Take Control of Your Job Interview: Be a Problem Solver

Use your job interview as an opportunity to actively frame your value proposition, vs. merely answering questions.

Dan Goetz, a business owner I profile in my book, Boomer Reinvention: How to Create Your Dream Career Over 50, began using his job interviews as a way of interviewing the interviewer (and the company). In the process, he found himself naturally offering advice and constructive ideas, which shifted the tone of the interview in his favor.

Dan used to see himself (pre-reinvention) as a hired gun. After he was let go as CEO of a family-owned manufacturing company, he found it challenging to find a job as senior and as satisfying as the one he had lost. It took him far longer than he anticipated to build any kind of traction, but when he did finally build momentum, it was because he began taking a more proactive attitude in his job interviews.

Dan already knew that his network was the best way for him to find a new position. As a result, initially, he wasn’t too focused on seeking out specific job postings to apply to, opting instead to rely on his relationships to guide him to meeting new people and planting the seeds for an eventual position that would be the right fit.

The effectiveness of his networking efforts was, in his words, “dramatic.” People were taking his calls, and he began to build traction. There is no doubt in his mind about the value of focusing on one’s network: “It works. It doesn’t work overnight. But it works!” The problem was that it was taking too long. He spent almost a year networking without finding a new position, and in the process he burned through much of his savings. Additionally, (this all took place in 2009) the value of his house had tumbled by almost fifty percent because of the recession. Dan felt as if he was running out of time.

His goal (and expectation) upon leaving his company was that he would ultimately find another job as president, CEO, or some other senior hired-gun position. But as more time went by, he realized that these jobs were few and far between. Many companies were looking to hire younger executives they felt would have more staying power than someone in their fifties (Interestingly, statistics disprove this bias).

Things may have turned around for him because of an epiphany he had about how he was presenting himself. Instead of talking about what role people wanted him to fill, he started asking people in interviews what problem they had that they needed solving. The tone of the conversations started to change, and Dan found himself getting taken a lot more seriously. The interview would shift from him having to promote himself and why he was a good candidate, to a more give-and-take conversation about the company, its industry, and what the company was trying to achieve. In many instances, Dan was able to come up with suggestions, examples, and ideas for how the company could address its problems. Even if the interviews weren’t leading to offers, Dan felt more engaged with the people he met. Instead of steeling himself against the next interview, he was excited to learn about a new company and exercise his critical-thinking skills. Regardless of the outcome, he knew that he was very often being of service and that what he had to say was helpful.

As often happens when we are searching around in unknown territory and trying out new things, Dan received an unexpected offer. Whereas in the past, it was something he might have turned down, he was much more willing to consider it – partially because he needed a gig, but also because his mindset was shifting…

A CPA contact introduced him to a small team of private equity investors who were turnaround specialists. They had a problem, and the CPA thought that Dan might be the guy who could solve it for them. Dan wound up consulting for the next two years with this group, turning around a distressed company and making a tidy profit from his stake in the deal. Convinced that ownership, while riskier in some ways, was the way to go, versus trying to get another hired gun position, Dan went about meeting with investors and wound up buying the company he runs today. As he says in the accompanying video, there were some “emotional times,” as he and his wife made the transition into this new life, but the result has been “now that we’re in the new job, now that I own this company, life is great, and all that stuff is behind us.”

Shifting the mindset from job applicant to problem solver is very doable. You have the great advantage of being an outsider – someone who can bring a fresh perspective into the job interview. This is exactly what got Dan his shot at turning around the distressed company for the CPA’s investor group. But if Dan hadn’t gotten used to offering solutions in his interviews, he might not have been so confident and comfortable in talking with the investors. So be proactive and adaptable (as I talk about in this post) as you engage with potential employers. Do your research and be prepared to speak your mind in a constructive and service-oriented way. You might be surprised by the results.

About John

John Tarnoff is a career transition coach, speaker and best-selling author who helps late-career professionals transition to meaningful second-act careers beyond traditional retirement.

Following a successful career as a Hollywood film executive and tech entrepreneur, he reinvented his own career at 50, earning a master’s degree in Spiritual Psychology to focus on professional development and training.

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