Interviewing Secret: Curb Your Enthusiasm!

With the number of interviews seeming to perk up of late, at least around Puget Sound, I’ve had an uptick in the number of folks coming to see me for help around the areas of interview strategy and preparation.  And while every individual I work presents a slightly different mix of strengths and weaknesses, in terms of selling themselves, one consistent theme I’ve witnessed is that many people are coming across as a bit TOO enthusiastic about landing the jobs to which they’re applying.

How can this be possible, you ask?  Isn’t the whole point of an interview to show the employer that you want the job in question more than anybody else?  Um, no, actually.  Wherever you find two human beings sizing each other up for the first time, be it in the corner office or the corner singles bar, you’ll observe the tendency for people to “want what they can’t easily have” and to be turned off by folks who come on too strong and who seem too eager/enthusiastic to form a new relationship.  Don’t underestimate these invisible power dynamics in play.  If you charge into an interview, practically begging for the job, you’ll immediately create the perception that you don’t have other viable options — and must therefore be less skilled, experienced and/or valuable than the other candidates who are playing a bit harder to get.

For those of you out there who have studied psychology or the selling process to a significant degree, you’ll recognize the above principle as the “Law of Scarcity” or “The Law of Limited Resources.”  Again, this age-old principle holds that people are naturally more attracted to the things (or people) that are harder for them to acquire.  How can I be sure that this dynamic operates in a job hunting context?  Because I’ve had hundreds of clients (literally) over the years come to me in exasperation, saying: “Matt, I just don’t get it!  I always seem to get the job offers I don’t really want, even when I intentionally try to sabotage my candidacy, but for the life of me I can’t seem to land an offer for any of the opportunities I’m really passionate about…”

So in light of this principle, what proactive steps can a job seeker take to boost their interviewing success rate?  Well, while hardly rocket science, here are a few simple tips I often emphasize that people follow to help set the right tone during the hiring conversation:

•  First and foremost, make sure you are running a SERIOUS, HIGH-OCTANE job search so that you always have other irons in the fire and other interviewing opportunities coming up down the road; knowing that your entire future isn’t resting on the results of a single interview will take the pressure off and help ensure you don’t come across as needy, stressed out, or desperate.

•  Adopt a relaxed, emotionally-reserved posture during the interview, especially during the opening 15 minutes; by sitting back comfortably, crossing your legs, and responding to the hiring manager’s questions in polite, unhurried fashion you’ll be sending the signal that you’re intrigued — but not obsessed — with working for their organization.

•  Always focus on the interviewer’s needs, not your own; the moment you start asking about salary, vacation policy, travel requirements, and the like it becomes obvious that you’re in a hurry to get settled somewhere and can’t really afford to be patient and/or selective.

•  Avoid first-person statements/questions like “If I got this job, what would you need me to accomplish in the first 90 days?”  and instead use phrasing such as “If you hired the ideal candidate…” or “If you brought the right person on board…” so that you seem more objective and detached about the outcome.

•  Act like a consultant, not a job candidate; instead of viewing the interview as a pass/fail performance, pretend you’ve already been hired as an expert consultant and that this is your first chance to learn more about the goals/challenges/needs of the new organization and figure out how best you can help them.

Additionally, there are several other techniques that several allies of my firm have mentioned, over the years, that can definitely help with this issue.  For example, Todd Hollow-Bist and Chad Hattrup of Pathwise Management emphasize a technique called “suspension of attention” where you concentrate on feeling your feet pressed against the floor — or your back against your chair — throughout the course of a conversation.  This naturally siphons some of your brain’s attention span away from the conversation at hand, creating a layer of distance and disengagement that can have beneficial effects.  And Karen Burns, author of “The Amazing Adventures of Working Girl” (and somebody who knows her way around the interview circuit, having proudly held 59 different jobs in her life!) recently stressed to one of my client groups that it always helps to keep your “Plans B & C” (whatever they might be, career-wise) firmly in mind, during the interview, to avoid seeming too emotionally invested in the position at hand.

Long story short, while there are many other factors that can play a role in one’s ability to consistently land job offers, I wanted to share some quick thoughts about this particular dynamic since I’ve observed a lot of candidates “crossing the line” lately and bringing too much intensity and aggressiveness to the hiring conversation.  Obviously, the tough economy is contributing to this, with people feeling more pressure to succeed in interviews than they would in more “normal” times.  But if you can pull back on the reins just a little bit, possibly using one or more of the above techniques, you might be surprised to see your job offer batting average improve substantially!

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