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Olympic competitions, not as tough as a job interview

Olympic Competition

We are all out of steak knives people!

Olympic Competition

It isn’t the candidate that is the most qualified, but the one who is best prepared for the interview that will walk away with the job offer.

An Olympic competition is tough, but a job interview is more competitive.  I like this clip to drive the point home:    In the game of interviewing, there is no “second place”.  WE ARE ALL OUT OF STEAK KNIVES PEOPLE!

Interviewing for a job isn’t a part-time endeavor, it isn’t a game, and there is only ONE winner. This is not just a competition people, this of your self in a more competitive Olympic competition!  This isn’t a game of horseshoes or hand grenades where “close is good enough”.  There is no second place. There is only a first place loser.

In the Olympics, you can still monetize and capitalize a Silver or Bronze medal. When it comes to job hunting there is only the Gold. The difference in performance between the Gold and the Bronze finisher can be minimal. The rewards differential can be huge. Referencing the first line, you can have the best skill set and be the most qualified for the job, but if you don’t know how to interview, or are not prepared to interview, you aren’t going to get the job.  In this economy, the competition is stronger than ever.

For this reason, you need to practice your interviewing skills like you are preparing for an Olympic competition. Know exactly what you want to get across and practice your answers OUT LOUD on family, relatives, and friends.  Practice with anyone that will listen and practice in front of a mirror.   Reciting your answers in your mind may sound good to you but it doesn’t translate to speaking your answers out loud.

I have talked to numerous people who tell me “I know what I want to say, I don’t need to practice”. But when I ask them:

• Tell me why I should hire you?
• What makes you the most qualified for the job?
• Tell me what you want to do in 5 years.

95% of the time, I hear half-ass answers to these most basic interview questions.  These are questions we KNOW WE WILL BE ASKED.  How you answer these questions set the tone for the rest of the interview.     Stutters, “um’s” and random thoughts do not cut it.  I am sure candidates know how to answer these questions in their own mind, but they haven’t practiced them out loud and it shows. It is painful.  It is the equivalent of the Jamaican bobsled team.

Olympic Competitions and job interviews compared

Olympic competition: This competition happens only once every 4 years.  Olympians prepare long and hard for a single moment, a single performance.  There is no do-over.

Interview: In this economy, interviews don’t happen on a regular basis. We need to turn chance meetings into interviews.  Be ready, fluid and treat preparation like you only have one opportunity every 4 years.

Olympic competition:  Single elimination, no wildcard entries here

Interview: Single elimination.  Don’t articulate enough, you are out.


Olympic competition: Performance is key. The athlete with the best, fastest, smoothest, or most fluid performance is the winner.

Interview: The candidate with the most polished answers, the most articulate, and easily understood will usually get the job. They know how to emphasize their strengths, talk around their weaknesses, and demonstrate their accomplishments.


Olympic competition: How you handle yourself not only on the playing field but off the playing field will affect the endorsements you receive. You can be a multiple medal winner, but if you screw it up off the field with your behavior you get nothing.


Interview: It isn’t just how you handle yourself in the interview room. You are being watched as soon as you enter the parking lot (no loud music as you drive in), when you enter the front lobby (treat the receptionist with respect), when you are taken out to coffee or lunch (don’t order alcohol – ever), and when they ask you to job shadow a company employee (consider this an interview even if you aren’t asked any questions).


Olympic competition: Uniform should be clean and appropriate

Interview: There may not be a written rule about company dress code, but there are enough written and unwritten rules around interviewing that it is a topic that should be taken seriously. What first impression do you want to make?


Olympic competition: The difference between first and second place is minimal and can be measured in 1/100’s of a second. The difference in monetary reward from endorsements between a Gold, Silver, and Bronze medal can be huge.

Interview: The difference in interview performance between the first and second place candidate can be very minimal. Sometimes it comes down to the mood of the hiring manager or literally the flip of a coin. The difference in the monetary reward between first and second place is everything.  You probably won’t even know where in the pack you finished.  Even if you do get the job, there is a compensation band.  You don’t want to just get the position, you want an offer at the top of the band.  What determines this?  How polished your answers are during the interview.


Olympic competition: You need stamina and discipline. There will be a sacrifice in the training, nutrition, time spent with friends and family. The focus is the name of the game. Olympians don’t quit.

Interview: You need to keep trying regardless of how much emotional investment you may have a particular job you were declined. If you have gone to 3, 4 or 5 interviews for the same job, you need to keep the same enthusiasm up for the next interview. Don’t wonder about “why another interview?” Another interview means you are that much closer to the Gold. You made the cut! Keep your focus: Answer the same questions the 4th time you are asked with the same enthusiasm you did the first time.

Your job hunt IS an Olympic competition and you don’t know how many people you are competing against. If people saw the number of candidates all lined up that they were interviewing with, most wouldn’t even try. The good thing is that very few of the entrants have practiced for this competition either. Practice your answers, articulate your accomplishments, and give examples.

