4 Tips for Answering Influence Skills Questions in Interviews

Jeff Cochran


We’ve all been on that interview where a prospective employer asks you to “Give me an example of a time when…” While building rapport is very important in the interview process, it often feels as though the interviewer is just reading off a list of prepared questions. Well, he or she most likely is.

But what does the prospective employer really want to know?

These questions, also known as competency-based or behavioral interview questions, are designed to discover how you may respond in real-world situations. They’re useful for helping hiring managers weed out applicants who look good on paper from the ones who understand how to influence others and deliver the results that they need.

In almost every field, from government to project management to customer service, these negotiation and influencing skills can have a strong impact on a worker’s success. Negotiation interview questions allow prospective employees to demonstrate where these negotiation and influencing skills have helped them in the past—situations that may not show up in the applicant’s cover letter or résumé.

Some examples of influence skills questions are:
  • Tell us about a major challenge you encountered in your current position. How did you adapt and overcome?
  • How do you handle projects that require a lot of initiative and teamwork?
  • What is your approach to dealing with an angry customer? Can you tell us about a specific time when you solved this type of situation?
  • How do you contribute to your organization’s long- and short-term goals?

Even though these types of negotiation interview questions style of interviewing have become increasingly popular, questions like these can still throw you for a loop. SNI offers a variety of courses to help develop the communication skills necessary to excel in situations like these, but we’ll start with the basics. Here are four tips for answering these influence skills questions that will help ensure you project competence and authority, highlighting your value from the moment you enter the room.

Reach for the STAR

The challenge with influence skills questions usually isn’t thinking of an example; it’s organizing your thoughts efficiently and communicating them powerfully. The STAR acronym outlines four steps to breaking down an influence skills question – no matter how complex it may seem. Keep this in mind when a hiring manager lobs one your way.

1. Situation. Describe the situation or context of the example. For instance, “We were far behind our projected sales goals and had lost two key members of our team.”

2. Task. What goal were you trying to meet? What obstacles were you trying to overcome? “We had three weeks to make up 50% of the difference.

3. Action you took. Take ownership and use “I” statements frequently. Remember, they are interviewing you – not your former coworkers. “I pulled some long hours running numbers and I discovered missed opportunities…” Also, specifics are crucial here. Try to use actual facts and figures instead of generalizations. “I analyzed three months of account revenue and found 30–40 instances of missed opportunities.”

4. Results. Again, using “I” statements and specific facts, sum it all up. Example: “I restructured the working hours of the staff to allow for more coverage during high-volume times, resulting in a 35% increase in our closing rate and an additional $500,000 in revenue. My department ended up exceeding our goal by $10,000–$15,000.”

Follow STAR and the other tips outlined above. The next time an interviewer tries to surprise you with an influence skills question, you’ll be more than prepared to demonstrate your strengths when it comes to getting results.

To learn more about our sales, negotiation, or influence training for your organization please click here.

3 Tips for Negotiating Your Salary

Jeff Cochran


Many people avoid asking for higher pay for fear of sounding pushy or entitled. However, if you know your work is valuable to your organization and worth more than you’re receiving, you should be able to argue your case effectively. Remember preparation is the only aspect of a negotiation you can control.

First, you need to know you have a solid case for higher pay. Everyone wants to believe their work is worth more than what they’re paid – but you need to know it before you bring up the subject. Once you do, it’s time to decide how to approach your supervisor.

Pick Your Battles

When you choose to initiate the conversation about your pay is as important as deciding to do it in the first place. Although our emotions shouldn’t affect our performance at work, things rarely play out this way, so you need to assess your superior’s state of mind before broaching the subject.

Typically, the best time to ask for more money is when the company has been doing well for a noticeable amount of time. A small rebound after a slow or difficult season isn’t ideal. Wait until the company is posting gains rapidly or after a particularly good year. Also, never forget that your time spent working for the company is a crucial part of your conversation. A good rule of thumb is to avoid asking for more pay for at least a year in your role, unless you are churning out extraordinary work on a regular basis that’s above and beyond expectations.

