Interview Skills: The Marco Rubio Edition

by Phil Stott | February 08, 2016

  • My Vault

The most recent Republican primary featured a by-now infamous exchange between presidential hopefuls Chris Christie and Marco Rubio. Ostensibly about whether or not Rubio had sufficient experience required to do the job of President, the exchange is notable for Rubio's use of a seemingly-canned piece of exposition three times in as many minutes—a piece of theater all the more remarkable for the fact that he was taking flak from Christie for using it, while using it.

If you haven't seen the clip, here it is:

Here at Vault, we've long been of the opinion that there's a lot that the average job-seeker can glean from how candidates present themselves on the electoral stage (because what is it, if not an extended job interview?), and this incident is no different. In fact, there are at least two major points that anyone can take away from it:

1.       Memorization kills spontaneity

Start clicking links any career advice-oriented website, including this one, and it won't be long before you come across the words "elevator pitch." And with good reason: having a 20-to-30-second personal stump speech is generally a good idea; it takes the pressure off of that moment when someone asks what you do.

But, as Rubio demonstrated in the clip above, there's a world of difference between having a couple of stock answers ready to go for a likely situation, and being able to come across as someone who genuinely knows what they're talking about. The danger of spending time and energy committing soundbites to memory is that it can be hard to break out of that mindset when challenged or asked to synthesize information in a way you hadn't anticipated. That effect may also be familiar to anyone who spent time memorizing flash cards for a final in college, only to open the test and find that the questions approach the concepts from a different angle.

(Time for a "worst interviews" true story: I once had an interview with a mid-sized newspaper for a content development/web editor's role. I was asked in advance to prepare recommendations to take the site forward, and showed up with a full PowerPoint presentation and a well-rehearsed speech to go with it. Approximately 35 seconds in, the harried executive who was conducting the interview dismissed the presentation with a curt "I'll go through the slides later. Tell me what you'd do if you started tomorrow." No more than seven minutes later, I exited the interview having failed to make any kind of case for my hiring. The major reason: I'd put so much energy into polishing my speech for the interview I was anticipating that I hadn't thought through any alternative scenarios, and got tongue-tied when trying to think on my feet. Coincidentally, I did not get offered that job.)

To avoid the danger of something like that happening to you, then, the other takeaway the Rubio clip has to offer us is this:

2.       Have a backup plan

While it might seem counterintuitive given the first point, the key to successfully overcoming a direct challenge to your first answer is to have another one ready to go.

This doesn't just apply to the political arena: in an era dominated by "tell me about…" style interview questions, it's not uncommon for an interviewer to listen to your first response ("Great question! My greatest weakness is probably formulating an answer to this question!") and then ask for another example. And another.

The purpose of doing so can vary—from those who are checking to see who has prepared, to those who want to get beyond the façade and get a sense of the real person underneath, especially in a stressful situation.

But regardless of why they're doing it, a few minutes of preparation to come up with two or three answers to common interview questions is a lot more likely to impress than anything you could come up with on the fly.

Finally, one last piece of advice: no matter if it's your first answer or your fourth, don't make it sound rehearsed. But even if you do, try to shrug it off—unlike some job candidates, it's not like you'll wake up the next day and find yourself being referred to as a robot in the national media!

Filed Under: Consulting | CSR | Interviewing

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