You just gave what you thought was the best answer ever to an interview question. You smile triumphantly at the interviewer. In return, you’re greeted by deafening silence. Whoa! Surely that was the right response you think to yourself. Okay, maybe not. So you stammer and add another sentence or two. But with every sentence you step a little deeper in to interview quicksand.
And once you’ve been sucked in to that vortex of sinking sand, it can be difficult if not impossible to dig your way out. I have seen it derail the very experienced candidates and those just starting their careers. Here are a few basic guidelines that you can follow to keep from disappearing into that sandy pit as you interview.
Do your Homework
No doubt that seems painfully obvious. But I still have candidates ask me, “So, what does your company do?” Many of my hiring managers over the years have used this single question as a disqualifier. If a candidate either asked the question or was unable to answer the question, then the interview was over. A manager wants to see that you’re interested enough in the company to have done some research.
Doing nothing is almost as bad as doing too much. Huh? Say what? Yep, that’s right. I have seen situations where a candidate regurgitates some esoteric fact they found buried in the company website and then uses it at some point in the interview.
Most often, it pops up at the end, when a candidate is asked if they have any questions. The question the candidate asks starts like this, “As I was looking in to your company, I noticed …”
And while it’s great that you have research skills, you’re probably not interviewing for a librarian’s job. So at the worst, the unintended outcome is to make the interviewer feel silly for not knowing that bit of information. And at the best, the interviewer might shrug and say, “That’s a great question, but I don’t know the answer.”
Doing research is all about being prepared. It is laying the foundation that allows you to judge effectively whether this is the right opportunity at the right time. When you do your homework, look at the company website, but also look to sites like glassdoor.com in an attempt to uncover the company culture as well. A job is more than just the nuts of bolts of what you’ll do. It is also about the people.
Speaking of websites, be sure and utilize linkedin.com to research the interview panel members. Get a sense of who you’ll be meeting during your time on campus.
There is no such thing as fashionably late
Much like there is no excuse not to research the company and its employees before you go to the interview, you should never be late to an interview. However I get it. Life happens. Best laid plans. And so on. Recently I had a case where a candidate was almost 20 minutes late and all he could muster was, “I went to the wrong building.”
Oh, okay. I see. Was this building in an alternate universe or something? Sorry that came off way more sarcastic than I intended. But it speaks to simple courtesy. I understand that sometimes you zig when you should have zagged, but have the gumption to own it.
Acknowledge that you were late. Apologize. Ask the interviewer whether it is still convenient to meet. Failure to take a proactive approach and assume responsibility can easily be misconstrued as to how you might handle setbacks when you’re on the job. In this case the tardy job seeker with his nonchalant reply created his own quicksand which made me view their candidacy that much more stringently.
You can avoid doing that by being prepared. Make sure your phone is charged. Enter the address in your maps app the night before. If you are really uncertain on how best to get there, take a test drive the day before.
It’s an interview not a date
I walked out to greet a candidate once and could smell his cologne as soon as I walked through the double doors that lead to the lobby. The job seeker was easily fifteen feet away! Out of the corner of my eye, I could see the poor front desk person. Her eyes were watering and she looked positively green.
This is going to be fun I thought to myself. I was about to spend the next 30 minutes in a small conference room with the door closed. Briefly I wished that I actually had the flu that everyone seemed to be sharing at the office at the time. A stuffy nose would have helped the candidate avoid interview quicksand.
Never make your interviewers wish they had a cold or the flu. Skip the cologne or the perfume. Many folks have allergies.
Oh also give some thought to attire. In Silicon Valley most usually business casual is okay. However when in doubt, it is perfectly acceptable to ask the recruiter or hiring manager for the dress code.
Body language can speak volumes
This is always a tricky one. Sometimes when you have your arms crossed it doesn’t mean you’re not accepting of new ideas or information, you can truly just be cold. However to keep out of the quicksand, do give some thought to how you communicate non-verbally.
I would never advocate someone not being themselves, but it is important to remember that the interview is all about making a personal connection with each member of the interview panel. Would you hire someone who looks like they needed a nap? Would you hire someone who looks like they’re a test subject for Red Bull?
Find a nice middle ground in your non-verbal style. Display an appropriate level of energy as you meet with everyone. Maintain eye contact. Smile. Check your posture. Think about those times as a kid when you were at the dinner table and your Mom would say “Sit up straight.” But be careful. You are also not in the principal’s office either. Too stiff and invariably an interviewer will comment on it the recruiter.
To maintain your energy as well as your focus, don’t be afraid to ask for water to make sure you stay hydrated. Also you should stand up between interviews and stretch.
Chatty Kathy & Tom Talker need not apply
This is where I have seen a lot of job seekers get sucked into that swirling vortex of sand. A standard interview question gets asked. And the job seeker gives a standard reply. In an attempt to get more information the recruiter or interview panel member just stays silent. Even just 10 seconds of silence on the part of the interviewer can cause experienced candidates to rethink an answer.
And that’s the point. Now this may seem like a Jedi mind trick, but I would ask that you stop and think about it from the interviewer’s perspective. How much information is out there for job seekers on how to answer the toughest interview questions? And then look again for advice on HOW to hire. Job seekers today are likely more experienced at interviewing than the interviewers they meet with.
So how can interviewers like me level the playing field? Simple I want you off script. I don’t want you to give me an answer you memorized. Using silence can allow me to get beyond the first layer of the information you share.
When I use silence, very often the candidate overshares and gives me too much information or ends up refuting what they shared earlier. Why does this happen? It’s simple. The job seeker practiced giving the answers he thinks I wanted to hear but not how to have a conversation.
From the perspective of the employer, the interview should be a dialogue. If you talk too much, it’s a monologue. So make sure you focus on finding that balance.
Everything that was covered here on how to avoid interview quicksand in that job seeker jungle can be summed up simply. A hiring manager once shared that the key to being successful at work (and I’m sure you’ll agree, that looking for a job is indeed work) is to always follow the 6 P’s.
So what are the 6 P’s, you ask? Well it is a mnemonic device to remind you that proper planning prevents pitifully poor performance. (Okay I changed one word, but hey I write a family friendly column!)