Know What You’re Worth

Once you think it’s time to have the talk about more money, you need to check your ammo and understand any precedents. Not only do you need a strong portfolio of work that displays your value as an employee and contributions to the company’s success, you also need to have a figure in mind. Do some research on professionals in your field and find a number that sounds reasonable. If you approach your supervisor with a precise number, you’re more likely to get what you want, as your supervisor will assume you’ve done your homework and know your value.

Special Tips for On-boarding

Salary negotiations are a bit easier when you have history with a company. Things get a bit trickier when you’re negotiating a starting salary during the interview and on-boarding process. Keep the following tips in mind for negotiating your starting salary:

• Let the interviewer bring up money first. Once the salary talk begins, never be the first to name a number. Let the interviewer give you a starting point and you’ll be in the power position once negotiations start. If you offer a number first, you run the risk of low-balling yourself with what you consider a lofty figure when the company was prepared to offer more.

• Know your value and aim high, just don’t be surprised if you are shot down. As long as you demonstrate value, the company will recognize your value. If it doesn’t, you may be better off looking elsewhere.

• Don’t bring up your salary at your previous job. This isn’t a benchmark and it’s not a great figure to reference when you’re joining a new company.



Six Tips to Nail Your Sales Position Interview

Jeff Cochran


Interviewing for your dream sales position is no different than making a sales call. Remember that you are your product, and you are making the pitch. Here are six tips to help you close the deal:

1. Dress for the Occasion

You get only one chance to make a first impression, or so the saying goes. It turns out this saying has scientific proof behind it. A study the Journal of Occupational and Organizational Psychology published may surprise you. It found that interviewers take 15 minutes to cut a candidate. What can a candidate do to make a good impression in those 15 minutes? Show up to your interview well groomed and well dressed. Your clothes don’t need to be expensive, but they need to be clean and pressed.

2. Do Your Research

To be a successful salesperson, you need to know your customers’ needs. Before your interview, research the market for your industry. Read industry blogs and study the key players. Do background research about the company with which you are interviewing. You should know the product or service it sells and its customers. Educate yourself about the company’s competition. How does this company measure up against the competition?

3. Show Your Work

You are a salesperson. Now is the time to sell yourself. How was your performance at your previous position? You should have your previous sales numbers ready to show your interviewer. Hiring managers want evidence that you are great at your job. Specific numbers are more impressive than general self-praise.

4. Any Questions?

When the interview is over, your interviewer will ask if you have any questions. It is a grave mistake to say no. This is the time to signal your interest in the position. Prepare a list of questions for the interviewer while researching the company. Your questions should demonstrate that you have done your homework. Make sure your questions include asking about the type of employee the company wants to hire. This creates yet another opportunity to sell yourself.

5. Ask for the Job

Interviewees may talk about their qualifications so much they forget to say they want the job. Remember, this is a sales position. Now is the time to close the deal. Make sure not to pressure your interviewer – you should never ask if you’re hired. Let the interviewer know you want the job by asking about your next steps.

6. Follow Up

Old advice tells us we should send a hand-written thank you note after the interview. That’s good advice, but we live in the digital age. Write the note if you must, but you should also write an email to your interviewer. This shows that you want the job and keeps you on your interviewer’s radar. Don’t just sit at your desk waiting for a response. You are a salesperson – go chase that sale.

EDGE Program Reflection

Jeff Cochran


By: Ronald M. Shapiro, co-founder and chairman at SNI

As I reflect back on my opportunity to impact the participants of a Global Executives program known as EDGE, I wanted to share some background on the program, what my role was, and a participant’s testimonial on how The Power of Nice has enhanced his negotiation skills.

What is EDGE?

EDGE stands for Baltimore Emerging & Developing Global Executives.  It is a program that was started in September of this past year by the World Trade Center Institute (WTCI).  For those of you who are not familiar with WTCI, it is a non-profit, 501 C3 organization that helps to educate, support and connect Maryland companies to opportunities around the world.

What was it about the EDGE program that intrigued you?

As a teacher, I am always intrigued by the opportunity to interact and train business professionals on the art of negotiation, but the EDGE program, in particular, stuck out to me.  It was a program that I knew I could have a profound impact on the participants.

