This Friday is a rare night of "Must See TV" for me: the opening ceremonies for the Olympics. I can still remember the magical moment in 1996 when Kerri Strug ignored a bad ankle and clinched the Gold medal for the U.S. Women's gymnastic team by sticking the landing on her 2nd vault attempt.2008_Olympic_Modern_pentathlon_men_-_medal_ceremony

While we are only able to see the U.S. team compete in the Olympics every four years, I think of the metaphors that can be drawn between the gymnastic competition and the job search frequently:

  • Olympics:

    Both the competitors and the judges who evaluate them adhere to pre-established rules for each element of the competition. Gymnasts are well aware of the expectations for each event and know that each performance will be evaluated within the parameters of those rules.

  • Job Search:

    The process is a bit different. Job seekers generally receive information on the requirements for a position through a job description and advertisement; however, there's less overt information shared on the evaluation process.

    Furthermore, many interviewers can appear to veer away from the position itself during the interview by asking questions that appear to be unrelated to the position at hand. Do not be fooled: behind every interview question, there's a motivation to learn more about you.

    Virtually all interview questions are designed to assess your core competencies, interest, and relevance of background--within the context of the position.

Successful gymnasts often speak of how they visualized the landing before they left the ground. To ensure your success in the job search, think like a gymnast by thinking "backwards" and focusing on your landing first. When asked a question, ask yourself: What skills and attributes are relevant for this position? Which of my experiences speak best to this area?

Develop your application materials and answers to interview questions so that you actively demonstrate your understanding of the position as well as how that position fits into the company at large. Ask yourself, "What are the most critical skills to perform in this position? Based on the position description and what I know of the industry and job function--what does the employer need most? How can I fill this need?"

"Reverse engineer" your application materials and responses to interview questions in this way and you'll be able to articulate your understanding of both what you offer the employer--and how the position and industry is a match for your skill sets and interests. In other words, you'll make it easy for the employer to hire you.

Furthermore, this strategy will not only help you shine in the interview and "stick the landing"--it will also help you in determining if the position is a best fit for you: If your potential employer isn't interested in evaluating you on the basis of your strengths and interests--or what you do best--perhaps the job isn't a fit for you? This is, perhaps, the most crucial area to for you to evaluate: just as most gymnasts pick an area of excellence (such as the high beam or floor exercises), you want to ensure that the focus of your day job is a type of work that you enjoy--so you can stick the "landing" with regularity and contribute to your team's success.