The single most important thing you have to realize about a job interview is this – the person doing the interviewing probably doesn’t really want to be there.
Most of them have never been trained on conducting interviews, and are doing their best to get through it. They also have a stack of pending work calling their name, and are fitting your meeting into a very busy day.
Sure, they want to find a good person to fill the open spot. As one senior guy said to me, “The biggest question I’m trying to figure out is – ‘Is this guy a jerk?’ And then it’s, ‘Can he do the work?’ Because I don’t want to work with a jerk even if he’s competent technically. I would much rather work with a good person who can learn.”
So when you walk in to someone’s office for your job interview, realize that they haven’t been sitting there, twiddling their thumbs, waiting until the very moment you walk in the room for the day to get started – no, you are just one more thing to get done in their very busy day.
You honor it by being early to your appointment. Yes, you heard me. Early. As in sitting in the lobby or waiting room 10-15 minutes before your appointment time. If you make an interviewer wait, what have you indicated?
a. That their time is not important
b. That you are not organized
c. That you might possibly be a jerk
A, B or C will get you screened out faster than you can shake hands with a rattlesnake. So, if you are scheduled to meet at 2pm, be there at 1:45pm. And take that waiting time as an opportunity to relax, center, catch your breath and be ready.
You honor your interview, too, by dressing appropriately. Yes, it matters. For men, wear a suit and a tie even if the organization is not a suit and a tie kind of place. Like it or not, in our culture a suit and tie connotes seriousness and professionalism – and to a degree, respect. After all, we dress in a coat and tie for our most important events – marriages, funerals, speeches, important dinners, meeting the Queen – so dressing appropriately for an interview can show just how seriously you’re taking the opportunity. For women, a suit is always a good choice, or you can go all Michelle Obama and wear a tailored dress. For both genders, the higher you go within an organization the more personal flair you can show – with color, originality and creativity – because that may be a part of your personal brand. But in the first meeting, restrict the bling to just one thing – one great scarf, pin, colorful tie, pocket square, bag.
It’s you that needs to stand out in an interview, not your accessories.
And you stand out by being prepared to listen 60% of the time and talk 40% of the time.
Let’s look at your 40% – what do you want to accomplish? Well, you want to walk away with your interviewer knowing:
a. I am not a jerk/axe murderer/psychopath – you will like working with me
b. I have the expertise you seek
c. I can take this where you need it to go, and probably further[I’m really not kidding about the axe murderer thing. In today’s climate, if an organization can hire only one person they want to hire a sure thing. That means someone who can get along with others, whose entire staff won’t resign within the first six months, who won’t put personal spending on the company American Express card, who won’t diddle the interns. This integrity/likeability piece is absolutely critical today – and if you are integrity-challenged or have a history of these sorts of abuses, I suggest you get specific coaching or therapy to find ways to understand why you did what you did, and create a way to talk about how you have fixed this so employers can understand. Dead serious – this will break you if left unattended.]
The killer question you can ask a prospective employer:
What’s the first thing you want me to accomplish once I’m on board?
This works on so many levels – you can read what I wrote about this question in 2007 – but most of all it allows you to know exactly how the employer is going to judge your performance, so you know where to put your emphasis in the critical first 90 days of your tenure.
Plus, after they tell you what needs to get done, you can go right into a story about how you’ve already met that goal for someone else.
Because we human beings have told stories to one another for millenia. Job interviews are the perfect places to tell a solid story of your success. Have two or three ready, that illustrate your key strengths and accomplishments relevant to the job at hand. Keep them to two minutes or so each. Make eye contact as you tell your stories. Use your hands. Be engaged and engaging. Draw your interviewer in. Smile.
It will make all the difference.
Research shows that likeability is influenced like this: 7% comes from the content of what you say; 38% from the way you say it, or your tone; 55% derives from the body language you use in delivering your message. So.
Sit up straight. Point your toes at your interviewer – this will square your shoulders and hips, creating a feeling of open physical rapport. Keep your hands above the table – hidden hands equate to hidden secrets. Use your hands to make points – keeping your hands in the zone from your belly button to your shoulders, with your hands open and flat. This is power positioning. Don’t believe me? Watch a Presidential debate, sugar.
And when the interviewer asks if you have any other questions, always have one. You can use the question above, or something else that’s come up and needs to be addressed, or you can simply ask about the next steps. But never, never, never say, “Nope, I think I got it all.” This can be seen as arrogant, or uncreative, or simply unwise. So ask one final question.
Then thank the hell out of them. Shake hands and say thanks. Thank the assistant who set up the meeting, thank the receptionist, thank the security guard, thank the FedEx guy in the elevator with you. People notice when you express gratitude, and you feel better, too.
Write your thank you note and follow up with any information or articles or recipes or whatever you may have offered to provide.
And get ready – you’ll be going to the next level pretty soon.