways. One, it suggested that you are well-read. Two, it also suggests that you have a good mind, one capable of remembering things. Too, the memorized quote can help you overcome nerves in an interview because you are buying time, so to speak, when you quote others. And finally, when you quote an authority, you are lending credence to your viewpoint.
o Go to the interview prepared with a metaphor or simile. A study of great American leaders will reveal how powerfully they use metaphors and similes, which are simply comparisons between things not usually compared. For example, former governor Edmund Muskie once said, "Too often in the past, members of Congress have won re-election with a two-part strategy: Talk like Scrooge on the campaign trail. Vote like Santa Claus on the Senate floor."
Create your own metaphor, of course, but let the words of wise men and women give you some ideas. If you were asked, "What would you do if a co-worker didn't pull his or her weight?" you might give a Muskie-like reply: "Inside I might be screaming like Bobbie Knight, but on the outside, I'd speak to that person as if I were Mother Teresa. I'd emphasize the need for cooperation. I'd stress that we're part of a team and any one person's failure, in a way, means failure for all of us."
When she contacted Premier Andropov, Samantha Smith showed us the advantages of taking a risk, expressing opinions honestly, and reaching out to others. The character traits shown by this ten-year-old letter-writer can still guide interview-candidates and others, willing to reach for the metaphoric fruit on the tree of life.