Expert job search advice.

Sam Horn

“The interviewer looked bored”

“I just ramble, and ramble and I’m not sure if I am even answering the interviewers questions”

“I know that I can do the job, I just have a hard time selling myself in the interview”

The statements above are real comments my clients have made over the past month.

I have been a fan of Sam Horn ever since I stumbled on her 2014 TedX Talk titled, “Intrigue – How to Create Interest and Connect with Anyone”

She is a world-renowned Author, Keynote Speaker and communications strategist who has coached the world’s top entrepreneurs and executives. Her work has been featured in New York Times, Fast Company, Investors Business Daily, BusinessWeek, ForbesINC, Foreign Service Journal, Huffington Post and on MSNBC, Bloomberg, Sirius, and NPR.

Sam has a really unique ability to suck her readers in with engaging stories and practical lessons…. which is why I knew that she needed to talk directly to job seekers. I am truly honored to share my interview with Sam.

Sarah: Some hiring managers say they know within the first 30 seconds or so whether the person interviewing has a shot at getting hired. This means that first impressions are important. I love your book “Got Your Attention?: How to Create Intrigue and Connect with Anyone” because it gives very practical advice on how to make a strong and authentic initial connection. You stress the importance of knowing your intended audience. Why is this important? What are some practical ways that job seekers can learn more about the person interviewing them?

Sam: Follow the example of Casey, a 20-something who was applying to the Peace Corps. He asked for my help with his application and interview. My first piece of advice was “READ THEIR WEBSITE in advance, and PRINT OUT A COPY OF THE JOB DESCRIPTION and take it with you.”

He wanted to know why.

I said, “Because they’re giving you the answers to the test. They’re telling you their values, priorities and exactly what they’re looking for. Reference some good news or a recent announcement made on their site early in your interview.

For example, “Congrats on your expansion into these new countries. I’m looking forward to hearing more about your goals for your programs there.” This gives you a competitive edge because hardly ANYONE does this. It shows you can be trusted to do your homework, and that you care about THEM, not just about getting a job.”

When they say, “Why should we hire you?” hold up the copy of the job description and give a real-life example of how you’ve met EACH of the job requirements. Instead of speaking in sweeping generalizations, e.g., “I have a lot of experience managing people,” cite specific work-world examples that match their criteria. “You mentioned you wanted international experience. I have traveled to South America three times to meet members of my extended family and speak fluent Spanish.”

By the way, guess who got the job? Casey. The interviewer told him they had already selected another candidate, but they were so impressed with how Casey had prepared for the interview, they made a special exception in his case and hired him too.

Sarah: Every interview always starts the same. After small talk about the ease of finding the office and the weather, the hiring manager usually kicks it off by saying, “we are so happy to have you here today. Let’s start this meeting off with you telling us a little about yourself.” Job seekers have about 60-90 seconds to respond to this question. How can they engage or hook the hiring manager right from the start?

Sam: The goal is to “have them at hello” by starting with an original “didn’t see that coming” opening, e.g., “I grew up in a small town on the back of a horse. Even when we were 8 years old, my sister and I would be gone all day on our horses and our parents didn’t worry about us. They figured if something went wrong, our bridle broke or our horse ran away with us, we’d figure it out. I’ll always be grateful for that upbringing because it taught me to be resourceful.”

Then, “Elmore Leonard” the rest of your answer. Leonard was asked at the Maui Writers Conference, “Why do people love your books so much?” He said, “I try to leave out the parts people skip.”

The goal isn’t to tell the WHOLE story, the goal is to tell the most intriguing and relevant parts of the story that pertain to this employer and the position you’re applying for.

You may segue into, “That resourcefulness has served me well. It helped me get a scholarship to college and land an intern job with my local Congresswoman.”

Please note: instead of rushing through a sequential litany of “And then, And then, And then,” feature highlights that are different from what they’ve heard a hundred times before, that show CHARACTERISITCS such as you’re a hard worker with initiative.

Sarah: You’ve got a new book coming out that I am really excited to pick up at my local bookstore called, Someday Is Not a Day in the Week: 10 Hacks to Make the Rest of Your Life the Best of Your Life. On the first page of your book, you tell a powerful story about your dad who dreamed of visiting all the National Parks when he retired. You then go on to share that he finally took off on his long-delayed trip a week after he retired. A week later, he had a stroke in his hotel bathroom.

That story is a sobering reminder that we cannot delay our life or our dreams. For professionals reading this article which may feel “stuck” in jobs that they do not love but do not feel like they have the flexibility to try something new because they have <insert:family obligations/debt/kids/stability/etc.>, what advice or motivation can you offer?

Sam: I am so glad you asked that question. There’s a whole section in the book about blending your work and recreation, combining your profession and passion, so you have the best of both worlds. One of my favorite success stories about this happened at Nationwide. I was hired to speak at their career management series. Following my program, the event photographer came up and said, “You’re talking about ME!” I asked him how so.

