Subtle Cues Can Tell an Interviewer ‘Pick Me’
IT’S always fun to hear hiring managers recall the most boneheaded mistakes they have seen job seekers make during an interview: showing up in flip-flops, say, or taking a cellphone call while meeting the company president.
But that kind of cluelessness is rare. More common are the subtle missteps or omissions that can cause one candidate to lose out to another. If one person is sending out the right signals and behaving in the right way through each step of the process, he or she has a much better chance of landing the job — even with an inferior résumé.
Now here’s the tricky part: there is no single set of rules. While certain standards of courtesy always apply (be punctual, treat everyone you meet with respect), your success may depend on the company’s culture and the preferences of the people doing the hiring. Your ability to sense, and to act on, these factors could make a big difference.
When Susan L. Hodas, director of talent management at NERA Economic Consulting, is hiring, she looks for the right cultural fit as much as the right experience. To some degree she goes with her instincts, she says, but she can also identify certain preferences. Here is one: “They should come in a suit,” she said.
Body language is also important, Ms. Hodas says. She is looking for an assured but not overly casual demeanor, along with good eye contact. She is also looking for people who can enunciate their words (mumblers beware) and who can communicate their thoughts and ideas clearly.
Over all, she says, she is looking for people who are “confident but not cocky.”
She says she and her colleagues apply “the airport test” to candidates. They ask themselves: “Would I want to be stuck in the airport for 12 hours with this person if my flight was delayed?”
It seems that just being yourself — albeit a formal, polite, alert and attentive version of yourself — is the best way to behave during interviews. You don’t want to do such a great job of faking it that when the company discovers the real you, it comes to regret ever hiring you.
That said, there are certain things you can do — both during the interview and afterward — to give yourself an advantage.
You should always research the company thoroughly (easy to do on the Internet), and be prepared to give specific examples of how your experience relates to the job. Also be able to describe as concretely as possible how you made a difference in your previous jobs.
Researching the company will help when the interviewer asks whether you have any questions. Do have questions, said David Santos, executive director of human resources for Interbrand, a brand management firm. Not having any shows a lack of interest and preparation, he said.
Make sure your questions show knowledge of the company and your interest in contributing to its success. You’d be surprised how many people focus on themselves, not the company, by asking right off about things like salary, benefits and bonuses, said Annie Shanklin Jones, who manages United States recruitment for I.B.M.
Try to establish common ground with your interviewer so you stand out, Ms. Shanklin Jones said. Maybe you went to the same college or you pull for the same sports team, she said. During the interview, “leverage your referrals,” she said, finding ways to highlight the people you know within the company.
What if you don’t have these advantages? Ms. Shanklin Jones said that one candidate for a sales position, after his first interview, sent a file listing his software certifications and showing that he had exceeded his sales quotas quarter after quarter. This was an important factor in the decision to hire him, she said.
Depending on the job you apply for, you may be called back for an interview several times. How you follow up after each interview is crucial. Not following up at all shows a lack of interest. Following up too much, or in the wrong way, could take you out of the running.
Mr. Santos says he looks for prompt follow-up by e-mail that shows the applicant was listening attentively, that mentions names of people the candidate met, and that reaffirms the candidate’s work experience and understanding of the company. Much less impressive is a generic e-mail that could be sent to any company, he said.
Follow-up letters can do as much harm as good, Mr. Santos said. If they are too casual, or too pushy and demanding, for example, the writers show that they don’t have an understanding of the company and the hiring process, he said.
Paper or e-mail? Mr. Santos’s preference shows how tricky this can be. He says that for a company like his, which is more digitally focused, it would show a lack of awareness to send a traditional thank you note through the mail. On the other hand, he does expect candidates to show up for interviews with printed copies of their résumés.
Given that all companies and hiring managers are different, getting through the interview process can seem like walking a tightrope. But common courtesy, combined with common sense, plenty of research and a dose of intuition can go a long way toward bringing you safely to the other side.
(By PHYLLIS KORKKI)