When Michael Jordan practiced free throws, he would complete his ritual from the foul line of bouncing the ball four times and flipping it with a reverse spin. He would then catch it and shoot it with his eyes open and sink the shot. Then he would do the same thing, and just before shooting, he would close his eyes and shoot the free throw.
What he wanted to do is commit to his stroke and the fundamentals he had practiced for years. After all, standing at the line, he was still 15 feet from the basket, and the rim was 10 feet above the ground. He understood that he might not sink the shot with the same percentage but he would certainly be able to shoot with the same form he had successfully practiced for years. He finished his career making 83.5% of his free throws.
Most C-level professionals seem to do the process in reverse. They never practice, let alone prepare for their interviews until they miss their shot at a career-elevating opportunity that they could have won and cost themselves and their team (wife, husband, partner or family) the big game. It is from that pain of disappointment that they learn that skills needed to find a job, interview well and negotiate a compensation package effectively are different than the skills needed to lead an organization and do their job.
Correcting this mistake does not take much time, but does involve some effort.
1. Develop a framework for answering interview questions.
Don’t be so rehearsed as to memorize your lines. Learn a framework for discussing your successes and your previous career choices and decisions. I have debriefed too many busy leaders who have emerged from meetings having believed that they could simply “wing it” and answer questions. After all, they were telling something autobiographical.
2. Rehearse your answers.
It is not enough to think of the answers. The words need to be spoken in order for you to realize how well you will deliver them once you are in the arena. Like Jordan or any other athlete or entertainer who steps out in front of an audience, you need to practice until the performance is second nature.
3. Enlist a coach or mentor to evaluate your performance before you interview.
Having an extra set of eyes on your performance here will help you deliver at an elite level. When one of my clients sat down with me after losing an opportunity he really wanted to win, it took less than 30 minutes for him to identify a major hole in his game, correct it and start running practice drills to excel at answering questions. A good coach will become your ally in this phase of your life. (By the way, don’t rely on the search firm who is representing you to do this. Their interest is with the institutional customer who has hired them).
4. Know you will be putting on a performance.
I remember seeing the Broadway show Cats with the original cast. By this time, they had performed six days a week for eight shows a week for several months. Yet they made the performance seem as fresh as opening night. Remember that, although you may be answering the same questions you have performed in rehearsal, your performance has to seem like it is opening night, and you are saying the lines fresh and new, not bored and disinterested. This is the first time the audience is hearing you perform. They want to see you star. Let them see you command the stage as you would the organization.
The time to begin practice is before you need to. It takes time and effort over time to make your shot second nature. Once you have done that for a while, you can shoot that foul shot with your eyes closed and know you will sink it.
© The Big Game Hunter, Inc. Asheville, NC 2018
ABOUT JEFF ALTMAN, THE BIG GAME HUNTER
Jeff Altman, The Big Game Hunter is a coach who worked as a recruiter for what seems like one hundred years. His work involves career coaching, all as well as executive job search coaching and life coaching. He is the host of “No BS Job Search Advice Radio,” the #1 podcast in iTunes for job search with more than 1000 episodes,“ Job Search Radio,” “and his newest show, “No BS Coaching Advice” and is a member of The Forbes Coaches Council.
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