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Pushing All the Right Buttons

• volume 3 • number 1

In the not-so-distant past, candidates worked hard to impress potential employers. They bought the latest in power suits, cut their hair, and crafted their resumes with near-Shakespearean brilliance, hoping their qualifications would meet the needs of a particular position and their spruced-up appearances mesh with the corporate culture.

But no longer. In an economy where top prospects are at a premium (see our article, "Desperately Seeking Skilled Workers" in this issue), the tables have turned and companies are now trying to sell themselves to applicants. These days, interviewers need to know how to push a candidate's "hot buttons" - that is, appeal most directly to her wants and needs - by describing a job and the company in terms of that candidate's specific accomplishments, competencies, and goals. Here's how it's done:

Once a candidate has described an accomplishment and you've uncovered some of the competencies involved, follow up with questions like these:

"What appealed to you most about this situation?"
"What did you find most interesting about this challenge?"
"What personal skills did you enjoy using to achieve this accomplishment?"
"Tell me about other challenges on the job that you enjoy."

These questions help you pinpoint the work-related situations a candidate finds most rewarding and the behavioral competencies she enjoys using. You can then use this information when you describe the position, emphasizing the challenges and opportunities that best match the candidate's preferences.

Say you're interviewing a computer programmer who tells you that her biggest professional challenge was assembling a team to install new software in a legacy system for a demanding group of engineers. What she liked best about the project, she says, was putting together a crack team; working under a tight deadline; and last but not least, pulling off a nearly impossible feat that dazzled even her picky clients.

To sell the candidate your job, you can compare what she enjoyed in her last job with similar functions in the current opening. These "hot buttons" would be working in an environment that encourages team-building, values creativity and believes in doing the impossible. That way you're sure to have pushed all the right buttons.