Monday, November 26, 2012

The 5 most obvious mistakes made in job interviews - Part 2

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Mistake #2- Getting the Talking / Listening Balance Wrong

When all is said and done you’ll either win or lose in a job interview. Everyone involved in the process – on both sides of the table - should be attempting to win. If it’s a mutual win, great. If it’s just you who wins, that will do.

In most cases, the winner will be the person who listens most.

How do you ‘win’ at interviewing? Simple. You put yourself in the position where you have the decision making power as to what happens next.

If you’re the candidate, that means that the interviewer wants to hire you and you understand enough about the role to know whether or not you should take it. As an interviewer, that means that the candidate wants the job for sure, and you've learned enough about them to know whether you want to pull the trigger.

There are two mutual wins in interviewing. First, the right candidate is offered the job and they accept. Second, the wrong candidate is not offered the job and moves on to other things. 

To get to one of these mutual wins, you’re going to have to get the balance of talking and listening right. Interviews are a collaborative exercise - you can't drive a successful meeting entirely by yourself. You have to meet each other half way and share the burden of making the meeting flow. A meeting that's awkward and disjointed is highly unlikely to result in a mutual win.

Within this context, you will have a choice of listening and encouraging the other person to talk, or talking yourself. Try to come down on the side of listening.

Most people don’t listen with intent to understand; they listen with the intent to reply. says Stephen Covey, the late great business writer. Job interviews are especially prone to this behavior. From the candidate’s perspective, this is pretty reasonable. After all you’re there to be judged on your answers, it’s not surprising that you might spend the time when you’re not talking, thinking what to say next. Then you have your internal monologue to contend with – am I presenting myself well? Does she like me? How is this going? Will this help me find a job? With all of this going on, it’s not surprising that you might struggle to listen effectively. And listening is critical to the process you’re engaged in.

I’ve had countless candidates come back from interviews and say that they didn’t really talk much themselves – that the interviewer did most of the talking. He or she gave an extensive history of the company, talked about the team and their objectives. The candidate is usually worried at this point, because they tend to feel like they haven’t been given the chance to adequately impress the interviewer. They seem surprised when I tell them that this is a good thing. They are skeptical, but I know that the vast majority of people who find themselves in this position end up getting through to the next stage in the process.

Human beings are never happier than when someone is listening. Whether we are ego maniacs who want to inflict our opinions on people by making speeches to rooms full of people (or by writing blogs that amount to the same thing) or if we take pleasure in quietly telling our husbands and wives about the day we’ve had. The words you listen to me too much were never spoken by anybody ever. We want to be listened to; it is us being told that we matter, that what we have to say is important.

If we feel like someone is listening to us we tend to like them. We reflect their respect. All the more if we’re talking about something we’re passionate about. I swear I’ve been at dinner parties where some guy is rambling on for an hour about their latest project or interest. Whatever is exciting them. They talk and talk, and out of sheer politeness beyond all reasonable expectation – the curse of the British – I sit there and listen, nodding with interest at the right moments and occasionally intimating surprise or agreement wherever I feel like they need it. Later, the host will say to me –‘Oh Jerry said you and he were getting on very well, he really enjoyed your conversation.’ I chuckle. I barely said a word, but Jerry was so pleased to talk about his kid’s advanced placement program and so bursting with good feeling that he’d projected those feelings on to me. For all he knew I wanted to talk to him about applying Scientology principles to a new interpretation of Mein Kampf. But in his mind – I was someone he liked. And he had no basis for this. He was talking into a mirror. 

So as candidates for jobs if we prove ourselves good listeners, we’re likely to see the interviewer leave with a positive impression. Any sales person worth their salt will tell you that a good sales meeting is one where the prospect does most of the talking.

In a job interview situation, whichever side of the table you’re sat on, you need to make sure that you are listening enough to make it productive. (As always, we’re not talking about basics here – long protracted silences are bad, so are short answers and introverted refusal to let conversation flow – we will take some things as read.)

The point is that in a healthy conversational interview, you should always lean toward listening if you’re allowed to. Asking questions, showing genuine interest – these things will help to keep your interviewer talking, and if they’re enjoying talking to you, the chances are they’re liking you.

Good listeners win friends easily, they attract people to them and they take part in successful job interviews.

Nobody ever listened their way out of a job. 

Next Week - Part Three  – 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