The goal of the EDGE program is to enhance each participant’s business acumen and to increase Baltimore’s international competitiveness.  The program’s duration lasts about 10 months, which includes an off-site retreat, multi-cultural training, meetings with c-level executives, and seven half-day sessions on topics of leadership and global business importance.  This is where I came in.  WTCI invited me to present at one of the EDGE program’s training sessions called the Art & Science of Global Negotiation.

With over 50 years of experience negotiating deals in similar industries to those of the participants, I was able to draw on my experiences and illustrate real-life negotiation examples.  By relating these examples to the participants’ world, they are better able to connect the negotiation principles they have learned to experiences they have had, bringing new light to the principles presented in the program.

Who were the participants in the EDGE program?

The participants were business professionals from a variety of different industries.  These business professionals came from companies such as Under Armour, Legg Mason, Northrop Grumman, Proctor & Gamble, TESSCO Technologies, and T. Rowe Price.  Each participant had 10+ years of experience within their defined industry.

By having an experienced, diverse group of less than twenty participants, I was able to focus on problems that each individual was facing and customize scenarios to replicate real-life negotiations. Through an interactive presentation that included live negotiations, each participant was able to use the negotiation principles presented and apply them in a live simulation – a key to maximizing impact.

Reflecting on your experience with the EDGE program, how impactful was your presentation?

I have taught tens of thousands of business professionals throughout the world – and the reason I continue to teach is because of the impact these programs have upon the participants.  Below is a quote from Perry Menzies of Terminal Corporation, a participant in the EDGE program, as he reflected on his experience.

“For me, some of the key takeaways from the EDGE program came from the powerful session on Global Negotiation presented by Ron Shapiro. This session was very interactive and allowed participants to engage in a mock negotiation situation. This proved to be incredibly well-timed as Terminal Corporation was going through annual rate negotiations as well as quoting new business in an effort to diversify into more inelastic cargoes. Using knowledge from this seminar we were able to successfully negotiate all rate increases as well as negotiate new business that we are confident will minimize the exposure we previously had in handling mainly forest products…” – Perry Menzies, Terminal Corp.

As exemplified by Perry’s testimonial, The Power of Nice is a program that brings real results to real people and can positively impact the negotiation skills of professionals in all industries.

How to Invite Employees to Integrate Your Vision

Jeff Cochran


Onboarding can be an overwhelming time for new employees, but integration should happen as early as possible – without sacrificing the employee’s individuality. There are a huge number of personality types that get hired into the workplace, so there is no one-size-fits-all technique for inviting employees into the culture. There are, however, certain steps employers can take to ensure their company’s visions are upheld by both existing and new employees.

Be Clear About the Company’s Culture

Unless your company is forthright and precise with its descriptions of itself and its culture, employees will have no way of knowing where they should fit or, for that matter, what they are working to fit into.

Arm yourself with a variety of materials that detail what your organization stands for. Some helpful things to include in your onboarding process are an in-depth company history, the central tenets of the business, and a detailed code of conduct and dress. Dress codes are particularly important when communicating expectations. A relaxed dress code can denote a more laid back and open-minded organization, while strictly professional guidelines communicate that the culture is highly focused on professionalism.

Schedule Personal Time With Employees

New hires and existing employees both benefit from some personal face to face interaction with their supervisors. By sure to schedule coffee trips, lunches, and in-office chats with employees on a regular basis to keep your finger on the pulse of their experience. This personal time allows management to assess how the employees are fitting into and embodying the culture of their organization, and can be a great tool in assessing and addressing issues which may arise or have arisen.

Ensure Management Is Leading By Example

Employees often look to their supervisors or managers for cues on acceptable behavior. Therefore, it is essential that the managerial staff hold themselves to the highest standards when it comes to embodying company culture. If your establishment is a suit-and-tie organization, for instance, and one partner regularly arrives in a sweater and jeans, employees will see this as a sign that the culture isn’t entirely applicable. This will create a weakness within the organization and potentially lead to confusion for new hires.

Facilitate a culture in line with the organization’s values. This is one of the best ways to encourage your company to grow in the directions you would like it to. When taking on new hires or coaching existing employees, keep the heart of your organization in mind.

