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By H. Anthony Medley
Warner BooksCopyright © 2005 H. Anthony Medley
All right reserved.
Chapter OneThe Interview
A candidate I once interviewed for a secretarial position could type 90 words per minute and take shorthand at 120 words per minute. She was presentable and had good references. But in addition to showing up ten minutes late, she called me "Mr. Melody" throughout the interview. The two main things I remembered about her were that she had kept me waiting and that she had constantly mispronounced my name. I finally offered the position to someone whose typing and shorthand skills were not nearly as good.
Connie Brown Glaser and Barbara Steinberg Smalley, in their book More Power to You, tell the story of a lady who always wanted to be a teacher. When she graduated, she went to a nearby school for an interview. She noticed she had a small run in her stocking but didn't think it important enough to change. But when she arrived at the interview, the run had become enormous, and she spent much of the time positioning herself to hide it. She didn't get the job, and the principal explained to one of her friends, "If a person doesn't take the time to present her best image at an interview, what kind of teacher is she going to be?"
More often than not, it is the small things that occur in an interview that spell the difference between getting an offer and being rejected. As you will learn as you read on, the basic objective of a candidate in an interview is to spark a positive feeling in the interviewer-something Aristotle called pathos. It's a purely subjective feeling, so your close attention to little things is essential.
Be certain of the time and place of the interview and the name of the interviewer. Sometimes candidates are so excited to get an interview that they neglect to ask for this essential information. Write it down and keep it with you until after the interview. If no one tells you your interviewer's name, ask. Sometimes the situation precludes finding out, but you're ahead of the game if you know it going in.
Make certain you are clean and appropriately dressed and coiffed. I have an entire chapter on dress, but if you have spots on your clothes or food on your teeth, you're not going to make a good impression.
Arrive early for the interview. If you plan on arriving at least fifteen minutes before the appointed time, you will have a cushion against unforeseen delays, such as a traffic tie-up or an elevator breakdown or an inability to find the right building or office, any of which could cause you to be late if you depended on split-second timing. Being early can also give the interviewer a good initial impression of your reliability and interest.
Bring a pen and notebook with you. The notebook should fit in a pocket or purse so that you don't walk into the interview room with it in hand. Its purpose is twofold. First, the interviewer may give you some information to write down. If you're prepared with your own writing material, you won't have to interrupt the interview to hunt down paper and pen. Don't, however, make notes during the interview unless the interviewer asks you to write something down.
Second, immediately after the interview you should make notes on what occurred during the interview and what your reactions were to the interviewer. This information can be very important in future interviews so that your replies remain consistent. Further, if you have many different interviews with different companies or different people in the same company, your notes will help your recall of each and aid in making a choice in jobs, should that become necessary.
Remember the interviewer's name. There is possibly no sweeter sound to the human ear than the sound of one's own name. If you don't learn the interviewer's name prior to the interview, concentrate on it when you are introduced and remember it. For some people this is very difficult. They are concentrating on themselves so much and thinking about how nervous they are that they forget the name or don't pay attention when they hear it for the first time.
The best thing to do is to repeat the name immediately after the introduction by saying something on the order of, "How do you do, Mr. Smith." Then repeat the name a couple of times during the first part of the interview. This repetition will help you remember the name. It will also have a pleasing effect on the interviewer.
When Katharine Hepburn was a young actress in the late 1930s, she was invited to have tea with President Franklin Roosevelt. They had never met, but during the conversation he asked about her mother and some of her friends, even one of her friend's daughter's husband. Kate asked him how he could remember all those names. He replied: "That's my job, and I concentrate on it. I meet someone and I say, 'You are Mr. Jones. That is your wife, Mrs. Jones.' I look at them. I absorb them. I remember them. And next time I say, 'Why, hello, Mr. Jones. How are you? And Mrs. Jones?' It makes a good impression."
Reader Joseph D. Lee of El Cerrito, California, writes about the importance of properly pronouncing an interviewer's name:
I recently had an interview for admission to a particular academic program; roughly one in three applicants met, as I did, with success. My interviewer had a Spanish surname, and I have the good fortune to have learned to speak Spanish well. I also had the good fortune to have heard the interviewer speak previously, so that I was certain that he was bilingual.
When I introduced myself to him, I pronounced his name as it would be pronounced in Spanish, rather than English (there is quite a difference!). The interviewer's response was notably positive. "You pronounce my name like you speak Spanish," he said, and immediately we were off to a friendly discussion of how I learned Spanish, how I hoped to be able to use it in the program, and the like. My pronunciation of his name not only opened the conversation on a positive note, it conveyed a sense of respect for another's language and culture. Thus I believe that this beginning was central to the success of my interview. A similar point should be made about difficult names: Those who possess them are frequently either proud of them or mortified by them. In either case, pronouncing them correctly can only be a plus. And, of course, there are many ways to ascertain the correct pronunciation of an interviewer's name: Call his or her receptionist or secretary anonymously; check with the job placement director, if the interview has been arranged by another; or ask someone who speaks Greek, Spanish, or whatever.
One caveat: Do not call the interviewer by his or her first name unless you are invited to do so (which is unlikely). Calling people by their first names without being asked to do so is a familiarity that offends a great many people.
In one of Christ's parables he compares the guest at a wedding feast who took a seat near the head of the table and was embarrassed by being asked to move farther down while the guest who sat at the lowest place was honored by being asked to move up. You have nothing to lose by addressing your interviewer formally as "Mr." (or Ms., Miss, or Mrs.), and nothing to gain by calling your interviewer "Charlie" or "Shirley." If your interviewer is a woman, notice whether she's wearing a wedding band. If not, I recommend calling her "Ms." If she's sympathetic to the feminist ideology, it could be a plus for you, whereas calling her "Miss" may offend her. On the other hand, if she is not supportive of feminist beliefs, calling her "Ms." should not offend her as much as calling her "Miss" could offend someone who is supportive.
