| Sweaty Palms |
By H. Anthony Medley
Genre: Business & Money
(The buy button will take you to the standard print edition of this book at Amazon.com. From there you will be able to see if the book is also available in large print or audio.)
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 resumé, 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. Conversely, pathos without ethos and logos won’t be enough by itself. You need all three, but of the three, pathos is the most important.
The basic goal of an interview for selection is to determine personality traits. As will be explained later, there are two basic types of interviews. The selection interview is the one by the person who can make a hire, no-hire decision. But there is often a screening interview, which determines if you should be interviewed by the selection interviewer. In Successful Salesmanship Paul Ivey breaks the personality of a good salesman into four categories. The first is enthusiasm, which is so important that all of chapter 4 is devoted to it. The other three are sincerity, tact, and courtesy.
Sincerity goes hand in hand with enthusiasm. If you generate a phony enthusiasm for something, such as a job about which you know nothing, two judgments may be made, both negative. First, the interviewer may conclude that you’re so hard up for a job that you’ll take anything, and he may reject you on that basis. Or he may conclude that your enthusiasm is insincere, which indicates dishonesty. Dishonesty, whether it derives from lying or insincerity, can be grounds for immediate termination of consideration. For this reason you should reserve your enthusiasm for something in which you are sincerely interested.
Ivey’s third facet of personality is tact. Many good interviewers will bring up a controversial subject or interject stress into an interview by saying something with which they know you’ll disagree. How you handle this situation is a main test of the interview.
To disagree tactfully, you must first indicate understanding of, and respect for, your interviewer’s position, then you can go on to disagree. For example, you might say, “Yes, I see what you mean, but . . . ,” or “That’s a good point. On the other hand . . .” If the communication of understanding and respect does not precede the disagreement, your answer will not have been tactful.
The fourth aspect in Ivey’s analysis of the personality traits required of a good seller is courtesy. A lack of courtesy will probably be disastrous to the interview. You can be discourteous to the interviewer in many ways: in the way you dress, in the way you speak, in the way you ask questions, in the way you stand and sit, in the way you shake hands. If you arrive late for an interview dressed in a slovenly or unkempt manner, you are showing a lack of courtesy. If you slouch or are inattentive, your lack of courtesy will be noted. The use of profanity or telling of obscene jokes might also be received as a lack of courtesy.
Courtesy is consideration of the feelings of others. Unfortunately, society today seems to be moving in the direction where a lack of courtesy is the norm. “Doing your own thing” implies a disregard of one’s obligations to others. If you are a truly courteous person, you will think of how your actions will affect others before you act. Displaying a lack of this consideration will not result in “admiration” for your “independence.” Rather, it may result in your leaving the impression of being a boor and could terminate any chance you might have had for further consideration.
In addition to Ivey’s four points, I would add a few tips of my own, all of which come under the general heading of keeping the interviewer’s attention.
Keeping the Interviewer’s Attention
Boredom is invariably an element of interviewing. If you add to the boredom, you’re putting nails in your coffin. Shortly after John F. Kennedy was elected president, he decided upon a farm leader to be his secretary of agriculture and invited the candidate to his Georgetown apartment for an initial interview. “It was so boring,” he said later, “and the living room was so warm, that I actually fell asleep.” The candidate was quickly rejected.
An interviewer will ask the same questions of people with similar interests and backgrounds and receive the same answers. One of the better techniques of good interviewing is to break that boredom and routine by getting interviewers to talk about something that interests them.
If you talk intelligently about something in which the interviewer is concerned, he will be more interested in you. Interviewers are like everyone else: They are selfish, and their own concerns are paramount in their minds. If you show a genuine interest in these concerns and can discuss them intelligently, the interest in you will be sparked. You need to be careful, though. If you are unable to communicate your interest with sincerity, the likely consequence will be a loss of confidence in you, and you’ll be worse off than when you started.
Pay strict attention to how you are being received by the interviewer. If you determine that interest is lagging, there are a few tricks you can use to bring it back around. First, you can vary the tone of your voice (for example, by lowering it or making it louder). Television advertisers often do this by making commercials louder than the show they sponsor. Theoretically, this change in tone beckons and makes viewers more attentive to something they may have little desire to hear.
You can also vary the tempo at which you speak (by speeding it up or slowing it down). Essentially, any change that you make from the manner in which you had been speaking will act as a lure to bring the interviewer’s attention back from its wandering. You must capture and retain the interviewer’s interest, or the remainder of the interview will be a mere formality and you’ll probably be rejected.
