To survive the career game, put on a game face.

How to be ready for your next job interview when you’ve been working a long, long time.

Michael had been working for a long time, with progressive promotions and raises. He hadn’t been job hunting for a long time.

One day a corporate recruiter asked Michael if he’d consider interviewing for a job in another company. Michael hadn’t been looking actively, but the job sounded good so he decided to try.

He did fine with the substantive “What projects do you work on?” questions.

But one question stumped him: “What kind of boss do you like to work for?”

Caught by surprise, Michael said, “I like a boss who’s available to answer questions and give me feedback.”

Michael didn’t plan to go on interviews, but he’s an achiever. He wanted to unravel the mystery: How should he prepare next time?

Interviews aren’t about making friends.

Whether you’re interviewing for a job, networking or making a client presentation, you’ve entered a business relationship. And business relationships differ from friendships.

So when you enter a business or a sports arena, you put on a uniform and wear your game face. You follow the rules. Long-time successful players (like Diana Taurasi and Michael Jordan) know the rules so well they can trust their intuition.

But most of us will view networking events and interviews as, well, a new ball game. We don’t practice every day. Whole years — even decades — go by without a job interview. So when we come to the game, most of us need to be self-consciously aware of what we are doing.

1. Focus on the game, not your feelings.

Before and after your business encounter, you can (and should) share feelings and concerns openly with a coach, consultant or counselor. But when you’re face to face in a business meeting, your game face becomes part of your dress-for-success plan.

A networking acquaintance asks, “How are things going?” You know he doesn’t want to hear about problems with suppliers, child care or your crazy boss. Time to share a success story, matter-of-factly, without bragging.

2. Create your playbook before you enter the arena.

Anticipate questions whenever possible. Talk to others with more recent experience.

The other team has a three-point lead and you have sixty seconds left in the game. They have the ball.

I must admit I was surprised the first time I heard a sportscaster explain, “At this level, the coach has already diagrammed the plays for situations like this one.” But it makes sense for sports and business, too.

3. Create a game plan for surprises.

You can’t plan for every contingency. Opposing coaches come up with creative plays and interviewers come back from a conference with new questions.

One trick I share with clients: As you hear each question, ask yourself, “What answer will show I understand the game and am prepared to play by the rules?”

So you’re asked, “What kind of boss do you like?”

Most likely, your prospective employer doesn’t care what style of leadership you prefer. If you’re working for a big company, chances are you’ll have multiple bosses in one year, each with different personalities, management styles and expectations.

But your company does care about accomplishment.

For a for-profit company, you might talk about working for a results-oriented boss. You then talk about the importance of contributing to the bottom line.

Non-profits are guided by mission so you fine-tune your response.

4. Recognize that the game can change in the blink of an eye.

Of course, you may realize that you will not be able to function in the environment presented by this organization. You can withdraw from the game altogether.

But I encourage clients not to leave too fast. Just as a basketball game can reverse in the last twenty seconds, a job can change overnight. Literally.

5. Plan for getaways.

Some people live for their game and their work. I know some Internet marketers who work sixteen hours a day — happily. Some players and coaches live for the game, especially during March Madness. They relax by shooting around on the court.

But most of us need breaks and getaways. We need to step back to gain perspective. And everyone I know needs a place to take off the game face and relax, if only for a little while.

Originally published at on April 5, 2021.

Helping entrepreneurs and independent professionals grow their businesses one story at a time.

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