Back when I was a cocky twenty-something-year-old, the CEO of a $2 billion chain restaurant group offered me a senior-level position within his company. It was a fantastic opportunity for anyone but especially unbelievable for me, considering that at the time, I was just a waitress at a Hilton hotel.

Let me rewind a couple of weeks.

I had been working at the Hilton for about 6 months. I was hired as a waitress in the bar and restaurant, but high staff turnover meant that I worked across multiple areas, including reception, room service, and events. I had an awful manager who made me work 15-hour shifts and then reveled in telling me that I was lucky to be working there.

The hotel was largely a business venue, which meant we often had CEOs, directors, and the like come through the doors. When you’re around people at that level all of the time, it soon stops meaning anything, and you treat them like you would anyone else.

There was one customer, Nick, an operations manager for the chain restaurant group that I later went on to work for, who was always commenting on the fact that I seemed to be the only one who seemed to do any work, actually the only person that seemed to work there at all. One day, he told me about a big recruitment drive the company was having and that he wanted me to come in for an interview. I took his business card with the interview details scribbled down on it, not knowing what the job was that I’d be interviewing for and not caring either, anything to get me away from the job I had.

“Your company is inefficient”

Two weeks later and 50 miles away, I sat in a room with about 20 other people who were also all there for interviews. One by one, they were called into different rooms, and as their seats emptied, more interviewees arrived.

Finally, a lady came to take me to be interviewed; she told me that I’d be meeting with the CEO. It wasn’t usual practice, but the CEO just happened to be in town and wanted to see how things were going at the recruitment drive. Apparently, Nick had also put in a good word for me.

I had never given Nick my resume, so the CEO didn’t know much about my work history. The questions started along the usual lines: What do you do now? What are your skills? What do you know about the company? The CEO then threw a question about KPIs (key performance indicators) at me. I don’t think he expected me to know what it meant because he seemed surprised when I fired an answer back at him about redundant models being used in business strategies.

The questions became increasingly harder, and the interview seemed to go on and on. Considering I was working 60 hour weeks at the time, I was pretty tired, so when the CEO started talking about multitasking, it hit a nerve because my current boss was always yelling about the same thing.

I snapped. I told the CEO that multitasking was stupid because it was just doing two or more tasks inefficiently. If multitasking was something that was encouraged at his company, then it was an inefficient company. This was proven by the fact they were having a big recruitment drive, which was clearly due to high staff-turnover as they hadn’t opened any new restaurants and weren’t planning on it either (that my extensive research had shown).

I continued. If the company wanted to make more money, they needed to adopt a different mindset, which started with putting their employees first. This would reduce staff turnover and cut down on recruitment drives and training new staff hence, saving them money in the long run. I continued for about another 5 minutes, telling the CEO what strategies he needed to implement, from training and development to marketing and brand image.

When I finally stopped talking, the CEO was silent. We looked at each other from across the table. As the silence dragged on, I felt like I was going to cry or be sick; I had just blown my chances of a potential new job, and even worse, I had to return to my crappy job at the Hilton.

When he finally spoke, I had to ask him to repeat himself. ‘When can you start?’ he repeated, smiling.

I was hired as an operations manager, unheard of for a waitress, as it was three levels up, and typically you needed at least 5 years experience in the industry; I’d had 6 months.

Why it worked

It wasn’t about me ignorantly ranting; I’d done some serious research on the company and had drawn insightful conclusions about what worked and what didn’t. While I identified problems, I also gave solutions, and the solutions had the potential to increase revenue.

Considering the bottom line for 99% of companies is profit, no (smart) CEO will turn away someone who says that they can genuinely increase it.

While I didn’t know it at the time, the technique I’d used was common amongst people in high-level jobs. When you get to a certain level, it’s no longer good enough that you can do the job; you also have to be able to identify opportunities for business growth and implement them.

If you’ve been struggling to level up your career, you will benefit from working on this area.

How you can implement this technique

Have a good reason for criticizing the company

You need to be able to understand the business and how it works to be able to identify areas for improvement.

I was lucky that because the company was so large, there was a lot of information about them available online. I had also eaten at several of the restaurants that they owned, so I had the first-hand experience of the business at that particular level.

You also need to make sure that what you’re critiquing relates to the job you’re applying for. It’s no good applying for a job in website design and then slating the office layout.

Offer a solution

You must be able to offer solutions to the problems you identify. It doesn’t have to be a 10-page step-by-step plan, but at the least, you need to show how you would start to make improvements.

You may not have all the information available to offer a complete resolution because you would need to work at the company to identify solutions. That’s okay. Showing initiative, demonstrating what you do know, and what you are eager to learn to improve the problem you’ve identified can work just as well.

Make it about money

All companies, even NGOs, have to worry about money. Make sure that whatever solutions you suggest have a positive impact on revenue. This probably won’t be that hard because almost every area within a business will relate to profit somehow. However, it is for you to be able to make that link and draw attention to it.

Never make grand claims that you can’t live up to. Telling a company that you can increase sales by $1 million in a month will not be realistic. If you are hired, you won’t last long when you don’t deliver on your promises.

It is more likely that you won’t get the job at all because of your grandiose claims. Keep it realistic, and you’ll already be managing the expectations of your potential future boss.

When to avoid using this technique

You haven’t done your research or the company is brand new

You need to know a lot about the company for this technique to work. If you don’t and the hiring manager probes your ideas further, you may not have the answers. Lack of research will be glaringly obvious, and it will expose you as a rookie.

This is the same if you are applying to a new business/startup. Lack of information on the company will likely prevent you from being able to make any intelligent suggestions.

However, if the company is very open about where they need help and the problems they are experiencing as a new enterprise, you can use this information to help you. Just remember, though, that they have likely given every candidate the same information, so you need to think outside the box when suggesting solutions to avoid repeating what every other candidate is saying.

You’re not confident

Honesty requires a lot of balls. You may feel confident when practicing at home, but the minute you’re in front of hiring managers, CEOs, etc., it will be a whole other ballgame.

You need to be confident in what you are saying for this technique to work. This means no apologizing or backtracking while in the interview, as it will undo everything you have just said.

You can increase your confidence by having a practice interview with a friend who you know will be very tough on you. If you don’t feel confident saying negative things to your friend, you likely won’t be able to say it in an interview. Therefore, avoid this technique if confidence is not your forte.

You can talk the talk but not walk the walk

It’s one thing to do your research and show a company that you know what you’re talking about. But it will become very apparent once you’re hired if you actually don’t know what you’re doing.

Yes, there is always a learning curve in all jobs, especially when you are moving to a next level career, but not even being able to perform the most basic tasks of your job will likely result in a swift dismissal.

When I moved up 3 levels in my career overnight, I found myself in some challenging meetings where the terminology was being thrown around that I didn’t understand the meaning of. I made sure to listen very carefully and absorb as much information as possible. I then researched anything I didn’t understand within 24 hours. I had to learn quickly, but I knew the basics of the job, and that kept my head above water until I learned the next steps.

Move up the ladder

We can wrongly assume that to get a job, you have to be admiring and complimentary of the company you wish to join. Questions like “why do you want to work for the company” have a habit of leading you down an obsequious path.

But as I’ve shown, companies admire confidence and honesty when you can back it up with sound reasoning.

If you’ve been trying to move up in your career, this technique may be exactly what you need to help you climb the career ladder.