What you do with that attention once you capture it will determine whether your interview is going to be successful. If, for example, you convince the interviewer that you don’t have the experience for the job or the skills required or that your personality is abrasive or bland, you’re no better off than you were before you walked in the door.
Once you have captured his attention, you must continue selling yourself and create the desire in the interviewer to have you as an employee.
Paul Ivey says:
Desire . . . rests on conviction; and the former cannot be created without the latter. . . . The intelligent salesman adjusts his sales talk to the customer’s system of beliefs; his ideas enter the customer’s mind unpercepted because they are so similar to the customer’s own ideas. There is no customer-resistance, but rather customer-assistance. There is agreement instead of disagreement.
Your preparation and perception thus become important. If you have researched the interview (in ways discussed in the next chapter), you know enough to make some initial judgments as to what kind of person you will be encountering. If you know his background, you may be able to make some intelligent guesses as to his interests and beliefs. But before you act on these assumptions, you must make some evaluations during the initial part of the interview. And if you’re coming into the interview with no advance preparation, these early evaluations will be all that you have to go on.
If you can get the interviewer to reveal something personal early in the interview, you can reinforce or verify some of your assumptions before you act on them. The first part of the interview is often a jousting period in which you feel each other out. What you must realize is that the interviewer probably assumes that you are the typical interviewee who will meekly sit and wait for him to conduct the interview. Therefore, he will not be prepared for subtle probes.
You must take your cue from the interviewer. If he starts boldly by asking questions and gives you no signal that personal queries will be entertained, you have to wait until the time is propitious. On the other hand, if he is relaxed, self-confident, and interested, you don’t have to worry too much. And if you can get him to talk about himself with interest, you will have several advantages. First, this will give you information you can use as the interview progresses. Second, everyone likes to talk about themselves, and if you’re interested and communicate that interest, the positive feelings you’re trying to create will be enhanced. Third, you’ll have a better chance to find areas of common interest to pursue and areas of possible conflict to avoid.
If you get the chance, and he seems to invite it, ask a few personal questions. Is he married? Does he have children? Play tennis or golf? Listen to Bach, oldies, Eminem, or Celine Dion? Ever been to Katmandu? If you can discover something in common, you will be way ahead of the game.
Some interviewers can react negatively to such probing, so you have to do it in a natural, conversational way. But just think. How would you feel if the highlight of your life was when you ice-skated on the Bering Strait and suddenly you’re interviewing someone who did the same thing? Would you be inclined to offer her a job? Is grass green?
If you are unable to penetrate the shield, you can still make some educated guesses about the interviewer’s orientation and proceed on that basis. For example, if you submitted your resumé in advance and were then called in for an interview, you can safely assume that the interviewer has already determined that you are qualified for the position, based upon the data you provided. You may then verify and amplify the facts on your resumé by detailing specific experience and skills.
You can also assume that the interviewer knows what he wants out of the position, and you may ask how he views the position and what tasks it entails. After discussing this you can describe your experience and skills to exact specifications.
It’s important that you get some kind of job specification from the interviewer early in the interview so that you can key what you can accomplish to what he wants accomplished. If you get into a detailed discussion of your skills and experience before you’ve had a chance to probe what he’s looking for, you’re adrift on a sea of unknowns.
Some interviewers will tell you something about the job before they start questioning you, but most won’t. Most interviewers are inwardly oriented, just as are most interviewees, and they may not really focus on the interviewee. They may be thinking instead about asking the right questions in the interview. Therefore, if you can easily segue into questioning him about the position early on, you may discover some valuable keys that you can use to guide the rest of the interview and create the realization that you are the right person to fill the position.
When the Interviewer Identifies with You
If you can strike a responsive chord in the interviewer by having him conclude that the two of you think alike, you will have gone a long way toward creating the feeling in him that can result in an offer, as the following incident illustrates.
Robert A. Lovett was described by David Halberstam in The Best and the Brightest as “the symbolic expert, representative of the best of the breed . . . a man of impeccable credentials, indeed he passed on other people’s credentials, deciding who was safe and sound, who was ready for advancement and who was not.” Charles B. “Tex” Thornton was the founder, chairman of the board, and chief executive officer of Litton Industries, the pioneer conglomerate, a man of immense wealth and power and at one time the nominal chief of staff of the captains of industry in the United States.