3 Reasons Interviews Fail and How to Avoid Them

Jeff Cochran


Despite our technologically-driven world, face to face interviews remain a key component of any negotiation. Whether you’re a prospective employee netting your first interview or a seasoned professional negotiating with an important client, interview skills are paramount. But sometimes interviews fail, and you may be bewildered as to why. Today, we’ll discuss the top reasons you didn’t ace your interview and how to avoid them in the future.

Reason 1: Rudeness

Hopefully, most of us wouldn’t walk into an interview or negotiation and make snide comments about the interviewer or stick our feet on the desk. However, there are subtle examples of rudeness that are just as harmful. For instance, you should avoid blunt, impertinent questions.

If you left your last job due to low pay, don’t start the question-and-answer session with, “How long would it be before I got a raise?” If you’ve heard the client you’re negotiating with had an EEOC complaint filed against him, don’t ask about it. He won’t answer, and he’ll assume you think the worst of everyone you meet. Additionally, don’t do small, potentially rude things such as drumming your fingernails on the chair arm.

Reason 2: Lies

If your resume says you worked for your last company for a year, but you tell the interviewer it was eight months, he or she will assume you’re lying. Most interviewers can also spot resume padding a mile away, so don’t claim you’re proficient in French because you made an A in French II senior year of college.

Additionally, don’t fib to make the employer feel good; for example, don’t say you’ll accept a certain salary when you really need more. Employers respect people who are open. Double-check your resume for any inconsistencies, no matter how small. Be assertive – but not aggressive – in negotiations, and offer to explain anything the interviewer has questions about.

Reason 3: Cluelessness

Few things irritate an employer or client more than an interviewee who doesn’t know much about the job or company. Do plenty of research before the interview, even if you won’t be working with this client long or the job is an entry-level position. Ask company-specific questions such as, “Does your special education program embrace full or partial inclusion?” If you don’t do your homework, it sends the message you don’t care and would prefer not to work with the company or client. In this case, you will not get the job or deal.

How to Conduct a Successful Employee Review

Jeff Cochran


Bosses and their employees alike fear the dreaded performance review. While it is an extremely useful tool for corporate managers and employees, any criticism delivered incorrectly can easily backfire and cause a loss of motivation. The main purpose of a review is to give your employees feedback, offering them advice on their weak points and praise for their strengths. If you are feeling anxious about giving your employees a review, here are a few tips that will help mitigate the stress for both parties.

Create a Balance Between Formal and Informal

While an annual formal review is your designated time to give detailed and individualized feedback to an employee, it should not be the only time you offer critiques. One formal review per year can hang over an employee’s head like a cloud. Instead, offer casual reviews throughout the year. Check in with your employees regularly and let them know what they are doing right and where there is room for improvement. This is particularly helpful for new employees, who appreciate a bit of structure. If your employees are accustomed to getting your feedback in a casual setting, an annual formal review will not seem so stressful.

Make It Into a Conversation

A performance review should not be one-sided because this may leave your employee feeling berated. Keep conversation lines open throughout the review. It should be a mutual process to grow and learn. You have valuable information to give to them, and they might have some to give to you, as well. A performance review lets your employees learn how to be better workers, but it also might give you insight into ways to streamline workflow or job duties. Consider holding the review in a low-key environment, like a coffee shop or a quiet corner of the office. It can be much easier to get a message across when you have broken the formality barrier.

Address What Your Employee Is Doing Right, Too

If your employee is lacking in some areas and thriving in others, make sure to outline both. Of course, a performance review is about how employees can improve, but most people are motivated by praise. Tell your employee what his or her strong points are in addition to pointing out areas that need improvement. The added praise will give him or her the boost needed to do better in other ways.

Build a Performance Improvement Plan 

If your employee is not performing to expectations, he or she may benefit from a performance improvement plan. Simply handing a plan over to your employee may make him or her feel punished. Instead, create one together. Identify key areas where your employee needs to show improvement, and then identify concrete ways for him or her to achieve it. If you develop the plan together, your employee will be more engaged, have a better handle on expectations, and be much more motivated to improve.



How Hiring Managers Know When You’re Telling the Truth

Jeff Cochran


Potential hires want the position you are offering for a number of reasons. While it is unfortunate, desperation sometimes motivates interviewees to tell partial truths, omit details, or blatantly lie. In fact, there are many posts on the internet that encourage white lies that seem “harmless.” Several of these deceits are common across multiple industries, and below are the ones employers most frequently see.

