Thursday, November 15, 2012

The 5 most obvious mistakes made in job interviews

Our blog has moved. You will find this blog post and fresh content on our new Global Engineering Jobs blog.
Last month we focused on resumes and the importance of building effective written introductions to your experience and skill set.

This month, across our various channels, we’re going to be talking about the importance of interviews, the most regularly made mistakes and the potential that a well structured interview offers for both sides of the table.

During my years in recruiting, HR and marketing in the staffing industry, I’ve interviewed hundreds of people. I’ve always considered it to be the most important hour of the hiring process; while resumes can misrepresent things and offers can be accepted or declined – It is the first meeting, between the two people who could end up working together that will get to the heart of the real potential and pave the way for future employment.  

As a starting point for this month’s discussions, I’m offering the first of the five biggest mistakes made by interviewers and candidates, with advice from all three perspectives.

Mistake #1 - The First Impression Trap

The evidence suggests that human beings give far too much credence to the immediate emotional responses triggered in meeting someone. The legendary ‘first impression.’ We make a basic decision about whether we like someone or not almost immediately; while this reaction can be reversed, we often begin to act upon it in a way that makes a reversal less likely. If you want the science, read about the amygdala hijack and the role of the neo cortex. For our purposes it’s best to accept the brain's physical and chemical reactions and focus on what happens next.

For Interviewers:

Here’s the crux – studies suggest that if you like someone you ask them easier questions and their easier answers reinforce your positive perception. If you take an instant dislike to someone, you tend to ask tougher questions and use their relative difficulty in answering them to solidify your negative impression.

Awareness of the problem will help. You should make a conscious effort not to allow your emotional response to guide you, at least in question setting.  A consistent set of questions fixed in advance will help you stay on track. You should also keep a clear thought in your head throughout the process. ‘I owe this person the whole of the time I have allotted to create an impression on me.’ They might come back strong – you must give them the chance to do that if you want to get the most from the process. It’s your time, don’t waste it going through the motions after a rushed decision, when you could be constantly resetting your impression and allowing for something to surprise you and change the game.

For Candidates:

You should assume that the vast majority of interviewers will be oblivious to the dangers of their immediate conclusions. You should put every effort into making a strong first impression.

When I was a young recruiter in London, we used a system called magic wand – a set of instructions for candidates that we believed would statistically increase their chances of getting hired. This is nothing to do with dressing appropriately, or shaking hands with eye contact or anything else any applicant for any job should take for granted. These are slightly less obvious tips.

Don’t settle down in reception.
If you do your immediate first impression will be of someone trying to clamber out of a sofa and reach for your bag. If you’re on your feet, bag in hand, you look prepared and ready for action, you will meet your interviewer face to face.

Have small talk prepared.
A lot of key time can be spent between the elevator and the interview room. The days of secretaries doing all the work are long behind us. If you come to interview with me, it’s going to be me who meets you in reception; this is true of hiring managers and executives all over the US., particularly on engineering jobs, where an all hands on deck mentality prevails.

Compliment something
Positive remarks about the building / area or anything else are a good, simple way to make a first impression. Keep it realistic, if the building is shabby and in a terrible area, you’re unlikely to get away with – ‘Wow, this is such a nice building.’ But if you can, you should. Any kind of positive comment on their working environment will contribute to first impressions. “How’s that little Italian restaurant on the corner? It looks great.”

Say Yes.
Just say yes to things. If you’re offered water, say yes – even if you don’t want it. Saying yes to things creates a positive atmosphere. A glass of water also provides that vital extra three seconds of thinking time before you answer a question. You can’t just sit there staring into space for a moment while you gather your thoughts, but you can take a nice slow sip on a glass of water without anybody noticing the break.

There are more of these, but these are the ones that affect first impressions. The more of these things you do, the more likely you are to get that good start, and if you do, you could find the questions getting easier as your interviewer starts to work with you.

For Recruiters, who are sending candidates for Interviews, you would do well to acquaint yourself with these tools so you can pass them on. Preparing your candidate properly for their interview is a vital part of the agent’s role. A good agent gives both their customers the best chance of success. It’s in everyone’s interests that the interview be productive and that the right candidate doesn’t lose out on an opportunity they were a god match for because of poor interview technique.

When we talk about best fit talent, this is what we mean. The engineering recruiter’s job isn’t to find the world’s greatest professional, it’s to find the best person to fit the job that’s on offer. Part of this endeavour includes getting them through the physical process of hiring and helping them to shine. If you’re just sending your candidates to interviews with a date and time, you’re not doing enough for them or your client. You should focus most of your attention during the recruiting process on the interview.

Interviews are where jobs are won and lost, roles are filled or left unfilled and recruiter targets are hit or missed. Whatever your role in the process, you’re not alone. Everyone wants this interview to end in a successful hire, make sure you’re doing your part to make that happen. Don’t lose a perfectly good hire in the First Impression trap.

Next Week - Part Two  – More Interview Mistakes

Some questions for comments: What are the most common mistakes you’ve seen? How do you think people can make interviews easier on themselves and others?

Richard Spragg writes about engineering and construction jobs, and business advice in staffing and recruitment