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Five Job Interview Lessons From the Movies
By: Lisa Thorell
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As a hiring manager for my own company today and for a few high-tech companies in the past, I've seen my share of crowd-standing applause-generating performances, agonizing wipeouts, and unintended mental head plants. I've done many myself. 


Luckily for those of you looking for behavioral examples of job interview skills and anti-skills, many of the best  have been re-enacted in film.

Here's an edu-taining exercise  Look at video clips of well-known job interview scenes from movies and try  to match up what well-known  interview Do's and Don't the video illustrates. Here's five goodies I came up with.

1.) Don't start strong and end weak in answering questions.

When answering a question, start with confidence and supporting detail. Sustain and end with that same confidence and level of supporting detail. Even before you speak, you should know the beginning and ending of your answer. Here's the video evidence:
 

 

Analysis: The scene comes from 1989's "Say Anything," and it shows "noble underacheiver" Lloyd Dobler answering an "interview question" courtesy of his girlfriend's father. Actor John Cusack begins, "I don't want to sell anything, buy anything ... "  and displays absolute recondite wisdom. The eyes of his listeners widen around the table, just as they would if you delivered a strong opening answer at an interview. It starts to soar. However, the disparity between his initial lofty philosophical musings against his prosaic punch line ending (kickboxing?) gives a fabulously humorous "dead cat bounce" effect.

Remember this in your next job interview: Disparities in the strength and confidence of your beginnings and endings will have the same effect.

2.) Don't prematurely discuss job benefits and perks.

This scene from 2006's "You, Me and Dupree" says it all.
 

 

3.) Don't be afraid to negotiate early if your talent/salary ratio is extremely high.

Warning: The talent and preparation required to execute this move successfully compares with snowboarding alongside Sean White. 
 



With this high-risk strategy, your evaluation of your capabilities, as well as your own ability to match those abilities to your prospective employers, had better be spot-on. Dustin Hoffman brings it here in 1979's "Kramer vs. Kramer."  It's true there's a certain "forced-choice" efficiency to this approach that may appeal to a savvy employer (especially one whose staff is on overload, to the point it compromises new account wins and/or customer retention). Even so, with today's current job supply-and-demand ratio, this one isn't recommended at this time in most cases. (It's still a wicked watch, though.)

4.) Target a high-growth technology area to increase your chances.

This scene from 1967's "The Graduate" now is, of course, deliciously retro, but the point still stands. Are you applying for jobs with companies in the early part of their technology adoption cycle, where they are growing in double digits per year? Does the company have a supreme technical advantage in its core technology competence? Looking at the last scene in this clip, all you need to modernize it is change "the one word" to one of these candidates: cloud-computing, the semantic Web, machine learning, or social media. 

 

 

It follows a simple rule: More growth begats more hiring. Don't forget these opportunities are not just for engineers. Sales folks and accountants are needed in the high-tech juggernauts too.

5.) Do think about the ramifications of any job you take. 

OK, this one's a stretch, but it delivers a high reward, so it's worth it. This isn't so much about getting the job, as some considerations before you accept a job.

 

 
 

 
Matt Damon's eloquent soliloquy in 1997's "Good Will Hunting" is especially useful to those new to the job market. Just so its clear: Damon's limb-by-limb deconstruction of  his interviewer's organization, however brilliant it is, obviously is inappropriate. But that's not my point.

In doing this, Damon captures a useful thought process every job candidate should go through before accepting any position. Today, every industry has a cradle-to-grave lifecycle, where it's product  touches other countries, other people's lives, and the environment. Maybe, as Damon describes in this scene, the company's operations affect a close buddy of yours.

Visualizing the path of a company's product  from its initial design to it reaching people's hands helps you understand what role you would play in a larger world context. Yes, most interviewee's situations are not so heavy as Damon's, but the scene provides an awesome reminder that you too are doing some interviewing.

Do you have any movie scenes you can match to an important job interview point? Bring it on in the comments! (Warning: This exercise can be addictive!)

(Thanks to my buddies, Dave Alecock and Diane Court, for inspiring this post.)



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About the Author
Lisa Thorell is principal of Off the Grid Public Relations and a new Bloghessa for Talent Zoo, Lisa  tracks Internet news especially as it influences company business models. Follow her on Twitter.
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