Stand & Deliver: Interview “Presentation” Requests

Of all the various sundry facets of the job search process, the item that has changed the least over the years, in my opinion, is interviewing.  While new job-finding tools and technologies emerge constantly, and resumes have given up a lot of ground to social media sites as of late, there just really aren’t that many radically new approaches to the final step of the process — which involves sitting down with the employer and closing the deal.

Sure, there’s been a rise in the “behavioral” style of interviewing, perhaps, where companies ask you to give specific examples of your different strengths and capabilities, but this phenomenon has been around in some form or another for a great many years.  Additionally, you might see more companies employing “loop” or “panel” interviews to vett their candidates, but again, I wouldn’t say this approach is terribly new, either.

One trend that DOES seem to be rising unusually fast, however, is the tendency for employers to ask for a “demonstration” of some kind in the interview.  I’ve had at least several clients run into these situations recently, in fact, where instead of the normal “come in and we’ll ask you a bunch of questions” type of meeting, the employer instead asks them to arrive prepared to deliver a brief (usually 10-20 minute) presentation outlining their qualifications for the job.

Needless to say, many job hunters are freaked out by this type of request, especially those to whom public speaking isn’t a cozy and comfortable subject.  But honestly, I think it’s a pretty effective way for companies to go about things.  It demands that a candidate bring several important things to the party — motivation (to actually show up and give the presentation), confidence (in terms of how assertively they sell themselves), smarts (based on the specific content they choose), and communication skills (based on how well they structure and convey the material).  All of these are important aspects of success in most professional occupations.

Additionally, such presentations should go a long way toward helping the employer differentiate between various candidates, because it puts the burden of proof on the job hunter to demonstrate why they’re special and might deserve the opportunity more than some other folks.

So all in all, I’m intrigued by this trend, and will be curious to see if it catches on even more.  But for those readers of my blog who might be completely spooked by such a proposition, let me offer a simple outline you could potentially follow in cases where the employer asks for a presentation — but doesn’t give much direction about exactly what they’d like you to present.

1)  Why am I interested in the job in question?

In this section, you’d provide 3-5 very specific bullets about what attracts you to the company and why the job seems like a good fit for you at this point in your career.  This is a great time to not only bring in some research you’ve done on the organization, but also to highlight some interesting tidbits or insights you picked out of the job advertisement.  Make sure, too, that you show that you’re highly interested in their job, not just any job you might stumble across.

2)  How do my qualifications stack up to your requirements?

This should be a fairly straightforward one.  Pinpoint their top 5-7 requirements and then speak to the credentials and experience you’d bring to each of their stated wants or needs.

3)  What sets me apart?

In this section, try to “brand” yourself by pointing out some unique, unusual, or counterintuitive strengths that you would be able to bring to the role in question.  For example, one of my recent clients is seeking to break into the Environmental Health & Safety field (a new career path) and has a Masters in Teaching.  In this section, she might make the case that “education” is a huge part of getting workers at companies to comply with safety rules — and that given her advanced training in this area, she’ll be unusually effective at getting people to understand various rules and regulations, versus just trotting them out and expecting people to follow them blindly.

4)  What can you expect from me? 

This one is a bit of a wild card, but you could finish up your presentation by highlighting your core work values, outlining your top personality traits, and/or making a series of very concrete claims about how you’d approach the new job, if hired.  For example, you might have a bullet that says “I’ll always be the last one out of the office” or “As a lifelong optimist, you’ll find that I bring a refreshingly can-do attitude to the workplace.”  Or, if you’d be taking on a leadership role, you might showcase some important tenets of your leadership style, e.g. “Employees will always know where they stand with me; no hidden agendas.”

The key, on this latter item, is to leave the employer with some very authentic thoughts about who you are and what you’re about.  Doing so will infuse the meeting with lots of sincerity and rapport, right at the end, leaving a positive lasting impression on the hiring commitee.

At any rate, these are just some general thoughts on the type of content you could assemble for such a situation.  Definitely feel free to get more creative, if needed, or if the employer gives you some more specific direction about the types of thoughts and information to present.

Hope that helps if any of you encounter such situations.  And remember, practice makes perfect.  Once you’ve outlined your core talking points, make sure to practice the session several times with a timer or video recorder, both to improve your delivery and also ensure you can deliver it within the allotted time frame!

