Whenever you present your ideas, you are being evaluated. Your work and your work ethic is being evaluated. Your depth of thought is being examined. An interview is a special kind of presentation because you are selling yourself as a fit into a situation and your ideas for how to solve problems. So, anytime you find yourself in that type of situation, there’s a really good axiom for success:
Always come prepared.
The following anecdote is shared by Joe Banner, the former general manager of the Philadelphia Eagles on his experience hiring Andy Reid in 1999, who nonwithstanding his playoff loss this past week, is still the winningest coach in that franchise’s history. Banner was interviewed by Sheil Kapadia for The Athletic, a new online magazine site that is subscription-based and seeking to both return a level of quality to sports journalism that has been lacking as newspapers are downsized, and disrupt the stranglehold that ESPN has had the past few decades.
(Since it’s a subscription site and I just want to point out one story, I’ll cite the passage here with my emphasis in bold).
Kapadia: … Next question, for the interview process, can you take us inside how it works? That first interview, is it one-on-one? A group? What are the key questions at the top of your list?
Banner: The first part, the process is pretty simple. You set up the get-together through the agent. If it’s a team like the Eagles that has a bye week, you have to coordinate with the team. Those interviews are restricted to being this Friday and Saturday. The team gets to designate where and for how long, which sometimes can be a challenge, because you’re trying to fit it together with other interviews, and obviously you’re wanting as much time as you can get. My experience is first interviews generally last between four and six hours. Usually a large chunk — maybe three or four hours — is spent with anywhere from two to four people that are the decision-makers. Obviously, the owner always. If there’s a president or CEO. If there’s a general manager. And sometimes you may just have another person in the organization whose judgement you highly respect. So you may include them in the interview process. Oftentimes, after that first three to four hours, at least the owner will probably take some time — maybe as much as an hour — and just go one-on-one. And then some teams may have one other person that’s going to do some one-on-one time, or it may be just the owner. And that’s your initial interview.
When we interviewed Andy Reid, we did probably five or six hours in the first go-around. He actually went back to Green Bay. We brought him back the next day and spent about three or four hours over dinner with him, just getting to know him better. When we brought him back, frankly, we were pretty sure we were going to hire him. We just felt like if we could get more time just to make sure, that made sense.
The answer to your question about what you’re looking for and what you focus your questions on really depends upon on what you decided ahead of time. So when I was at the Eagles, when I was at the Browns, the top of that list was leadership, CEO qualities, hiring great people and managing them. So we backed into the questions that helped us try to evaluate the candidate on those criteria. I know teams that ask coaching candidates to walk through great detail his plan for training camp, his practice plan, his schedules. We did not do that because to us, if you get the right leader who hires the right people and is somebody that’s detail-oriented, you’ve got to trust that they’re going to figure all that out. And you’ve got a limited amount of time. So we wanted to focus on the few criteria that we thought separated the coaches that were the most successful from those that weren’t as successful.
Frankly, you can tell a lot just from how much time, for example on leadership, has a coach spent time thinking about? How many books has he read on that? How often has he discussed with other people or coaches what makes somebody a good leader? You find a lot of coaches that read books about military leaders, from which they get sophisticated thinking about how to lead their teams. And then you can ask specific questions about what they think makes somebody a good leader, not just the names of who they’re going to hire but why they’re hiring those people, what they’re looking for in their staff. Anything from their experience to scheme to their sense of leadership to people that are ambitious versus people who just want to be the offensive line coach for the next 30 years. So you get into all these different areas to try to get into the mind of how this coach really thinks and project how he’ll act and fit into your group.
Kapadia: This is a follow-up but also our trip down memory lane. What was that initial interview with Reid like? What did he say that made you believe he did have those special leadership qualities? And then the fun stuff — was he wearing a suit or a Hawaiian shirt? What stood out from that session?
Banner: He wore a suit and he was very, very serious, although you could tell there was a dry sense of humor in there. But he was very, very serious. He came in as the very determined, fighting to win Andy Reid that those of us that know him well see as the essence of him. The story’s well known. The most impressive thing from Andy’s interview was he came in with this notebook at least 6 inches thick that he wouldn’t leave with us but he shared with us. It had sections on everything he had done and learned and written down in what he had been doing for 10 years to prepare for the day that he’d become a head coach. He had never thought of himself as anything but a head coach and even preparing and documenting almost a diary. He had notes from like Mike Holmgren’s opening speech to the team the first day of training camp in this book. By far the most impressive thing in the book was he had every single position coach, from quality control through his coordinators and strength and conditioning coaches, he had graded from one to 10 who he thought were the top coaches at every one of these positions in the country.
So you said, ‘Who’s your defensive coordinator?’ He said, ‘Here’s my sheet. Here’s my top-rated guy.’ And literally one through 10. He said he updated this every year. He did the same thing that I referred to earlier. He would go to the combine. He would go to college speaking engagements. He’d go to the Senior Bowl. He’d either meet people and speak to them and make notes about it or he’d watch the tape or talk to people that knew them. And through this, he accumulated what was really a draft board of coaches, and it was varied. He had Division III college coaches in some of these spots — not necessarily rated at the top, but in the top 10. So this was very in-depth, very sophisticated, very thought out. In addition to being incredibly impressed with that, it was very important to us because it showed us that he shared our view to how crucial a part of head coaching success was going to come from getting the best possible people.
This is not the work of someone who is just looking for a job. This is someone who, years before he became a head coach, knew he wanted to become a head coach. So, he did the work. He dressed the part for years as an assistant until it came time to present his ideas and his case for becoming a head coach.
As you can see, it’s one thing to be prepared. In a competitive situation, it’s another thing to be prepared in a way that no one else is.
How have you thoroughly and uniquely prepared for what you want?