22 May 2013

If you're off for a job interview, firstly, congratulations! I hope it goes well.

Secondly, I'd like to tell you a fact about the job interviewer. This fact, and knowing how to manage it, could actually help you get the job you want.

Are you ready?

It's a person.

Yes, really. I'll repeat it:

The interviewer is a person.

Of course, you already knew that. On an intellectual level anyway.

But do you actually remember this when you're in the job interview? And do you use this fact to its maximum advantage?

Most people don't. So if you do, you'll do a lot better at the interview than all the other jobseekers.

Let's look at some of the things that make the interviewer a real person - and how you can use this fact to land you the job.

The interviewer has feelings

I used to think that the people interviewing me for jobs were automatons. Certainly, some of them acted like it! When I started interviewing people for jobs, I realised that I didn't put my emotions in a drawer next to a picture of my ex-boyfriend and a half-eaten bag of Minstrels. And of course, how I feel has a big impact on how the interviews go.

Here are some things your interviewer might be feeling:

  • Nervous. Yeah, you thought you were the only one, didn't you? It's surprisingly common for interviewers to get nervous - especially if it's not their full-time job (ie if they're not in HR) or they're quite new to hiring. If there are 2 interviewers, one might be the boss of the other, which adds to the nerves. There's not much you can do about this except try to keep your own nerves under wraps - if you appear relaxed, it will hopefully rub off on the interviewer.
  • Excited. Are you excited by the prospect of a new job? Think how excited the interviewer will be when someone as talented as you walks through the door, ready to help them out of a pickle. This is good news for you as excitement is infectious, just try not to leap around like a hyperactive puppy!
  • Tired. If it's after lunch, they might be sleepy, and if it's near the end of the day, they will be ready to go home. If you sense fatigue, help the interviewer out by asking to look around the workplace first (if you can do this without it seeming inappropriate) - moving about will help wake everybody up!
  • Grumpy or sad. You have no idea if you are making them unhappy or if it's because their cat has just died. This is not a time for jokes though, they can misfire too easily. Instead, listen and smile as much as you can and if they start whinging about stuff, be as sympathetic as you can without sucking up (mind you, if they're like that you might decide you don't want to work for them!)
  • Happy. Then it's your lucky day!

The interviewer has pressures you don't know about (but can guess at)

Most jobs are filling the shoes of someone who is leaving (or who has already left). If they were good, the interviewer's job is to find someone who can do the job as well, or better. If they sucked, and the interviewer was responsible for hiring them, then the pressure is on to not make the same mistake twice.

If it's a brand new position, there are 2 main reasons you are being hired - to help cope with the increasing workload, or to bring in skills that no-one there currently has. Either way, the interviewer has the job of finding the ideal person, and in the second scenario, may not even know that much about the work that needs doing.

There may be other pressures too, from the interviewer's boss, or the board of directors, or clients. They might be to increase sales, or to generate more income, or to save money - you get the idea.

So what can you do about it? Demonstrate that you can do the job at hand. Whether this is because you've done it before, or because you've got the skills to do it, or simply because you're passionate about what the company does - showing confidence and commitment will help the interviewer feel more comfortable about hiring you.

They have a life outside work

I know, it's weird isn't it? Like when you were at school and saw Mr Brown in Tesco's one Saturday and he wasn't even wearing a suit!

The interviewer will remember you if they connect with you. It's very hard to connect in an interview, I think, because the setting is artificial and everyone's on their best behaviour. Also, there may not be that instant rapport you get with, say, a guy down the pub. But you can do it and here's how - latch onto something they care about.

It might be that they mention they went skiing on their last holiday - it doesn't matter if you've never skied, just ask them about it. Or if you're both women, you can compliment her on a piece of jewellery or an item of clothing (sorry guys, this only works with 2 ladies or it's weird). As long as you're genuine, it'll work to make them remember you (false flattery or faking interest will just make you look like a creep).

And the killer blow? Ask about their family. If there is a picture on a desk of smiling kids, don't pass up the chance to comment. If you don't know what to ask about people's kids, start with how old they are then compliment some feature ("What lovely children" or "What a lovely family picture" are good all-purpose phrases). For some reason, this has the affect of making the person on the receiving end feel like they've been complimented twice over - and they'll remember you for that.

The small things matter

I once interviewed someone who asked to use the toilet as soon as she arrived. Now, I realise this can't always be helped, but we began the interview when she came out of the loo, and she shook my hand. All I could think of was that I had no idea if she'd washed her hands or not and she had just touched me and it was kind of gross. 

Now obviously, you won't be able to tell if your interviewer is weird about toilets, but taking care over the small details will minimise the chances of you inadvertantly offending them - and them remembering you for the right reasons. This means:

  • Clean, dry hands (carry tissues on a hot day so you're not all clammy)
  • Polished shoes
  • No spinach in the teeth
  • Treating the receptionist like a human being
  • Smelling fragrant 
  • Turning off your phone (if you forget, be honest and upfront, just get it out if it rings, apologise, and switch it off straight away)

They remember the odd stuff

Well you do don't you? And interviewers are no different. 

If there's already something odd about you - like you have an unusual name, or you used to work as a lion tamer, you're one step ahead. But if not? Some tips:

  • Wear something slightly unusual. This is much easier for women - a handmade scarf can be carried off much better than a Jon Snow style 'quirky' tie - but men can still inject a bit of personality into their ensemble. In fact, one man I hired at a fairly casual company impressed me simply because he was the only one who turned up in a suit! 
  • Don't stay where the interviewer expects to find you. While you're waiting, instead of sitting on a chair nervously shuffling your feet, get up and look at the rubbish art on the wall, or out of the window, or chat to the receptionist (if they are not busy). When the interviewer arrives, they'll find someone who's already showing an interest in the company.
  • Address them formally (if it won't be too weird). They'll almost certainly ask you to address them by their first name, but being too polite rather than too informal is always the way to go.
  • When the interviewer says something memorable, make a note of it, and do it obviously. You can even say 'Do you mind if I make a note of that? It's a really interesting fact / point / way of getting stains out of trousers'. Again, it'll make you stand out and the interviewer will love you for making them feel like the kind of person who says noteworthy things. As before though, this has to be sincere or it'll come across as sucking up.

That's great but this is all too much to remember

Especially when you've got to find the place, think about what you're going to say, get your suit dry-cleaned, etc etc.

That's fine. All you have to remember is that the interviewer is a person. So treat them like the most important one in the world.