Swinging the Balance of Power to You in Job Interviews

3 February, 2014

I used to be quite bad at interviews. I’d walk out of so many interviews knowing that the job was within my capabilities and feeling that there was a good cultural fit, but never getting the offer.

At the other end of the spectrum, I have two friends who are just naturals – they basically get every job they ever apply for.

We all sit somewhere on the Interview Skills Continuum between disastrous and superb. 

Our job as Career Consultants, when we work with an individual, is to move them significantly up that continuum, so that there is a dramatic improvement in their performance. And, we are wonderfully successful at doing so.  A lovely by-product of this work is that people also experience a big increase in their confidence level.

I say to people that this is probably the only time in their life when someone will train them how to tell interesting, memorable stories about how good they are. If you ever have any disposable income to spend on your career, this is probably one of the best uses you could imagine.

 

Where does the Magic Start?

In our work with individuals, we usually spend up to two hours working through all elements of the interview process before spending at least two separate hours on the dreaded interview skills practice.  That’s before they even have their first interview lined up!

So, I think I have enough content to get several blogs out of this topic.

First, we cover off on the types of interviews/interactions that are common in the market place these days:

1.  Stock standard interviews with questions like: “Where do you want to be in 5 years’ time?”

2.  Behavioural interviews with questions like: “Give us an example of a time when you worked well in a team.”

3.  Assessment Centres (as well assessment centre-type activities that can be used in one-on-one interviews)

4.  Social interviews e.g. coffee meetings

5.  Psychometric testing – both personality based and aptitude testing

I’m not going to spend any time discussing the above topics, as information is readily available on the internet.

 

Survival of the Species or Human Cruelty?

The next area we cover is First Impressions and it’s here that things start to get interesting. Anyone who’s serious about helping someone improve their performance at interviews will spend a lot of time on this issue.

Basically, as a human being, we make up our minds about a stranger in about ten seconds.  We then spend a few minutes reviewing our impression to see if we are going to change it (which we are generally reluctant to do) and after that it’s pretty much set in concrete.

I can always remember interviewing someone who looked down at his folder the whole time he answered our questions.  Being used to how nervous people can get in interviews, I was prepared to look past it, but my business partner wrote him off immediately.  We can be a cruel species, at times!

When we meet someone in the flesh, we assess them based on the following areas:

1.  Words – 7 %

2.  Voice – 38%

3.  Body Language – 55%

 

Coffee Shop Talk not Corporate-Speak or Pub Talk

I’ve already written about words in a previous blog (Job Interview Communication Mastery: 1066 and Coffee Shop Talk).  To recap quickly, here, generally we recommend what I call “coffee shop” talk – vivid, relaxed and energetic – the way we would talk to our friends in a coffee shop. Not overly formal business-speak and not slangy or coarse language, such as you might hear in a pub.

 

Words that Label You

Here’s a couple of issues that can cause trouble:

1.  “Fingernail down the blackboard words” as in “When are youse going to let me know if I’ve got the job?”

2.  Years ago, my sister asked me to help her to stop saying “somethink”.  It took 6 months of me regularly correcting her before she conquered that one.

3.  A lot of people use malapropisms e.g. “I pacifically insisted that she call the client again.”  (specifically)

Ask a friend who is quite particular about language to alert you to these errors, as they make you appear uneducated.

 

Is your voice an asset or a liability?

Voice is an interesting one.  I often get people to think about this question. I cannot remember a single person who ever reported knowing whether people liked listening to their voice or not, which is pretty amazing when so much of the impression we make on people comes from our voice.

In the time constraints under which I operate, there is very little I can do to effect significant change in someone’s voice. You would need to consult an expert and I suspect that it would take roughly 6 months to make the required changes. What I’m talking about here is how high pitched your voice is or how nasally it is. Margaret Thatcher reportedly worked with a specialist in this area, deepening her voice so that she sounded less shrill in Parliament.

What I can and do focus on is:

1.  Rising intonation (subject of my first-ever blog, Managing Your Voice in a Job Interview). If you raise your voice at the end of every phrase or sentence, it sounds as though you do not believe what you have just said

2.  Light and shade, using volume changes to engage the audience.  Without this variation, the voice can become like an assault weapon, almost overwhelming the listener and causing him/her to want to lean back in her seat away from the speaker

3.  Speed variations, to signal important information.  You can have the most perfectly modulated voice in the world but unless there is variation here, people will either fall asleep or, if you speak too quickly, struggle to understand you and possibly give up as time goes on in the interview.

 

Body Language is King (or Queen)

Where to start? In fact, rather than writing a quick overview, I’m going to leave this topic to a new blog – that’s how important, complex and difficult this aspect of interview performance is.

So stay tuned for Part 2 in a month’s time…

 

aBOUT THE AUTHOR

Catherine Cunningham is Adelaide's leading career expert.  She appears regularly in The Weekend Australian Careers section, in The Advertiser's CareerOne, as well as in online publications such as news.com.au, thenewdaily.com.au and womensagenda.com.au

The Career Consultancy Pty Ltd
Suite 220, 147 Pirie Street
Adelaide  SA  5000
T: 08 8223 6011
F: 08 8223 6411
E: admin@careerconsult.com.au

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