Career Report
October, 2009 — Issue 116

Sending Right Signals in Interviews

When hiring managers are asked about boneheaded mistakes they have seen jobseekers make during an interview, the most common, they say, are the subtle mistakes or omissions that can cause one candidate to lose out to another, according to an article in The New York Times. But if one person is sending out the right signals and behaving in the right way through each step of the process, the article noted, he or she has a much better chance to land the job.

Keep in mind, though, that there is no single set of rules in the hiring process. While certain standards of courtesy always apply (be punctual, treat everyone you meet with respect), your success may indeed depend on the company’s culture and the preferences of the people doing the hiring. Your ability to sense, and to act on, these factors could make a big difference, the article pointed out.

When Susan L. Hodas, director of talent management at NERA Economic Consulting, is hiring, for example, she looks for the right cultural fit as much as the right experience. To some degree she goes with her instincts, but she can also identify certain preferences. Here is one: “They should come in a suit,” she said.

Body language is also important, Hodas told the newspaper. She looks for an assured but not overly casual demeanor, along with good eye contact. She also looks for people who can enunciate their words (mumblers beware) and who can communicate their thoughts and ideas clearly. Overall, she said, she looks for people who are “confident, but not cocky.”

She added that she and her colleagues also typically apply “the airport test” to candidates. They ask themselves: “Would I want to be stuck in the airport for 12 hours with this person if my flight was delayed?”

It seems that just being yourself—albeit a formal, polite, alert and attentive version of yourself—is the best way to behave during interviews. You don’t want to do such a great job of faking it that when the company discovers the real you, it comes to regret ever hiring you. That said, there are certain things you can do—both during the interview and afterward—to give yourself an advantage, according to the article.

First and foremost, you should always research the company thoroughly (easy to do on the Internet), and be prepared to give specific examples of how your experience relates to the job. Also be able to describe as concretely as possible how you made a difference in your previous jobs.

Researching the company will also help when the interviewer asks whether you have any questions, said David Santos, executive director of human resources for Interbrand, a brand management firm. Not having any shows lack of interest and preparation, he added.

You should also make sure your questions show knowledge of the company and your interest in contributing to its success, the article pointed out. You’d be surprised how many people focus on themselves, not the company, by asking right off about things like salary, benefits and bonuses, said Annie Shanklin Jones, who manages United States recruitment for I.B.M.

Try to establish common ground with your interviewer so you stand out, Shanklin Jones added. Maybe you went to the same college or you pull for the same sports team. During the interview, “leverage your referrals,” she said, finding ways to highlight the people you know within the company.

Depending on the job you apply for, you may be called back for an interview several times. How you follow up after each interview is crucial. Not following up at all shows a lack of interest. Following up too much, or in the wrong way, could take you out of the running.

Santos told the newspaper that she looks for prompt follow-up by e-mail that shows the applicant was listening attentively, that mentions names of people the candidate met, and that reaffirms the candidate’s work experience and understanding of the company. Much less impressive is a generic e-mail that could be sent to any company, he said.

Should you use paper or e-mail in correspondence? Santos’ preference shows how tricky this can be. He said that for a company like his, which is more digitally focused, it would show a lack of awareness to send a traditional thank you note through the mail. On the other hand, he does expect candidates to show up for interviews with printed copies of their résumés.

Indeed, given that all companies and hiring managers are different, getting through the interview process can seem like walking a tightrope, the article pointed out. But common courtesy, combined with common sense, plenty of research and a dose of intuition can go along way toward bringing you safely to the other side.

News from BLK

The Berman Larson Kane webinar series continues to assist job-seekers at all levels. Your can read the most recent comments and suggestions from participants on the BLK Blog and register for future FREE interactive programs at .

During the month of October Joanne Ehlermann, PHR will be attending and contributing on the Speaker Selection Committee at the Garden State SHRM Conference in Long Branch, New Jersey.

As for our overall analysis of the current job market, we are experiencing a steady increase of temporary and contracting positions. Based on our expereinces with past recessions during our 30-year tenure, job creation is on the immediate horizon.