Dear Coach Joan: Career Advice
How often have you left an interview and tried to interpret your interiewer’s reaction to you?
In life, we’re often told not to take it personally.
And often that makes sense.
But in the context of a job interview, it’s a bit different, isn’t it?
In fact, it IS about you. The whole interview and interview process is ABOUT YOU!!
YOU are being judged and measured and assessed, and most probably against several other candidates.
No wonder it’s so stressful!! It is about you.
Except that the plot thickens…Yes, it’s about you and assessing you, but at the same time, one must discern which of the behaviors one observes is directly about you, and which may have nothing to do with you. It can be very confusing, to say the least! So, what to do?
This topic was prompted by several of my clients coming back after interviews to de-brief. My first question is always, “Did you put your best foot forward?? Did you get to use what we practiced? Did you feel prepared and confident?
In other words, you can control YOUR END of the interaction and you can be mindful of what you are saying and how you can say it. But you cannot control the reactions, behaviors and actions of the interviewer and in fact, many of their reactions may very well just reflect their own ‘things’ and have little to do with you.
A case in point:
A candidate has a very positive first interview and it’s by phone. (yeech!..if you can, try to make the interviews LIVE, offer to drive over, etc., if possible…more about that later). In the 40-minute conversation, the interviewer is very, very animated, excited and encouraging. And the good news arrives that the candidate is being asked to come in for a follow-up face to face interview.
Imagine that the candidate has the second interview and notes a major change in the interviewer from the first meeting to the second one. In the meeting the interviewer was animated, excited and spoke quickly. In the second meeting she is much more subdued. Bad sign?
Before taking it personally, one needs to ask—perhaps their internal state has changed: are they hungry, angry, have a headache, are distracted by a personal problem? Is it a reaction to the live appearance, to new information that have about the candidate, is it a reaction based on meeting with other candidates? Who knows? But again, it is best to focus on the candidate’s assessment of his or her own performance.
If a recruiter is involved, follow up with him/her to see if they have gotten feedback. Or if you have mutual colleagues or friends, perhaps you can get real feedback. But if you don’t have any additional sources for feedback, move on and again, focus on your self-evaluation.
But going back to the original story, the second, live interview includes another colleague. The dynamics have clearly changed, and this is typical, but telling. And this time, the original person is now subdued and quiet. Again, why?
Hard to know. Because at this point it is no longer a one on one situation. That interviewer is now reacting not just to the candidate, but to the presence of an individual who is completely new to the candidate. The dynamics now involve not just the 1:1 relationship, but the relationship, completely unknown—and even though the new person/people are often introduced with their title, the power dynamics are never explicitly shared. And the complexity increases even more when more and more people enter the interview arena.
The best advice to give in these multi-person interviews is to (1) always think of putting your best foot forward, being positive verbally and non-verbally, and using what you’ve practiced and prepared and, (2) watch and closely observe the verbal and non-verbal interactions among the group members. You will pick up a lot. You will observe who the leader/s is/are by seeing who the speaker looks at right after a comment is made. You will then know who to focus on the most. By ‘the leader’ I’m talking here not necessarily about who has the most power in the organization, but who will have more decision-making power for the position you are interviewing for.
As candidates are moving along the interview process I often recommend that they ask how many people will be in the interview meeting. Who are they? What is their relationship to the position? Will there be several meetings? How long to anticipate for the meetings? The more anticipatory information you have, the less stress and anxiety you will feel as you will know what to expect. Information leads to more of a feeling of control and when you feel more in control you have less stress and anxiety. So always go for more information; it is perfectly OK to do that, and it also shows good business and planning skills.
So yes, it really is about you during a job interview, and it is also about other factors that do not involve you! Try to seek out feedback after a meeting but don’t spend too much time trying to second guess your interviewers’ reaction. The good news is that you WILL get feedback based on whether you are asked to go the next step or not. And even in the case of not being asked back, it doesn’t necessarily mean you are not good, it means that for some reason it is not a good fit, or many other things that could be in play. The best use of your time is to focus most on ensuring that you are putting your best foot forward.