One day in 1941 these titans met for the first time. Lovett was then assistant secretary of war and Thornton was a twenty-seven-year-old, $4,600-a-year statistician for the U.S. Housing Authority in Washington. Young Thornton had written a report that had interested Lovett, and Lovett wanted to meet him. Thornton had telephoned for an appointment, then found himself waiting in Lovett’s outer office long after the appointed time. He was finally about to leave when Lovett’s secretary persuaded him to wait a few minutes longer, an act that Thornton later said changed the whole course of his life.
Lovett did arrive, and he and Thornton talked. The more the youthful Thornton spoke, the more Lovett liked him. Lovett was a banker who had a love affair with figures, and Thornton talked of numbers as if they were a language of their own. This impressed Lovett immensely. Here was a man in his own mold! Not only that, but Thornton was not intimidated by Lovett’s authority. Lovett was looking for such a person.
Thornton was prepared. He spoke the technical language, and he revealed that he knew what he was talking about. He was respectful of the man and the office of Lovett but was not intimidated by them. He communicated his respect in himself so that he was not obeisant, meeting Lovett as an intellectual equal. Thornton ignited a feeling in Lovett, and Lovett hired him. From that point, Thornton was associating with the powers that ran the World War II logistical effort. He built a reputation that enabled him to negotiate a lucrative contract for himself and several colleagues with Hughes Aircraft after the war and finally left Hughes to found Litton and his own fortune. He traces his success to this interview with Lovett. Had he not impressed Lovett sufficiently, the world may never have heard of Tex Thornton.
Lovett later said that Thornton reminded him of himself in the way he spoke about figures. Thornton came across in the interview as a man of unusual intellectual capacity, but having Lovett identify so personally with Thornton was the essential element in the entire interview.
If you can make an interviewer see another him in you, you will have won him over.
Lovett saw that Thornton thought as he did and identified with him. Without question Lovett made a conclusion based upon the “halo effect” of this feeling. (The halo effect is discussed in chapter 15.) Thornton continued to perform, but this one impression that he created during the interview got him his chance.
Think about the Interviewer
We all think about ourselves, and the interviewer is no exception. Maybe he doesn’t have the same insecurities that you have—you may be worrying about how you look, whether your palms are sweaty, whether your voice will crack—but he’s thinking about himself all the same. He might be worried about his job or making the plane that night. Or the problem may be an ill child, an unfaithful spouse, or an argument with the boss. There may be a million things on the interviewer’s mind other than you.
Whatever his thoughts, there’s a good possibility that he’s not thinking what you think he’s thinking. He’s not taking you apart piece by piece in his mind, coolly evaluating your every movement. But there you are worrying about yourself and your sweaty palms, and there he is thinking about something else. In fact, the interviewer may indeed have the same insecurities that you have. He may not have conducted many interviews and be worried that he’s going to make a fool of himself. He may even be worried that his palms are sweaty. Or, worse, if he is really inexperienced, he may feel that he won’t be able to think of anything to say and there will be gaps of silence.
So don’t think about yourself so much. If, instead, you go into the interview thinking about the interviewer, you will relieve yourself of the tremendous tension that most interviewees feel about an interview. You will feel that you have some control of the situation and a plan of attack.
Preparation of the Interviewer
Don’t delude yourself into thinking that your interviewer is totally and completely prepared for this interview and knows exactly what he wants and how to get it. Far from it. You have to realize how people approach things and, especially, how people approach meetings. Generally, they don’t prepare, and they hope to get out of them as quickly and easily as possible. This was true in 1978 when Sweaty Palms first came out, and it’s true today.
You don’t believe me? Listen to what William Goldman, Academy Award-winning screenwriter, has to say in his autobiography, Adventures in the Screen Trade (Warner Books, 1983):
You have no idea how often I’ve had creative meetings about a script, only to realize half an hour in that the producer or executive hasn’t read my script at all. . . . I had one meeting with the late Steve McQueen, involving a Western I’d written that, he told me over the phone, he liked a lot and could we meet?
We met, and the then director of the project, Don Siegel, was also present. And this is about how it went:
MCQUEEN:I want a campfire scene where the two guys get drunk and talk about the old days.
SIEGEL:He’s got that—I think it’s fine.
MCQUEEN:I don’t mean that kind of campfire scene, I mean a campfire scene.
We met like that for several hours and I still don’t know why. But it was madness. Here I was, closeted with these two men whose work I’ve admired for years, and McQueen kept going on and on about things that he wanted in the script that were already in the script, and Siegel tried to do his best. I just sat there, nodded, took notes, prayed for it all to end.
