Interview and Get the Job
Imagine this. You’re about to go on the business equivalent of a blind date. After all, the initial connection you establish with the hiring manager on a job interview is likely to determine whether you’ll spend more waking hours in each other’s orbit than with your loved ones in the years to come.
“Decades of research in social psychology illustrate the surprising power of first impressions,” according to a study at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. The study says: “From contexts as diverse as evaluating classroom teachers, selecting job applicants, or predicting the outcomes of court cases, human judgments made on the basis of just a ‘thin slice’ of observational data can be highly predictive of subsequent evaluations.”
What kind of first impression do you want to make? How’s your posture? Your handshake? Your eye contact? In the current economic environment, it’s easy to view the interviewer as in the driver’s seat more than ever and that can make you nervous. How can you stay cool without appearing wooden? Self-confident but not cocky? And where do you draw the line between stating your accomplishments and bragging? It’s all a delicate dance. And to complicate matters, the answer is often “it depends” – on whom you’re meeting with, what’s going on that day, the organization’s culture, and so much more.
Since we’re less inclined to wear our accomplishments on our sleeves, the task of interviewing for a job can be particularly daunting for introverts. However, we can also use our quiet strengths to our advantage. Here to share insights about his own interviews as an introvert who just landed a job is Andrew Flynn*, the senior human resources executive we chatted with last week. He’ll offer you tips to help you increase the chances that your next interview leads to an offer.
Be prepared. “Mentally prepare for the interview,” says Flynn. “Do your research about the company, the position, and anything else you can find out about who you’re interviewing with,” he adds. Flynn recommends going in with key points about why you’re the perfect candidate for the job. I’ll add a gentle reminder: Make sure those points mesh nicely with the job description. Of course, preparation can help introverts and extroverts alike. However, since we’re more inclined to think before we speak, it’s of particular importance for introverts. One more tip: prepare a few thoughtful questions to ask the interviewer; you’ll learn more and you’ll demonstrate that you’ve done your homework.
Videotape mock interviews. Flynn participated in videotaped mock interviews as part of the outplacement services his former employer provided. However, he stresses that anyone can get videotaped. He recommends: “Find a colleague or a friend and go through a mock interview. It really helps to see yourself.” I couldn’t agree more. My coaching clients have often shared that getting videotaped was the most useful tool in helping them improve not only their interview skills, but also their public speaking skills. Flynn shares what he observed when he saw himself on video: “There are certain topics when I became more engaged. I would see my facial expressions and would notice at which points I became animated and at which points I would become less so.”
Show enthusiasm. “An introvert can be a little cool and reserved—at least I am,” says Flynn. Compounding that, as a throwback to our high school days, many of us play it safe by acting cool rather than taking a risk and showing some emotion. Flynn continues: “Convey your enthusiasm for the position. That can be difficult for an introvert.” He adds, “So if I go back and look at a mock interview and see what got me animated or where I should have been more animated but wasn’t, I try to keep that in mind.” Does that mean you should feign enthusiasm if you’re not interested in a job? “Obviously, you don’t want to be insincere about it,” says Flynn. I’ll add that if you’re on the fence, focus on some aspect of the job that does excite you.
Keep it fresh. I ask Flynn how he handled back-to-back interviews during his job search. He says to expect that “you’re going to say the same thing for the fourth time in a day.” He adds that “you can sound a little too practiced and rote. So begin your interview by reminding yourself: Treat this interview like my first one of the day.” That reminds me of actors who perform the same show day after day yet always manage to deliver their lines as if they’ve never said them before. Keep in mind that back-to-back interviews can be particularly grueling for an introvert, so be sure to arrive well rested.
Connect with the interviewer.
“I tend to be a matter of fact person,” says Flynn. “I don’t tend to bond easily with people, so I can be perceived as aloof,” he adds. Flynn says that he makes an effort to find a way to connect with the interviewer. “I went to Boston University for grad school,” he says. When the interviewer mentioned that he grew up in Boston, Flynn says that he responded that Boston is one of the underrated cities in America and that he used to live in Beacon Hill, where his sister still lives. “Make the effort,” says Flynn. “Of course, you don’t want to go overboard,” he adds.
Get ready for tough questions. “I was really prepared,” says Flynn. “One typical question is, ‘Tell me about a time when things didn’t work out as well as you expected.” He adds that this is “a polite way of saying, ‘Tell me how you failed, what you learned from it, and what would you do different next time.’” Here’s Flynn’s response: “I give a specific example in which my team had a successful leadership excellence program that we had piloted to one group and wanted to roll out to others. But we had done insufficient selling to some of our constituencies because we thought our track record was so good that they’d jump at the chance. But they didn’t.” Flynn adds that it’s a good idea to focus on what you learned from your mistakes. What do you do if your interviewer surprises you with a tough question that throws you for a loop? “It’s okay to pause,” he says. “It might also help to use filler just to buy yourself a few seconds.”
Prepare to talk about your weaknesses. I ask Flynn how to handle the dreaded “weakness question,” and he recommends: “talk about an overused strength. I say that I strive for perfection.” And he adds, “But I’ve learned over time to be more comfortable getting things 80 percent right. I proceed on that basis and then fix what I need to as I go along.”
Be succinct. “In general, avoid going on overly long,” says Flynn. “And if you think one of your answers might have been too short, stop and ask, ‘Have I answered your question?’” Remember that an interview is an opportunity for the hiring manager to get a glimpse at your thinking process, problem solving abilities, attitudes, and values.
Follow up. Flynn says that he made a point of sending follow up notes the day after he was interviewed. “That serves two purposes,” he says. “One is to follow up and two, it’s the courteous thing to do.” He continues, “The note gives you another chance to leave in the person’s mind what you want your core message to be. Personally, I’m surprised that a lot of candidates don’t send a follow up note. It’s a perfect opportunity to underscore your message about what a difference you can make in the organization.
What have you learned about interviewing for jobs as an introvert? If you’re up for a note of levity, take a look at the fun video that follows.
*I have changed the name of the HR executive I interviewed and some identifying details for this blog post to honor his request for confidentiality.
Jared R. Curhan and Alex Pentland, “Thin Slices of Negotiation: Predicting Outcomes from Conversational Dynamics within the First 5 Minutes,” Journal of Applied Psychology, vol. 92, no. 3, 2007, p. 802.