Lessons Learned: Listening As a Critical Skill in an Interview

Asking the right question — and paying close attention to the answer — can be key to your success.

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Whether you’re selling a multimillion dollar advertising idea or applying for a job, the strategy is the same — make sure you give your audience what they want. In the pilot episode of AMC’s “The Pitch” this week, two advertising agencies — The Ad Store from New York City, and SK+G from Las Vegas — sparred over a major account with Waste Management.

After a week of preparation, which started with a briefing about what the company was looking for in the ad campaign, SK+G landed the account because of one principle. Simply put: They were better listeners.

Waste Management executives wanted to rebrand their company from a tradition garbage-hauling and recycling service to an innovative producer of biofuels. Both agencies nailed this aspect of the mission. The second part proved to be more critical — make it a modern and edgy campaign utilizing social media with a strong interactive component.

This is where SK+G hit its pitch out of the park. The Las Vegas company took a catchy “Turning Waste into Wow” slogan to that next level by soliciting people — real, everyday, garbage-producing people — to submit video sound bites on a smartphone promoting Waste Management initiatives. The clips, presented as close-ups of people’s lips, were then displayed against celebrities’ faces to comically look like the celebrity was speaking.

This innovative approach was exactly what the Waste Management executives wanted, and SK+G won the account — despite all their backroom bickering and obvious dysfunction during the final presentation.

The Ad Store had a great campaign too. They came off as clever and confident. Ad Store CEO Paul Cappelli’s line, “I have to believe that I’m better than they are,” exhibits exactly the type of confidence job seekers need to project during a highly competitive job search. But he missed the mark by not giving the client what it wanted.

That’s what interviewing for a job is like, except without all the tension and bickering among your partners. Hiring managers are looking for particular things. As the candidate, it’s up to you to offer that.

Sometimes, the desired skill sets are spelled out on a job board. Often, though, it’s up to the candidate to discover key elements by asking the right questions. The critical difference was that only one agency met that need in its pitch.

When applying for a job, take a lesson from “The Pitch” and make sure your pitch meets the company’s needs. It could be the deciding factor that seals the deal for your next great job.