Steve McQueen had a meeting with two giants of the movie industry, Don Siegel and William Goldman, and he wasn’t just partially prepared, he was totally unprepared. You think your interviewer is going to spend a lot of time preparing for you? Maybe, but the odds are, he won’t.
Who Controls the Interview?
At the outset, interviewers can be expected to control the flow of the interview (although, as we will shortly see, you can take control of that, too). Some may begin by asking general questions to ease your nervousness and will then move on to more specific questions about areas in which they are interested that are not covered on your resumé. But, although the interviewer initially controls the flow of the interview, the interviewee controls the content. After all, an interview generally consists of an interviewer asking questions and you answering them. What you do with the questions is up to you. Thus you should go into the interview knowing the points you want to cover—for example, your achievements.
If you run into a situation where the interviewer is insecure and unsure of himself, try to make the interview go as smoothly as possible for him. If you do and you control the interview to the extent that there are no gaps and you say what you want to say, you will probably have conducted a very good interview.
As a law student I once entered an interview room at the end of a warm spring day, and the interviewer was standing with his back to me staring out the window. It was obvious that he was bored to tears. He had had twenty-five interviews with students who were carbon copies of one another, and he had a few more to go with the same monotonous questions and answers.
I had just heard some news on the radio, so before he could start his routine of questions, I asked, “Did you hear that Khrushchev was overthrown?”
His eyes lit up, and we spent several minutes talking about the Soviet Union, which we had both visited. Suddenly, his routine was broken, and right off the bat we had something in common. I was invited to see his firm, and although I didn’t take a job with them, the interview was a success because I thought about breaking his boredom rather than worrying about whether my pants were pressed.
There is an ebb and flow in any conversation. The wise interviewee will take advantage of knowing this. During the interview you should be sensitive to the direction the interviewer is taking. Mao Tse-tung was one of the great military commanders. He coined four slogans, based upon the writings of Sun Tzu, and you would do well to remember them and act upon them in your interview:
1. When the enemy advances, we retreat!
2. When the enemy halts, we harass!
3. When the enemy seeks to avoid battle, we attack!
4. When the enemy retreats, we pursue!
These are rules that, if followed, allow you to take control of the interview without the interviewer’s knowledge! In 1963 UCLA’s basketball team took control of the world of collegiate basketball and didn’t let go for twelve years, during which time it won ten NCAA championships. It won its first two national championships by employing a full-court zone press the entire game. For those of you who aren’t familiar with basketball, this means that UCLA guarded their opponents over the entire court rather than just under their defensive basket, for the whole game.
Why? Most people thought it was because they were short and quick and they wanted to pressure the offense and cause turnovers. That’s what it looked like. That’s what the sportswriters and sportscasters thought. That’s what the fans thought. But that wasn’t what it was all about.
Pete Newell was a coach for the University of California in the late 1950s. He won one NCAA championship and was in the finals of another with talent that was laughable. Only one of his players, Darrell Imhoff, was good enough to play in the NBA. But Newell’s teams won. Newell, probably the most important thinker ever to coach basketball, said, “The team that controls the tempo controls the game.” So he slowed the tempo down, let his untalented players throw the ball around until they had the perfect shot, taught them to play exceptional defense, and they won and won and won.
John Wooden was UCLA’s coach, and Jerry Norman was his assistant. They knew that their team was short, nobody taller than six-five, but very fast. They were also all very good shooters. And they could run. They wanted a fast-tempo game. Against Stanford in a play-off game in the spring of 1963 they had employed a full-court man-to-man defense that slowed down the game considerably. Norman came up with the idea of throwing a full-court zone defense to see if that would speed up the tempo.
Sure enough, the zone defense, which placed four men in their offensive half of the court and only one man under their defensive basket, generally caused one of two things: A turnover would gave UCLA the ball in their offensive half of the court, or the opponents would break the zone and have an unbalanced two-on-one or three-on-one fast break, out of which they’d take a quick shot. It didn’t matter much if they made it or not, because what UCLA wanted was a quick shot so they could play an up-tempo game. The opposition didn’t figure this out for several years. In the meantime, UCLA won two consecutive national championships (with season records of 30-0 and 28-2) with a short, quick team that controlled the tempo.