He said, “I was the shy guy who worked in IT for years. I used to take the bus to work, put in my 8 hours, and head home. Then, a co-worker found out I do photography as a hobby, and asked if I’d take pictures of the fashion show their professional women’s group was hosting. I did and the pictures turned out well. Pretty soon, word got out and other departments started asking me to take pictures at birthdays, retirement parties, award luncheons. Now, I’m the photographer for the Leadership Speaker Series. He said, I look forward to coming into work because every week is different. It’s turned into my own private Cheers. Everyone knows my name.”

There are many other stories like that in the book of people who stopped waiting for work they loved, and took responsibility for creating work they love – right where they were. If people want four ways to create meaningful work now, not someday, contact us at, put “Create Work We Love” in the subject heading, and we’ll send them that article.

Sarah: The epilogue of Someday Is Not a Day in the Week starts with the J.K. Rowling quote, “It’s our choices that show us who we truly are, far more than our abilities.” How can this quote be applied to a job search?

Sam: I’ll always remember speaking for a very large church in the Washington DC area that hosted a Career Network for hundreds of unemployed people every week. Some of these people had been out of work for months and were getting very discouraged.

One gentleman – who looked to be in his early sixties – was an architect. At one point he had been a partner in a respected firm, but was finding it really difficult to even get an interview. I asked if he had ever thought of offering “Walking Tours With an Architect.” He could lead private tours for visitors of the fascinating buildings downtown, e.g., the Capitol, the monuments, Smithsonian, National Gallery of Art, etc. He brightened up immediately because he knew there would be a market for this, and there was hardly ANY startup costs and no barriers to entry. In a matter of weeks, he could be doing something he loved and getting paid for it.

That’s a perfect example of how it wasn’t about his ABILITY, it was about his ATTITUDE. We have more AUTONOMY than we think. Instead of passively waiting for someone to recognize his talents and give him a job, he chose to be proactive and take charge of his own destiny. The SOMEDAY book has some inspiring examples of people who were able to leverage their interests and talents into a rewarding career and profitable small business.  

Sarah: Research shows that messages delivered as stories can be up to 22 times more memorable than just facts. What advice do you have for someone who feels like do not have any stories—or they have trouble recalling them during an interview?

Sam: We ALL have stories and if want interviewers to connect with us (instead of being bored because they’re on their tenth interview of the day), we need to respond to every question with a 60 second real-life story that offers evidence that we’ve “been there, done that.”

My son Tom worked in Mission Control at NASA’s Johnson Space Center in Houston, Texas. I told him I had a chance to attend a presentation Elon Musk was giving at the National Press Club and asked what question I should ask. Tom told me, “My job is safe because I work with the ISS, but everyone who worked on the shuttle was laid off and they’re all applying to Space X. Ask Elon Musk his single best piece of advice for job-seekers.”

Musk gave this brilliant one-sentence answer. “Don’t tell me about the positions you’ve held; tell me about the problems you’ve solved.”

So, if you’re applying for a job that has something to do with coding, just don’t list all your certifications. You’ll blend in with everyone else who is applying for that job. Instead, put us in the scene of a problem situation where someone at a previous organization had lost the codes, or used the wrong code– and how you were able to correct the situation and save your employer lots of money and lost (wo)man hours.

I wrote more about this specific topic here:

Sarah: In your TEDx talk, you quoted E.M. Forster who was famously asked the secret to life, in which he responded, “Only connect.” You go on to say that in school, we’re not “taught to be intriguing, we’re not taught how to get people’s eyebrows up, we’re not taught how to communicate what we care about so other people care about it too.” Yet connecting is essential in an effective job search. What advice do you have for a job seeker on how to make a meaningful connection?

One of THE best ways to genuinely connect is to turn a one-way monologue into a two-way dialogue. And the quickest way to do that is to replace INFObesity explanations with three intriguing questions that get people’s eyebrows up. 

Sam: In that TEDx talk, I share how an entrepreneur received millions of funding because in the first minute of her pitch (which is just an interview with investors), she asked three “Did You Know?” questions that caused them to think, “Really?! I didn’t know that. Tell me more.”

Contrast that with how she used to open her pitch by EXPLAINING that Pharma Jet was a “medical delivery device for subcutaneous inocculations.” A what?”

Explanations are often confusing. And confused people don’t connect and don’t keep listening. To kick-start connection, introduce something s/he doesn’t know about their industry or profession in the first minute. Now they’re engaged. They want to continue the conversation because they’re smarter than they were a moment ago. 

Sarah: What is the best career advice that you ever got? Did you take it? (Asking everyone this question)

Sam: The best career advice I ever got was from Congresswoman Barbara Jordan. “Anyone who waits for recognition is criminally naïve.”  DO NOT WAIT for people to give you the respect, recognition or rewarding work you want, need and deserve. EARN it or INITIATEit. 

Want to learn more about Sam’s work? Her books – including  POP! Tongue Fu!®, ConZentrate, What’s Holding You Back? and Washington Post bestseller  Got Your Attention? – have been endorsed by dozens of thought leaders including Stephen Covey, Dan Pink, Tony Robbins, Miki Agrawal, Keith Ferrazzi, Ken Blanchard and Marshall Goldsmith. Check out her or her new book Someday is Not a Day in the Week.



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