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Friday, September 05, 2008

"Can I Move?" Learning Peak Performance Techniques From Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid's Job Interview


The other night I was watching an old flick, Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid. (Yikes! I remember watching that one as a kid--on the big screen instead of a downloadable mp4 format--back in the days when you could get REAL buttered popcorn instead of that poly-unsaturated plastic they pour over your kernels today!)

Anyway, Mr. E. H. Harriman, head honcho of the Union Pacific Railroad, is pretty ticked-off that Butch and his Hole In The Wall Gang have been picking his pockets clean. So, he puts Joe LeFors in charge of a posse to hunt down Butch and the gang. After a harrowing day-and-night chase across the countryside that ultimately ends with Butch and Sundance making a dire leap from their cliff-side lair into the roaring rapids of a river below, Butch and Sundance escape to Bolivia with the brown-eyed babe Katherine Ross.

They then set themselves up with a pretty good gig robbing banks and stage-coaches--until they discover that LeFors has tracked them to their new hideout.

They figure out that he can't arrest them if he can t catch them in any kind of criminal activity. So they decide to go straight and wait him out--they decide to get jobs.
So, they brush up their resumes, upload them onto Careerbuilder, and put the word on the street that they're in the market.

A headhunter specializing in Gone-Straight Banditos e-mails their resumes to the manager of a mining operation, a colorful coot named Percy Garris. He has two openings for Payroll Guards. During the job interview, Garris consults his EEOC Guide and determines that while it's not okay to ask Sundance his age, he can ask him how good he is with the irons (by irons he needs to be sure an make it clear that he means gun--otherwise risk a hefty EEOC fine for asking a gender-biased question).

Sundance yanks Sam Colt from his holster and begins a swanky display of gun-play.
Percy, while impressed with this twirling display, isn't hiring for a circus act. The job qualifications clearly state the position requires someone who can dot the forehead of a Bolivian Bandito with a slug of hot lead at forty paces. And besides, such careless handling of firearms in the workplace is a clear violation of OSHA regulations.

So he asks, "Can you hit anything?"

Sundance has obviously not brushed up on his interviewing skills -- Stay confident, Reply in the positive -- Answer with examples of your success. The local Barnes & Noble must've run fresh out of the interviewers Bible "Knock 'em Dead", because he ineptly answers, "Sometimes."

Now it's time for the pre-employment test. Percy tosses a box of matches far off into the street and says, "Hit that."

Standing stiff, Sundance raises his gun, fires, and misses.

Disappointed, Percy starts to walk away. As Sundance slowly holsters his weapon, Butch gets a disappointed look on his face, realizing that his partner' s failure surely will result in a ding letter in tomorrow's e-mail. Whenever the interviewing manager leaves the room in the middle of the interview, it s never a good sign.

Sundance asks, "Can I move?"

Percy, confused by the question, says, "What do you mean?"

In a flinch, Sundance yanks Sam Colt free, drops to a crouch, flat-hands the hammer in four quick blasts, turning the matchbox into confetti. He stands, twirls his trusted friend back into the holster and says, "I'm better when I move."

"Well," Percy says, shoving his hands into his pockets, looking chagrined, "giving that I am des-per-ate and you are ex-act-ly what I need. You're hired."

They got the job!

All it took was for Sundance to do what he does best in preparation to perform at his peak. All top performers have some method or idiosyncrasy for "getting in the zone". Baseball players approach the plate with their own signature bat-twirl , pitchers punch their mitts and adjust various areas of their bodies, and quarterbacks don't approach the line licking their fingers because the center requested that he warm his hands before placing them up against the nether-region.

They're getting in the zone.

I have sat in on dozens of client interviews and have had the unique opportunity to see how candidates present themselves. I can pick out the zone-moves of the ones who succeed. The ones who fail, there are no zone moves to pick out. They sit there stiff, treating the interview like an inquisition. They stand as stiff as Sundance and fire off answers to questions as haplessly as Sundance's first shot at the matchbox. Bang. Miss. Thanks for coming in. Ding letter is on its way before they even leave the building. They're getting the message on their iPhones even before they pull out of the parking garage. At least they got their ticket validated.

I remember during one client interview my candidate was flubbing it so pathetically, I couldn't stomach it anymore. I knew he was a top performer, he just couldn't find the zone. So, I cut him off in mid-sentence, opened some doors, getting some fresh air in there, and stuck a cool bottle of water in his sweaty hands. The jolt in format prompted him to regroup, shake it off, and get himself back into the zone. He had a way of tapping the water bottle subtly on the table and rolling it in his palms as he gathered his thoughts. The trick put his mind in a successful business meeting, and he ended up knocking it out of the park.

Next time you're in an interview, remember your zone moves. Remember those subtle little maneuvers, motions, questions you ask yourself in those peak times when you're in a customer meeting, on a successful sales call, or in an every-day business meeting. Does a cup of coffee in hand give you a sense of ease? Doodling notes on a legal pad? I've even seen folks get up and walk to the Dry-Ease board and sketch out their point. My only suggestion is if your zone moves entail adjusting any body parts or licking your fingers before reaching for the free Danish on the silver platter in the center of the conference table, come up with something else.

You need to show them what you can do. Be sure you get yourself in peak performance. It's not an interview. It's a business meeting. Find your groove.

Blow the matchbox to confetti on the first try. Gun slingers like Sundance can grit out a second chance. You can't. You don't want to get a ding letter from Percy Garris.

Feel free to comment at: joe@cuberaider.com

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