Negotiation Training Tactics

Lies About Experience

This is a top one for many reasons. Often, potential employees find it difficult to break in to the job market with the amount or type of experience they have. For this reason, they are inclined to exaggerate or even fabricate the types of jobs they’ve held in the past.

A small amount of negotiations training and influence training, however, can help you weed out sincere candidates from false ones. Are they being general or vague about their duties? Have they mentioned keywords that are irrefutably connected to expertise? Do they make an attempt to navigate away from their past experience rather than expanding upon it?


Educational Exaggeration

Negotiation training and corporate sales training both encourage diving deeper to get beneath the top layer of statements. This is a particularly important skill when interviewing a candidate regarding his or her education. Some common lies told by interviewees regarding post-secondary schooling involve areas that will be difficult for employers to verify – i.e., having completed all but three of their courses or having run into administrative issues when filing to graduate.

The best way to weed out these lies is by using logic. If a candidate paid for eight semesters of education and faithfully attended their classes, why would they choose to decline a diploma? Would a reasonable person allow administrative issues to negate the investment of time and finances they made?


Lies Regarding Termination of Employment

These lies are seemingly easy to verify, but current laws prohibit previous employers from disclosing many details about their employees. Therefore, verifying the accuracy of statements about past jobs falls largely on the shoulders of the potential new employer. If the interviewee’s old offices have given outstanding reviews, this shouldn’t be a difficult process. If, however, they were vague on the phone, consider additional factors.

What amount of time did the candidate spend at his or her previous job? How large is the gap in employment between the last position and the one currently interviewing for? Generally, those who make the conscious decision to part from a company leave themselves precious little time before deliberately pursing a new income source.

By checking that the statements made by candidates are reasonable, if not verifiable, business owners can ensure they hire the most qualified and deserving candidate.


Sports Business Journal Champion – Ron Shapiro

Jeff Cochran


Ron Shapiro, co-founder and Chairman of Shapiro Negotiations Institute (SNI), was featured in the Sports Business Journal’s 2013 class of Champions: Pioneers & Innovators in Sports Business. Ron, along with the other 5 Champions, was recently honored for his achievements during a special ceremony on April 3 at the IMG World Congress of Sports in Naples, Florida. Ron was unable to accept the honor in person, so his son, David Shapiro, spoke on his behalf. Here is the brief video summarizing Ron’s accomplishments, experience, and expertise in the sports world as well as David’s speech:


Sitting Down With Sharon Sudduth

Jeff Cochran


We recently spoke with one of the longest tenured employees at Shapiro Negotiations Institute, Sharon Sudduth.  She shared with us some of the changes SNI has undergone over the years as well as a new initiative she has been involved with.

How long have you been at SNI and how is the company different now than when you first arrived?

I have been at SNI since 1999 so 13 years.  I don’t think our goals or mission is different, but we’re a lot more organized.
We have a greater focus which allows us to give more attention to the clients.  Some of this is because we have a lot more processes in place than when I first came on board.  Technology has also become huge.  We use emails, servers, and clouds on a regular basis.  It’s really streamlined our day-to-day operations.

You take on a lot of different responsibilities around the office.  Can you explain what roles you have?

I manage the administrative duties, the finances, H&R, and IT.  I wear a lot of hats but it’s a small office so that’s to be expected.

What is the best part of your job and what’s the most frustrating?

The best part is that I have my fingers in everything.  Since I’m involved in so many parts of the company, I know what’s going on at all times.  At the same time, the most frustrating part is that I know what’s going on at all times.  Sometimes I see people doing things differently than I would do them, but I have to let them do it their way because I have so many other tasks to take care of.

SNI’s been able to get new business from a number of their service providers.  How has this happened and how have you been involved?

This was something we started last year.  We decided that we want to engage our service providers in mutually beneficial partnerships.  I had a bank approach me to ask for our business.  I explained the concept we were trying to implement and as a result we were able to engage in a partnership.  That led us to do about 20 programs with them last year and a few more this year. This year we are budgeting to get new copiers.  We want to get them from a company that we can partner with.  We have been in talks with one company and so far it has gone well.