“Hope, as they say, is not a strategy and you are now driving through the interview without a roadmap.”

How many times have you thought, “I’m perfect for the job. Why didn’t the employer hire me?”

If your first thought is, in fact, true, the answer to your question is usually very simple. You, the job-seeker, weren’t able to highlight for the interviewer how you fulfilled the company’s needs. Keep in mind, it’s never a matter of whether you’re qualified, but whether you can convince the employer you’re a great fit.

Too often, candidates share their accomplishments, work history, and charming personality before they understand what the employer actually needs. During an interview, you’re selling the product you know best—you—and have a very short timeframe to do that. Remember, the first rule of sales is you sell what the customer needs. If you’re spending considerable time highlighting your talents and experience that are less relevant to the job, you potentially leave the employer with an impression that you’re not qualified. Interestingly, the employer mirrors you. When given the chance, they often share their offerings without first understanding the criteria you’re using to determine whether their company is a good fit for you.

The employer often causes these initial missteps by starting interviews with wildly open-end questions that leave entirely too much room for the candidate to guess and wander. Candidly, employers and employees would make much better hiring decisions and career choices if the interviewer simply started the conversation with, “Here is an exact list of what I need. Can you tell me in detail how you satisfy these needs?” The ever-popular “Tell me about yourself” often sends the job-seeker to rambling into areas that are unimportant. The candidate, who often feels pressure to dive into his response, starts a story while simultaneously speculating what the employer needs to know. Hope, as they say, is not a strategy and you are now driving through the interview without a roadmap, which is a significant job interview mistake.

How can you avoid this trap?

Passively gather the employer’s needs. During the early parts of the discussion, adept interviewers will ask questions centered on the areas and skills he needs the newest employees to possess. Pay close attention to these areas and confirm in your responses how your skillset aligns to traits he inquired about earlier in the discussion. People, regardless of who they are, want reassurance that they’re making the correct decision.

Actively gather the employer’s needs.  When I teach our candidates how to properly ask a question so they gather insight they actually need to make educated decisions, I show them how to design questions for short- and long-term usage. Any question designed to elicit information you’ll ponder later, is considered long-term. “Can you describe your training program?” is long-term because that typically yields information you’ll consider in the employment decision, but rarely requires an immediate response. During the interview, however, there is a battery of questions you can ask to determine what the employer seeks in a new employee. These are short-term questions because you can use that information to immediately sell yourself. Some potent questions include, “What are the attributes that describe your best employees?”, “What type of person would do well in this role?”, and “What skillset is missing from your current team?” These questions yield information that highlight traits the employer needs. During the remainder of the interview (or interviewing process) you can incorporate these traits into your stories.

Gain control to neutralize the dreaded “Tell me about yourself” request. I honestly wish they could remove this question from the face of the earth. It also makes me wonder whenever an interviewer says to me, “I like that question because it helps me understand how the candidate sees herself. It also allows me to gather information I might not have known to ask for.” Clinically, those statements are true. In an interview, however, that question wastes a significant portion of your “hour” because the candidate will often highlight information that is less relevant to the employer’s decision. Candidates should remember that when an employer asks this question, they are turning the interview over to the job-seeker. So take control. Whenever you get this question, answer it with a question. Instead of diving right in to your 20-year work history, help the interviewer make a good decision by having him highlight which areas are most relevant to the company and position. (This is an extension of the previous technique.) A simple response such as, “I obviously have extensive work experience. It might be most helpful if I focus on areas that’ll help you determine whether I’m a good fit for the role. Are there specific areas in my background you’d like to ensure we cover?

There are obviously several ways to make these determinations. The most important technique to master is always identifying what the employer needs so you can continually reinforce how you satisfy those needs.