6 Responses to “Stand & Deliver: Interview “Presentation” Requests”

  1. I actually like the demonstration approach. Perhaps that’s because it’s a strong suit of mine and I enjoy public speaking. I had an interview last spring. I’m in finance and I was provided a hypothetical business scenario and was asked to create and present my recommendations to the executive / interviewing panel. I thought I nailed it but I didn’t get the job offer. Afterwards the CEO took me to dinner and explained that the technical part of the presentation was excellent but I was too confident compared to the outgoing finance executive. The executive team couldn’t envision such a change. I learned that even though the job description was looking for the next level, I didn’t understand the difference between what was is advertised and what is really sought. I learned technical is easy, learning the culture is more difficult when it comes to demonstration’s audience really seeks.

  2. Jennifer: That may be true — can I sit here, dispense advice, and say I completely and personally understand the frustration people go through in these situations? No. And I never would say that. But at the same time, as somebody who debriefs with hundreds of people a year around their interview experiences, and routinely hears the frustrations of the folks on the other side of the fence who CONDUCT interviews, I try to bring a balanced perspective that often gets lost when you’re “in the game” and not able to see/appreciate all the different dynamics at play in these situations. Again, at the end of the day, while the current realities out there may not be as candidate-friendly as you or I would both like, they’re the realities, and my job is teach people to play the game more effectively and gain an edge in the process. If people don’t think my advice has merit, they certainly are free to disregard it.

  3. Matt,

    I’m just curious . . . when was the last time you actually went through an interview process? It’s one thing to talk about it; it’s quite another to actually experience these situations and go through them.

  4. Jennifer: Thanks for your comments and you’re certainly entitled to your opinion on the matter. But where does moral outrage get you? Interviewing is not (and never has been) a level playing field. Employers are the “buyer” and job candidates are “seller” in these situations, since, barring a few very specialized positions, there are always multiple candidates competing for any given opportunity. So employers have the right to use whatever (legal) methods they feel will best identify the best potential candidate for the job. And if they feel that asking a candidate to step up to the plate, show some creative thinking, and make a structured case for themselves is the best way to qualify potential personnel, that’s their perogative. And of course if this method turns a potential candidate off, as perhaps it would in your case, you equally have the right to pull your name out of consideration. Personally, though, I find this method of interviewing to be a lot more egalitarian than other methods — since it presents everybody with the same challenge and allows people to really shine through and distinguish themselves through action, not words. So I guess I’m not as turned off by the practice as you are, unless it truly is used inappropriately or designed simply with sadistic intentions in mind…

  5. Well, interesting to say the least. What makes me REALLY frown about this is the lack of power the candidate has to ask and expect the interviewer(s) to bring the same “presentation” to the table. Personally, I’m worn out and just plain tired of jumping through whatever hoops an employer is holding out at the start of an interview. The expectation or assumption is that if the candidate is worth his/her salt, then he/she would look at this and say, “No problem! Bring it on! I brought my A-game to this interview and I can handle anything you throw at me! That’s why *I* am the best candidate for this position!” and this technique will reveal a candidate’s character, skills, know-how, etc.

    Then the candidate rips open his shirt to reveal a big fat “S”, leaving the interviewers in awe and scrambling to put the offer letter together before the candidate is out the door. I mean really – SERIOUSLY folks – we are human beings not superheroes, robots, or chimpanzees doing tricks and, quite frankly, I’m fed up with companies thinking they can keep raising the bar with their ridiculous ‘asks’ and employment candidates will just keep jumping higher and higher to get over in an effort to “wow” the prospective employer. This is just absolutely RIDICULOUS and I, for one, am not going to play the game. If a prospective employer asks me to come ready with a presentation my first question to them will be “And what can I expect YOU to bring to the table (besides a ‘more-than-reasonable’ compensation package that adequately reflects the value I’m bringing to the company)?

    Granted, I’m not convinced that the “old-fashioned” interview style is the best method to determine if a candidate is the right fit for the job but I DO think it is just as much the responsibility of a company to develop an interview process that WILL elicit the information they need to make an educated decision as it is the responsibility of the interview candidate to come well-prepared (with a non-fabricated resume, a portfolio of work samples, contact information for references that can be verified, and polished interview skills that come with lots of practice). If, as a job seeker, a company expects me to prove to them I’m worthy of being hired, then I expect that company to bring their A-game, too. And why shouldn’t they?

  6. Andrea Ballard June 19, 2012 at 10:26 am

    This reminds me, I read a book in 1987 by Paul Hawken called “Growing a Business” and he had a chapter about hiring employees. He advocated having the candidates spend a half-day in your office, or doing a presentation, or somehow spending a substantial amount of time with you and your employees before hire. It seemed wacky at the time I read it, but now, with the rise of presentations like you are talking about, it is becoming more the norm! Companies are being cautious and I do think it gives candidates a great chance to showcase their strengths.

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