Is Your Body Secretly Sabotaging Your IT Job Interviews?

by drjim on October 22, 2009

Don't Let Your Body Language Let The Interviewer See You As A Dog   (c) - 2009

Don’t Let Your Body Language Let The Interviewer See You As A Dog (c) – 2009

Times are tough all over and a lot of IT Leaders are out pounding the pavement looking for their next position. For some of you it may have been a long time since you last had to do an interview – you are much more used to being on the other side of the table doing the interviewing. Well guess what – no matter how well you prepare, your best efforts may be undone by what your body is secretly telling the interviewer…

Why They Didn’t Call You Back

I can’t even begin to tell you how many job interviews that I’ve gone on, left feeling good about how things turned out, and then sat by the phone waiting for them to call me back as eager as a dateless teenager the night before prom. Heck, I had half expected them to give me a call later in the same day that I had interviewed with them saying that I was the perfect candidate for the job and could I start working the next morning. Well that never happened.

Phyllis Korkki over at the New York Times has done some looking into why sometimes those jobs interviews that IT Leaders think that we’ve nailed end up going nowhere. If it is of any comfort, it turns out that we rarely screw-up an interview because of some huge social mistake such as showing up in shorts and a T-shirt. Nope, our problems are a lot more subtle than that…

How To Get Your Body To Behave During An Interview

Korkki has discovered that in a lot of cases what’s been going on is that we’ve been sending out the wrong signals to the interviewer. These signals are virtually invisible social errors or gaffs that can cause us to be rejected and someone else selected for the position.

“Tell me what I’m doing wrong, tell me what I’m doing wrong” I hear you saying. Sorry, it’s not nearly that easy. There is no checklist of social rules that you can follow in order to avoid making any of these mistakes. You already know the basics: always wear a suit no matter how casual the company’s culture may be – you’re not onboard yet so you still have to dress up, show up on time, be respectful to everyone that you meet, etc.

In order to get your body to actually help you get the job instead of actively working against you need to do two things. First, you’ve got to turn on your “spidy-sense” and make sure that you quickly pick up on the company’s culture.

This starts when you arrive – what does their lobby look like: grand and forbidding or cool and hip? The person who greets you first – what are they wearing, are they smiling, how fast are they moving, do they talk in long sentences or just quick bursts of words? As quickly as possible you’ve got to become a chameleon and match the environment that you find yourself in.

The second thing that you’ve got to do is get your darn body language under control. It turns out that this may be the most difficult thing to do – and the most important.

Just What Is Your Body Yelling To The Interviewer?

Yeah, yeah – you’ve done your research, you’ve got a sharp looking suit on, and your resume has been tweeked by four recent Nobel Prize in Literature winners. In the end it’s going to come down to what the interviewer “thinks” about you and that is something that you really can’t define. If you could crawl inside of your interviewer’s head, here’s what you might discover:

  • Confidence: They want somebody who is going to be confidant enough to get the job done without being so overconfidant that they’ll tick off everyone that they work with. How can they determine this? Well, your ability to get and maintain eye contact is one way. Too little and you’ll come across as lacking confidence, too much and you’ll be pegged as being overconfident.
  • Communication: IT Leaders are people who can clearly communicate their thoughts. In order to show that you are able to do this, you’re going to have to watch your words: how you enunciate, what words you use, and how you use them will all play a role. Clearly cursing is not going to win you any points here.
  • Control: You are going to how to show that you can control the job – that it doesn’t get the best of you. Since you’ve taken the time to research the company that you are interviewing with you should be able to map what you’ve done for other firms to what this company is looking for you to do. The key here is to be able to succinctly show how you’ve made a difference at the companys that you’ve worked at in the past.

Question, Question, Always Have A Question

What do you say when you get to that part of the interview when the interviewer starts to gather up their stuff, pauses for a moment, and then says in a casual, almost offhanded fashion, “do you have any questions?” There are two mistakes you can make here: the first is to not have any questions and the second is to ask the wrong type of question.

Not having a question is inexcusable. Look, there is no possible way that as an outsider you could fully understand how the company operates or just exactly what they are looking to potentially have you do.

The interviewer has taken a chunk out of their day to talk with you and you had better darn well show some appreciation by having something intelligent to ask them that shows that you’ve been paying attention.  Whatever you ask, make sure that it shows that you’ve researched the company and that you are looking for ways that you can make it even more successful if they do hire you.

The second mistake is almost as damaging: asking the wrong type of question. This can come in two different flavors. The first is the ultimate geek screw-up – asking a question that the interviewer has no possible way of knowing the answer to.

Things like “I noticed that you dividend payment was a week later than usual in the 3rd quarter of 1996, can you tell me why that was?” Great – now you’ve made the interviewer look stupid, that should go a long way in helping your chances at getting this job.

The other way that you can go wrong is to ask a question that is focused on you and not the company: how much would I make, how many vacation days would I get, etc. There will be time enough for these types of questions later on if they make you an offer.

Final Thoughts

In the end, a job interview is like an IT project. As an IT Leader you’ve got to convince the interviewer to support you and to do what you want them to do (offer you a job). If you’re going to have any hope of success here, then you’re going to have to get the non-verbal part of interviewing down cold.

This can be done, but it’s not easy. Practicing an interview with friends can be one of the most painful & awkward things that you’ve ever done, but at the same time it can be immensely rewarding. Good luck and make sure that your tie is tied correctly.

What do you think is the #1 social mistake that IT Leaders make when they are interviewing for a job?

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What We’ll Be Talking About Next Time

So IT Leader, what are you going to do about boosting the innovation within your team? Your hands are tied when it comes to giving out raises – not that money really helps innovation. You don’t have any spots to offer promotions into because the company has adopted a “flat” organizational structure. Oh, and all of your workers are running around afraid that they might lose their jobs any day now. Good luck with making innovation happen here!

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{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

Elliot Ross October 22, 2009 at 1:32 pm

First, I’d hire that dog in a flash!

Well dressed, eager!

Seriously – the difficulty that I have found on the “Question” in the past – is with those screening interviews where the junior HR staffer or Office Admin asks it.

Because while there will always be many questions – choosing one that fits the generics that were discussed is harder.

Because in that first screen, you know that it is only a very superficial skim to see if you show up in those shorts, or stir your coffee with your fingers.

They usually have no idea what the position requirements or challenges will actually be.

Great post!

Reply

Dr. Jim Anderson October 30, 2009 at 11:00 am

Elliot: you speak the truth! It was awhile back when I was between jobs that I discovered that a firm that I wanted to work for had outsourced its entire HR department. What this meant is that the folks reviewing job applicants had NO idea what the job was or what the proper qualifications were. Once I knew this, I was able to tailor my application to the posting (used the exact same words) and poof — I was in the door…!

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