Don't offer to shake hands unless the interviewer offers a hand first. I was raised by my mother to obey the old rule of polite society that a gentleman does not offer his hand to a lady unless she offers her hand first. But as an interviewer I always offer to shake hands whether the interviewee is male or female. I am initially trying to put the interviewee at ease, and a handshake is a good way to break down some barriers. But interviewers differ, and some will not offer to shake hands.
A male interviewee should not offer to shake hands if his interviewer does not first offer. For a woman this is not so crucial. You may find a chivalrous interviewer who believes it is offensive for a man to offer his hand to a woman but would not be offended if a female interviewee initiated the handshake. The safe rule, in any event, is not to offer your hand unless the interviewer makes the first move.
If you do shake hands, make it a firm grip. A weak handshake can be a real turnoff. But don't go overboard and give your Superman grip. If you take the interviewer to the floor with your hearty handshake, you won't be remembered with good feelings.
Don't chew gum. Gum chewing can communicate a distinctly negative impression. It may not offend some interviewers, but it is better not to take the risk.
Wait for your interviewer to sit down or to invite you to sit down before seating yourself.
Most of these suggestions are items of common courtesy, but they are often overlooked in the context of an interview, when you are nervous and thinking about yourself.
It is a keystone of any effective interview for you to come across as an honest person. If the interviewer forms the impression that you are basically saying, "Here I am with all my warts," it should be positive for you. You don't want to expound on those warts, but you want to leave the impression that you accept yourself for what you are and that you want the interviewer to know you as the person you are.
That's exactly the impression you want to leave. You must attune yourself to the interviewer early, and this requires strict attention to him and his reaction to you. (Let's assume, for the balance of this chapter, that the interviewer is male.) You will have to make some astute judgments in the early moments of the interview, so you must concern yourself with the interviewer's problems, prejudices, desires, and feelings. If the interviewer is a dynamic, take-charge sort who wants to regale you with stories, go along with it. If he is somewhat shy and insecure, help him out. If he exhibits any prejudices that you are able to perceive, don't run afoul of them. You must try to categorize the interviewer early and then guide the interview along lines that help him arrive at the conclusion you wish.
Being interviewed and being interviewed well are two entirely different matters.
You Must Sell Yourself
As an interviewee you are primarily a seller. The product you are selling is yourself, and the assets of the product are your experience, skills, and personality. You communicate your experience and skills in your resume, but your personality comes across in the interview.
You must recognize that you are in a selling situation and that it is your goal to arouse the interest of the interviewer in you. If you wait expectantly for questions and dutifully answer them, you have done nothing to distinguish yourself from the hundreds of others whom the interviewer will encounter.
"There is one sure-fire way of arousing their interest," says Paul Ivey, in his classic Successful Salesmanship: "Find out what they are already interested in and then talk about it. If you talk about what they are interested in, they will later on be willing to consider what you are interested in."
Techniques for Selling Yourself
Since a large part of the interview is selling yourself to the interviewer, it's well to know the techniques of selling and persuasion.
Aristotle broke down a persuasive speech into three elements: ethos, pathos, and logos.
Ethos is persuasion achieved by establishing the credibility of the speaker. If your interviewer doesn't believe in you, has no confidence that you are honest and reliable, it doesn't matter what you say; you won't be persuasive.
Pathos is persuasion by the use of emotions. The neo-Aristotelian rhetorician Chaim Perelman put it best: "To adapt an audience is, above all, to choose as premises of argumentation theses the audience already holds." Or, to put it in layman's terms, if you can say something with which your interviewer agrees, you will be on the road to creating pathos, or a positive emotion. This is where your preparation comes to the fore. If you've done enough research to know that your interviewer was a ballerina, or played minor league baseball, or whatever, you can use pathos by mentioning something positive about the ballet or baseball early on in your interview. While you must be certain to be true to yourself, and not sound fawning or like a sycophant, if you can express some genuine sentiment about something you know your interviewer has a positive feeling about, you will be using pathos to good effect. When I said earlier that your goal in the interview is to create a positive "feeling" in your interviewer, I'm talking about pathos, or the creation of a positive emotion in your interviewer. The desired motivation of the interviewee is to create pathos. Even if you're credible-if you have established ethos-you won't be persuasive unless you inspire a "feeling" or emotion in your interviewer.
I must mention here that you should not make a comment implying that you like something like ballet if you don't know anything about it. If your interviewer takes the bait and starts a conversation about it, he will quickly learn that your statement was dishonest and you will be worse off. Don't ever do anything dishonest or deceptive to try to gain an edge, because it can come back to bite you in the end. Don't make the comment about ballet or baseball unless you share your interviewer's passion, or can at least carry on a knowledgeable conversation about the subject. If you're ignorant about their passion, you should keep quiet about it; if the subject did come up, the most you should do is express an interest in learning more about it. This could be an opening to ask your interviewer about it. If you get the interviewer talking about something in which he's passionate, it can't hurt. And by making an innocent expression of interest you haven't done anything deceptive or dishonest.
Finally, logos relates to the logic of what you say ("thought manifested in speech," according to Aristotle). In terms of the interview, this is probably the least important of the three in achieving persuasiveness. Even if you're logical, if you haven't established ethos (credibility) or pathos (emotion), your logic alone won't win the day.
While ethos and logos are important, if you have ethos and logos without pathos, you're in a weak situation.
Excerpted from Sweaty Palms by H. Anthony Medley Copyright © 2005 by H. Anthony Medley. Excerpted by permission.
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