Good Luck,


nasty:  an unreal maneuver of incredible technique, something that is ridiculously good, tricky and manipulative but with a result that can’t help but be admired, a phrase used to describe someone that is good at something.  “He has a nasty forkball”.

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  • Larry McKeogh

    You know I was watching the Olympic bicycle road race 2 weeks ago and thinking the same thing. I was also thinking about writing a guest article for you. The reason it was so apparent to me during the road race was that I’ve always been told it is not the strongest that wins, it is the one who executes the best.

    As a quick recap in case you missed it, the main pack let a group of 6 or 8 go. This group swelled through the race with another 7 – 9 bridging the gap. This is customary during such races. The main pack usually gobbles them up 1 – 4 KM shy of the finish. It is a cruel form of torture. So close, but not today. The difference in the Olympics was that the rules were different than a normal race. Instead of 9 teammates there were only 5. This made controlling the race by any one team tough.

    The breakaway stuck because no team was able to control the pack. Great Britain worked valiantly throughout the race to try and close down the gap. Ultimately they exploded 15 miles out. No other team was motivated to move too early. This race, ridden without the aide of the customary race radios meant that by the time they decided to move it was too late. This is just an example of realizing how the rules of engagement change and you have to recognize and capitalize on those difference with each outing. Enough about the main pack.

    Back to the small group. It goes without saying, each individual is a world class athlete. Nobody is going to let another get too far away. They were all playing cat and mouse waiting to see who was going to leap. The small group would then pounce on that individual and not let them go. It looked like it was going to be a group sprint until the final right hand turn. The leader, Fabian Cancellera, who is a world class time trialist took his eye off the turn. He went into it too high and fast and crashed. He ended up either taking another rider or two down with him or at least slowing them up enough to be a non-factor.

    Those not impeded capitalized on this moment and split the group in half. Now there was six with a five second gap. The remainder wasn’t going to let that leash get any longer though. As the distance clicked down one of the four would attack, the other 3 would parry. And then the mistake happened.

    Rigoberto Uran from Columbia inexplicably looked over his left shoulder at the barriers. The other six riders were drafting behind and to the right. Taking his eye off the situation for the split second enabled Alexandre Vinokourov (Vino) from Kazakhstan to put 3 bike lengths between him and Uran. The others in the group stuttered. Uran however bolted after Vino. Sound familiar to the main pack’s hesitation? Did I mention that the unwritten rules in this race are different because it is a single day, winner take all event.

    By this point, Uran has 2 bike lengths against the remaining 2 riders, and Vino has 4. Ordinarily there was still enough distance left to reel these two in, but the remaining riders played it safe. No one was going to be bold enough to drag the others up without a clear chance to get away themselves. Ultimately, a 38 year old Vino who was using this as his last hurrah was able to retire at the end of this race with a gold medal around his neck. Uran took second.

    Of the other 6 or so, they fought over a bronze medal. This hitch here was, a 22 year old former track cycling world champion from the US named Taylor Phinney came in fourth. Age and treachery defeated strength and beauty on this day. Taylor had a chance to win it all. Instead, it was a learning experience. Quite possibly an expensive learning experience in terms of endorsements and sponsors.

    The takeaways from this race for me are:
    * Recognize the rules, both written and unwritten and exercise the latitude given. In this instance the lack of race radios, only 5 teammates, and a single day event should have resulted in significant tactics changes. On an interview scenario, do you have domain knowledge. are you interviewing at a Fortune 500 vs. startup, are you local vs. out of town, heck, are you older vs. younger. How is each going to affect your strategy?
    * Always be watching as situations develop or how you can create an opening (e.g. networking). If you take you lose focus that is when you’ll find yourself playing catch up as Uran and Phinney did. What is the company doing currently, what is their market doing overall, what other positions and skill sets are they looking for and how can you increase your alignment to improve your chances.
    * As @hrnasty states so well above, just because your the most qualified it doesn’t mean you’ll cross the line first. Vino by most accounts at 38 was a broken down old work horse. He didn’t have the strength to match the others if it came to a bunch sprint at the end. How can you create some distance between you and the competition. It may not be today but down the road. It is not sitting in front of the TV or being a homebody.
    * Victory doesn’t favor the timid. Sometimes you need to be bold and not care what the competition or others around you are doing or going to do. If you find yourself not being challenged or going through the motions because it is safe, comfortable, known that is when your competition is bypassing you. Just Uran looking over his left shoulder the competition has put 2 bike lengths into you and you didn’t even know it.

    Sorry for the long response but the parallels are uncanny. What amazes me most though is saying this to someone and watching their eyes glaze over. Its not easy. It takes dedication just like the athletes. I’ll tell you that the alternatives are not any easier though.