I have often thought of the job interview as something similar to making a sales call or even a date . . .
We anticipate a date, worrying about what we are going to wear, how we should behave and what is important for the other party to know about us, or more importantly, what we would prefer they didn't know about us. We become nervous if not anxious, depending on our level of desired interest in that person and our belief in our likeableness in their eyes. The more we care, the less comfortable we are with our ability to win this person's interest and affection. We are out to make a great impression that will result in anything from another date to a lifetime partnership.
For the most part, being interviewed for a job is very similar! It is all about the impressions we make when we meet that person or persons who will decide whether or not we are invited back for further interviews or indeed offered the job. The stakes are high and we invest time and energy preparing to make the right impression.
A job interview is, unambiguously, our opportunity to demonstrate to the prospective employer, or agent of the employer, our suitability, our personal and professional attributes, our communication and interpersonal skills and something of our personality. It is where we reveal our strengths and weaknesses and by sheer virtue of the experience, how well we perform in pressure situations. In that meeting we become the commodity and the sales person in one and it is our job to sell our assets effectively to the interviewer and influence them to buy.
Our prospectus or pitch document is our resume and in most cases it has been viewed by the interviewer. It has incited interest in us and our suitability for the position. It has provided an executive summary and credentials overview along with details of our attributes and capabilities. It has got our foot in the door.
At the interview we need to validate and substantiate, if not prove, all of this to be true and to further impress the interviewer to progress our application to the next level. We do this by way of our ability to communicate effectively so that the interviewer gets the impression we intended to make on them.
In ninety-nine per cent of cases, the interviewer has the same desired outcome for the interview. They have good reason for meeting with us and they are expecting us to meet if not exceed their perceptions based on the phone call and/or resume that preceded our invitation to attend the interview.
Our performance at the interview is evaluated by the interviewer in terms of our physical presence, our ability to build rapport, to answer and ask questions and to generally engage in conversation about us, our careers and our ambitions in relation to the position and company in question. This is otherwise termed as our use of interpersonal communication skills. They may use behavioural or competency based interview questioning techniques to gain an in depth understanding of our ability to perform to the expectations of the role, relying on our ability to communicate responses that accurately reflect our skills and expertise.
In the "new world" most interviewers can themselves demonstrate "good" interpersonal communication skills. However, this is not always guaranteed to be the case. For a multitude of reasons, like the person on a first date, they may not have desirable communication skills. But that does not absolve us of the responsibility to perform our best. Remember, we are the ones selling ourselves to them and they are interviewing us. It is up to us regardless, to present the best of ourselves, to influence them - even if we decide during the meeting that we don't want the job - the professional world is too small a place!
Preparation is everything
The key is preparation. An interviewee is responsible for investigating as much as possible about the company, the job and the person or persons interviewing them and are held accountable for this in the interview process - it is plainly obvious to an experienced interviewer when a candidate is winging it - demonstrating a lack of intention to make a good impression. Preparation helps to control nerves and ensures that what we say and how we say it sounds intelligent and convincing to the other person.
Even in a candidate-short market, such as is the case in IT and Telecommunications presently, lacking intention - otherwise interpreted as arrogance or ignorance - is not acceptable and will not be tolerated by the savvy employer. Neither do attributes such as outstanding performance record or exceptional technical knowledge stand in isolation when evaluating someone's suitability and fit with an organisation's culture and the existing team. The ability to confidently communicate in a persuasive and engaging manner the internal and external environments has become an essential skill of the astute professional.
An interviewee must be an influential communicator who can adapt their own communication style to that of the other person or audience with whom they are communicating. They should be able to perceptively assess the mode of communication of the individuals they encounter and tailor their approach to best match that of the other person. This builds rapport because the other person senses some commonality and likeness. As the cliché so aptly states: "People buy from people they like!"
Influential communicators seek to understand before being understood and so are committed to understanding what it is that will promote or block the other person's decision-making, what they need, and what they value. They are great askers of questions and even better listeners - they listen for clues about the other person's motivators and cues to probe deeper for further information. They demonstrate a high level of intention to communicate effectively with the other person and engage in active non-verbal communication, further building rapport.
Rapport between interviewees and their interviewer is established through the use of simple interpersonal communication skills such as eye contact, voice modulation and tone and facial gestures, particularly the smile! Smiling is an open form of communication and generally indicates a willingness to share and relate to others. We perceive warmth and positive energy when a person smiles and this can only be a good thing to break the tension of an interview.
Eye contact is a major evaluation factor of interviewers, provided they are comfortable with making engaging eye contact. A good interviewer will build a comfortable level of eye contact with the applicant. If this is not the case, the interviewee can create positive impressions about themselves through eye contact that builds rapport with the interviewer. Our eyes are said to be the "window to our souls" and so the ability to make eye contact in a comfortable and relaxed manner is perceived as honesty, interest credibility and confidence.
The use of appropriate tone and modulation of voice also heavily impacts the impressions we make about ourselves, especially in interviews. Nervousness commonly manifests itself in a shaky voice, breathlessness or a high-pitched tense tone. Conversely a confident voice that varies in pitch and tone and is clearly projected leaves the impression of control and surety which is a quality that interviewers looking for when evaluating candidates.
Facial gestures must be congruent with the positive impression that an interviewee is seeking to make. If we look shocked, bemused or uncertain - even if we don't mean to - or if we frown or shake our head when we are supposed to be making an affirmative response, the interviewer may perceive there to be a disconnect between what we are saying and how we are saying it. This also applies when we are listening. We must have control over our facial expressions and be aware of how they are perceived by others.
If interpersonal skills are limiting our ability to make a positive impression, then they could be limiting our career prospects and potential. The good news is that they can be learned or developed through training, reading, coaching and practice.
Candidates with strong interpersonal communication skills generally get asked back for interviews or indeed are offered the job. Interpersonal relationship skills and leadership qualities are generally implied by strong communication skills and where experience, knowledge and expertise is a given, the ability to communicate effectively differentiates us. If we can demonstrate our assets, we are more likely to sell them!
Rogen International a specialist practice that provides strategies and coaching in persuasive face-to-face communication. Now with more than 90 consultants, operating from 13 offices worldwide.
* Angela Peverell is a Consultant at Rogen International. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.