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Would The Customer Hire You?

By Gary Will

[Originally titled, "What you should know about business", this article is an excerpt from the book, How to Prepare for An Employment Interview, by Gary Will.]

Even if you can't find a lot of information on the company interviewing you, you can have a good idea of many of the challenges facing them and the areas where you could make a contribution. Most businesses share similar problems and want similar benefits from their employees.

By understanding how businesses operate and provide value to customers, you will be in a position to deduce ways that you can make a contribution to an organization -- even if you can't dig up any specific information about them in your research.

Keep your eye on the customer.
The purpose of every business is to make a profit through creating & keeping customers.

Businesses exist to create customers -- and they must do this at a cost that enables them to stay in operation. For example, if their purpose is merely to create customers, they can do so by slashing all prices in half. With this strategy, the business will attract plenty of customers, but will eventually run out of money and be forced to shut down. Creating and keeping customers is the fundamental purpose, but there are always financial constraints.

Think about what you have to offer the company and answer these questions:

  • What can you do to help them get or keep customers?
  • How does what you see yourself doing provide value to their customers? (This is an absolutely essential part of your preparation -- and one ignored by most interview guides.)

A company makes a profit by offering something of value to its customers. Even non-profit organizations exist to serve customers. An organization without customers has no reason to exist, and there's no reason for anyone to devote any resources to keeping it going (other than the expectation of having customers in the future).

The company may issue your paycheque, but it's the customer who pays the bills. You create value for an organization to the extent that you help them deliver value to their customers.

A common theme to the management trends and books of the last decade has been that all organizations must be customer-focused or "market-driven." Managers now understand that quality and value are defined and measured by their customers. Success depends on the customer's perception of value, relative to the perceived value of competitors' offerings.

What's in it for the customer?
All across North America and around the world, businesses and the work they do are being rethought and reorganized to focus on delivering value to the customer.

You only offer something of value to a business if your presence will add value to their customers. If you can't see how your job would add value to customers, I'm afraid there's a good chance it won't be around very long.

Before your interview, think about how the work you'd be doing will have an impact on the company's customers. "Quality" is a big management concern these days, so anything you can do in the interview to convince the employer that you would help them meet and exceed customer expectations is important.

  • Be prepared to focus on how your skills and traits will lead to satisfied -- and committed -- customers.
  • Think about how the customer would receive less value -- be less satisfied -- if someone else was given the position.

As part of a focus on customers, all companies require innovation to create new products and develop new markets, or to improve existing products to stay ahead of ever changing customer needs and expectations. Any evidence you can provide of your ability to be innovative or offer suggestions is also worth mentioning.

Preparation list.
When interviewing, use customer-oriented business principles to determine how you can add value:

  • Who are this organization's customers?
  • How is value created for customers?
  • What are their requirements and expectations?
  • What customer problems does this organization solve?
  • What can you do to help the organization get and keep customers?
  • How can you help meet customer requirements and exceed customer expectations?
  • How would you contribute to a superior customer experience?
  • What do you know about the future needs of this organization's customers?
  • How will their expectations and requirements change?
  • How can you be an advocate for the customer within the organization?
  • What evidence of innovation can you refer to in the interview?


Copyright (c) 1996, 1997 by Gary Will.

Gary Will, of Marketing, is a marketing consultant and speaker based in Waterloo, Ontario (Canada) who really gets it. Information about Gary's self-published book, How to Prepare for An Employment Interview, is available on his web site. Please send your comments about this article to The Headhunter.


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