Some Obvious (and Not So Obvious)
Tips on Coming across Well in Interviews
BY DAVID HARWELL
The title of this article is intentionally obnoxious in order to make the following point — in stressful situations, people tend to behave badly, which will most certainly limit their professional progression. Take, for example, the interview process. Interviews
are stressful situations. You are asked to go to a place where you
have never been and to meet with people you don’t know — people
whose role is to be very judgmental about you. Interviews are
essentially designed to induce stress, since employers want to see
what it would be like to work with you, and a stressful situation
like an interview gives them a great deal of insight into your worst
behavior. The key is to keep your composure and to be likable.
Looking beyond technical competency
While the interview should be about your technical competencies,
interviews are also about interacting with you on a personal level.
Interviewers may be asking you about NMR or HPLC techniques, but
they are also sizing you up. They are thinking about whether they
would want to work with you for hours on end. What will it be like
to depend on you for part of a group project that could determine
the success or failure of their organization? You will have to demonstrate your ability to work well with others— or at very least, the
interviewers. That means you can’t clam up or become defensive.
A defensive posture can be misinterpreted by your interviewer as a
sign that you’re standoffish, abrasive, or worse.
Decisions are emotional at their root. They may be informed
by logic and facts, but human beings tend to revert back to primal
instincts in making decisions. The one at the core of the “Do I like
this person, or is he/she a jerk?” determination is, “Will he/she hurt
me?” The interviewers’ decisions will be based on their level of
trust in (or fear of) you. In the short amount of time an interview is
conducted, the level of trust they form will likely be determined on
the basis of your openness and consistency.
Likability goes a long way
Likability is important for much more than interviews. Over 70%
of termination decisions— that is, when employees get fired from
jobs — are based on the individual’s inability to get along with others or to accommodate organizational culture, although the paperwork probably won’t say as much. In reality, if someone messes up
and we like them, we are likely to give them a second chance. If the
offender is a jerk, then disappointing performance may be just the
excuse needed for termination.
Beware of the Kardashian model
As a Millennial, you may not have experienced many people displaying good workplace behavior. Since you were born, popular
culture has been dominated by reality television where people act
badly for dramatic effect. The worse they act, the further ahead
they seem to get. Please note that this is not how the real world
works, and most of the behaviors exhibited on reality television
were encouraged by producers seeking salacious moments that
could be used to promote viewership and ratings. So don’t believe
it. Reality television is not real, and reality show celebrities are not
proper role models for social behavior. If you display these behaviors at work, you are likely to be escorted to the nearest exit.