That’s what you want to do in the interview: control the tempo. If you control the tempo, you’ll control the interview. Controlling the interview, however, doesn’t mean that you do most of the talking. What it does mean is that you control the ebb and flow of the interview. If the interviewer wants to regale you with stories, let him (when the enemy advances, we retreat). If he pauses, seemingly out of stories, take charge of the conversation by asking a question (when the enemy halts, we harass). If the interviewer is very quiet, seemingly at a loss for words, take over and talk about why you would be good for the job (when the enemy retreats, we pursue). Different interviewers have different styles, and you must be in tune with what’s going on. The point is that you allow the interviewer to proceed as he wants, but you are in control of the tempo. Even though he’s talking, if you’re aware of the tempo, you’re still in control.
A corporate executive friend of mine describes how he took control of an interview, despite contrary advice:
I was recruited by a longtime business acquaintance, who had been newly appointed as the president of the company, to interview with the founder. The president was brought in by venture capitalists to put a professional management team in place and take the company public. Since the founder was the majority stockholder, his word was final.
The president advised me to focus on the technical and military aspects of my experience because that’s what the founder looked for in the people he had hired in the past. That was troubling to me because they are my weakest areas.
As I was waiting, I decided to disregard the advice and put my best foot forward. If I tried to play to what he wanted to hear, I figured I’d run the risk of appearing weak, or, worse, if I pulled it off and got hired, I wouldn’t live up to the founder’s expectations.
To counter what I thought was coming and would expose my weaknesses, I decided to launch a preemptive strike in the interview. We started out with some chitchat, and I moved quicker than he did to getting to the interview. I told him I’d done some research on his company online and found it very confusing to define exactly what their business was. I took a stab, and he admitted he saw how one could be confused. He then explained the business, and I then summarized in very simple terms. I then took the discussion to strategy development and market positioning, my areas of strength.
In the course of the discussion, I mentioned the limitation of my technical and military experience but demonstrated how the level of understanding in these areas was enough to tackle the strategic issues without getting bogged down in detail.
In a nutshell I steered the interview away from what I did in the past to what I could do in the future. This strategy probably wouldn’t work where there’s a rigid set of requirements or a more formal interview process, but for a senior level position in an entrepreneurial setting, it did the trick.
This example illustrates many of the procedures you will learn in Sweaty Palms. My friend listened to the advice he was getting and analyzed it, but realized it was not the best way for him, personally, to approach the interview. He realized that he had to control the content of the interview from the get-go.
Since he had to do this before the founder started asking questions, he was the one to start the formal part of the interview, without being discourteous. In this way he steered the content of what he was saying and what the founder was learning away from his practical experience in what the company did to what he could do for the company in the future.
And how did he do this? By challenging the founder to explain exactly what it was that the company did and how it was set up. This required the founder to do a lot of the talking and allowed the candidate to ask questions and to tailor what he said, how he sold himself, to what the founder was telling him. This was nothing short of brilliant.
• Write down the time and place of the interview and the name of the interviewer.
• Arrive early for the interview.
• Bring a pen and notebook with you so that you can (1) jot down information during the interview if you are asked to do so and (2) write a synopsis of the interview immediately afterward.
• Remember the interviewer’s name.
• Don’t offer to shake hands unless the interviewer offers a hand first.
• Don’t chew gum.
• Wait for the interviewer to sit down or to invite you to seat yourself before you sit down.
• Present yourself as an honest person; do not try to hide anything.
• Remember that you’re selling yourself.
• Remember to combat the interviewer’s boredom.
• Be outwardly oriented.
• Get the interviewer to talk about himself early in the interview.
• Remember that your goal is to strike a good feeling in him about you.
• The interviewer will initially control the flow of the interview.
• You must control the content of the interview.
• Recognize the insecurities of the interviewer.
• If you go into the interview thinking about the interviewer, rather than yourself, you will relieve yourself of the tremendous tension that most interviewees feel about an interview.
• Keep the interviewer interested:
1. Talk intelligently about something in which he is interested.
2. You can vary the tone of your voice (for example, by lowering it or making it louder).
3. You can vary the tempo at which you speak (by speeding it up or slowing it down).
• It’s important that you get some kind of job specification from the interviewer early in the interview so that you can key what you can accomplish to what he wants accomplished.
• If you can strike a responsive chord in the interviewer by having him conclude that the two of you think alike, you will have gone a long way toward creating the feeling in him that can result in an offer.
• If you can make an interviewer see another him in you, you will have won him over.
• If you control the tempo, you’ll control the interview.
Excerpted from Sweaty Palms , by H. Anthony Medley . Copyright (c) 1978, 1985, 1992, 2005 by H. Anthony Medley . Reprinted by permission of Little, Brown and Company, New York, NY. All rights reserved.Back to top