The days before an interview are nerve wracking for most people.

Amidst the tension, we each have our strategies for last minute preparation. Some of us revise prepared answers to certain standard interview questions. Others read up about the position and the company, often to get a sense of what to expect during the interview. Yet a third group might look at YouTube videos to get guidance and inspiration from interviewing coaches.

Whatever your preparation strategy might be, I am going to urge you to look at an interview somewhat differently than you might have done before.

I suggest that you look at an interview as an opportunity to demonstrate your fit with a company.

To do so, think of yourself as a piece of furniture that needs to blend into other furniture that have already been placed in a room, which is the organization that you seek to join.

Use the interview to explain why you indeed belong in that room. To make your case, use the following four parameters.

1. Colour

A politically loaded term, colour is used as a qualifier in many contexts such as skin colour and furniture colour.

In this case, I am referring to furniture colour as the organizational culture of the company that is interviewing you. To understand the colour of the furniture in the room, research the company. Start with the founders and read about their work and lives. Apart from the company website, read articles published about the company.

This will lead you to other key players in the company, including the people running the division that you hope to join.

Key questions to ask, while researching organization culture include:

  • What is the gender profile of the directors, vice presidents and senior executives? For example, mostly men, women or somewhat equally mixed?
  • How are these people dressed in publicly available photographs, on their website or other press outlets? For example, mostly formal and traditional or trendy business casual or a mix of formal and casual wear?
  • Does the company support any public interest groups, charities or political parties? If so, what does this support tell you about their political views?

After you have done your research, portray your colour as a piece of furniture based on your understanding of the company culture. This may not be easy, because there might be a conflict between certain innate traits that you possess and the culture of this company.

So, how can you become blue when you are red? The trick is to highlight certain aspects in your profile that make you look bluer than red.

2. Size

Most rooms have a variety of furniture sizes. A full-sized living room will typically have a few larger ones and some small or medium sized furniture.

Think of an organization as a big living room or even bigger. There are the large pieces of furniture in this room, such as the directors and senior vice presidents.

The medium sized furniture could be the senior managers and project managers. Small furniture are typically the new hires and various executives of the company.

Based on the position that you are interviewing for, your profile (including innate strengths) and the existing structure of the interviewer’s organization, you should create a strategy regarding the size that you would like to project during the interview.

You may be interviewing for a vice president position, for example, but if this company has a top-heavy structure, they might prefer a candidate who is more of learner than a leader. This is because, that would allow the existing leaders to groom you into a future leader.

So, even though you may have an impressive leadership record, you could choose to present that indirectly–perhaps as an achievement rather than a marker of seniority.

While interviewing for a project manager position at a company that has only a few managers and a high turnover of entry level executives, you could project a bigger size. So, emphasize your leadership experience to demonstrate your ability to lead junior team members.

The general idea here is that you want to come across as a size of furniture that can fit into the existing room, given the presence of other furniture of diverse sizes.

If the room already has quite a few pieces of large furniture, they will probably not want another large one.

3. Shape

The shape of furniture refers to the personality that they project, although literally it might mean square or round shape. I might like boxy furniture with square edges, while you might like your furniture to be circular in shape and preferably with flowery and oval patterns.

As a job candidate, you need to assess your shape and judge its fit with the personality that the job demands. This self-assessment may also be an opportunity to think about your attire and other nonverbal cues that you transmit during an interview.

If you are interviewing for a position at a renowned management consulting agency, do you fit into the mould of this position?

This is a more nuanced assessment than judging your colour and size. It is also more impactful during the job interview, because the interviewer will recognise your personality more easily.

Your colour or fit with company culture and your size or the seniority/experience you bring in are going to register later, when he or she has already formed an opinion about you.

Also, just like furniture needs a carpenter, you might need to visit the barber and men’s clothing store to create a shape that you want to project. Of course, being superficial is usually a short-sighted strategy, so don’t try to change your personality drastically.

Such major changes should be a long-term strategy that you work on, rather than for an oncoming interview.

4. Functional Value

Finally, the functional value of furniture refers to the hard skills that you contribute as a new hire. While this seems straightforward, it may not be. As a database architect, you could be contributing a lot more than designing and maintaining a database.

How you present your functional value will depend on the job description and the company or specific department that you are joining. Once again this requires some planning and background research.

A sofa-cum-bed can be used to sit as well as sleep. If you are selling it to a family that has a shortage of sleeping space, you will probably highlight the comfort and convenience of the sleeping experience.

As a job candidate, similarly, you should to identify valuable functional needs associated with the position. Even better, locate needs that are beyond the obvious requirements outlined in the job description.

A good example is knowledge of Mandarin or Hindi, while interviewing at a company that outsources to China or India respectively. This may not be mentioned explicitly, but you could be given the job because you will be able to communicate with vendors in these countries.

Conclusion

So, the next time you walk into an interview have these four parameters buzz inside your head. Every time you answer a question, utilize the homework that you have done regarding these four parameters.

It will probably not be as neatly structured as it seems in this article, but your background work will offer guidelines that you can follow.

More often you interview, greater will be your familiarity with this way of thinking about your suitability for a job and your profile as a candidate.

Although you will need to do fresh research for every interview, the overall familiarity will make you more fluent at using the four parameters – colour, size, shape and functional value.

You will also learn to use the furniture metaphor in your head when you look at a job posting and debate whether you should apply.

Go ahead, think like furniture before your next interview without giving up your human qualities!

Written By
Rohit Chattopadhyay is the founder of Culture Cushion™ Consulting, a firm that helps professionals develop communication and cultural skills to succeed internationally. He has a Ph.D. in communication from the University of Pennsylvania and has worked as a marketing research and marketing professional in Canada, India and USA. If you want to schedule a workshop, please send an email to [email protected]