Here’s how to win at a job interview by making the interviewer like you

The ability to create pictures in the minds of other people is one the most amazing skills we humans possess, and understanding how it works can help you win at a job interview.

Many people who win at a job interview don’t win because they were the best person for the job but because they were best liked.

Not fair, perhaps, but true.

It is the person who builds the strongest rapport with the job interviewer who wins. In Sweaty Palms: The Neglected Art of Being Interviewed, Anthony Medley tells the story of a candidate who turned up for a job interview for a secretarial position. She had a typing speed of 90 words per minute and a shorthand speed of 120 words. She was well presentable, had good references and was well suited for the job but aside from turning up 10 minutes late, she kept calling him Mr Melody instead of Mr Medley.

He didn’t like that.

“The two main things I remembered is that she kept me waiting and constantly mispronounced my name,” he said. “I finally offered the job to someone whose typing speed and shorthand were not nearly as good.”

We’re odd creatures, us humans, but our brains are wired to make us recoil from stuff we don’t like. I have often said, interviews are won by the accumulation of such little things, not big ones.

To win at a job interview, bond

So how can we make the interviewer like us? Well, we need to create a bond. We do this by creating strong connections in the mind and it happens through the skill of empathy. Empathy is the skill that enables us to bond with another human being. It helps us see a situation from another person’s point of view, to feel their pain, sadness, joy or other emotion. It’s like standing in their shoes.

It’s different from sympathy, which says, ‘I feel sorry for you but we need to move on.’ Empathy says, ‘I feel your pain, how can I help?’ Emphatic people are good at connecting with others because they understand people well. We feel drawn to people who understand us, so to win at a job interview you need to look for ways to show you understand the interviewer.

Your brain, his brain and the mirror effect

When you speak to another person, say during an interview, their brain makes a connection by mirroring what is taking place in your brain. So, when you retell that story of how you miraculously rescued a failing sales pitch from impending disaster, just five minutes before the end, and in front of a roomful of hostile clients, your interviewer will get you.

Say the interviewer wants to know that you’re resilient, this will pretty much convince him by helping him to experience the same sense of urgency and panic you felt. He will feel the piercing eyes of those hard-faced clients, and he will feel your relief of victory; and all because when you retell the experience the same centres in your brain light up in his. Not only does it enable you to relive the experience but it also helps the interviewer to share in the experience you had. He will feel it as though it happened to him, and because of this he will remember the actual feeling long after he has forgotten the words you said.

This is why body language registers 90 per cent more powerfully than words. It is visual and so more effective at imprinting on the mind.

Of course, none of this is rocket science and when we think about it, it seems like commonsense but being aware of it can help a great deal when it comes to creating that connection you want with the interviewer.

If while you are speaking in your job interview you are creating pictures in the interviewer’s mind, then it makes sense to ‘mind’ what you say.

Next week I’ll share some practical tips on how to use this natural ability to create the bond you need to win at a job interview.

5 Ways to Think Like a Marketer and Sell Your Skills at a Job Interview

If you want to sell your skills at a job interview you must learn to think like a marketer, because marketing is the skill you need to sell all your other skills.

Whether you’re yet to graduate or have graduated already, the ability to market your skills is probably the most important skill you will ever acquire, so this week I want to share five ways to think like a marketer and sell your skills at a job interview.

Perhaps you are even good at it right now but don’t realise!

What exactly is marketing? Marketing is the act of promoting and selling a product or service people want. In your case, you are selling skills an employer needs to solve a problem: how will you do that?

Here are five ideas to help you think like a marketer and to sell your skills both on your CV and at a job interview:

1). Make it clear you have the solution.

The first thing you need to make sure is that your potential employer knows that what you have is what he or she is looking for. This is where you pay close attention to the job advert and, as accurately as you can, match your skills to the skills the company is looking for. It may seem obvious but a surprising number of jobseekers don’t do this. They talk about what they like rather than what is relevant.

2). Make the message strong.

In marketing, it is important to work out a right price. You can look at this as meeting the entire range of skills listed across the person specification, both essential (a must) and preferable. The more of them you have, of course, the stronger your application will be – but what about also looking closely at each skill? How can you make your description of each one more compelling? Factors like the number of years’ experience using the skill can help. Perhaps you had a part time job or helped an aunt by babysitting while you were still at school. It also helps if you’ve used the skill in a senior position, perhaps as a project leader. The more developed a skill is in you the more compelling it will register in the mind of the interviewer.

3). It’s all about people.

Whatever type of job role you go for bear in mind that the main skill behind everything a company does is communication – and the reason why is because we are dealing with people. All great marketers know this. They know how to bond well with others. This may include being a very good listener; having a clear speaking voice and being able to use it to explain things simply; good use of body language when you speak (using your hands and facial expression in a way that aids your ability to get your message across); and understanding that people like to feel noticed, so you interact and engage with them while speaking. Perhaps you’re good at making people feel comfortable, or you have a calm persona that places you at an advantage when dealing with difficult or angry people.

Try to emphasize areas where you have learnt to work well with other people, even if you think they aren’t that important. Whether your job involves face-to-face contact with others or not communication and people skills are important.

4). Maximize the details.

Marketers are good at identifying and working out details that can be emphasized. In this case, skills acquired through interests, hobbies, travel and voluntary work tend to sing out on your CV but many jobseekers miss this.

Employers love to see that you have a wide and varied set of skills that you’ve acquired outside of set academic routes. The very fact that you have them reveals a lot about the type of person you are – energetic, go-getter, out-of-the-box thinker, social, etc. The ability to speak another language is increasingly desired by employers since most companies now have global operations via their online presence. Playing games like chess or Monopoly, especially if you play regularly or in a tournament of some kind, can reflect an ability to think strategically, work well with others or to be able to stick with tasks. Researchers list skills such as competition, cooperation, decision making, emotional intelligence, planning and reflective thinking all as attributes that can be developed from playing board games. You can also develop them by getting involved with sports and with other social activities. Such interests help you learn to deal with mistakes, develop self-control and to defer gratification, so if you play them don’t leave off from talking about them on your CV or in the interview room.

5). Don’t forget to be creative.

The other area to exploit is the marketer’s creative ability. Creativity is the ability to see new connections where you didn’t notice them before. It’s about combining two or more things to create a new outcome or perspective, so where have you done that in your life? It may not be in a work setting – perhaps you love to make up your own recipes or you have some unusual ways of recycling what most people consider garbage. Dig out stories about your creative skills and use them to market yourself.

There you have them, five ways to think like a marketer and sell your skills at a job interview.

Soft skills don’t grow on trees: you must work to develop them

Soft skills don’t grow on trees. You must work at them.  No, really work because, like trees, soft skills take time to grow.

In my last blog, I explained the three things you must do to develop your soft skills while still at university. In this blog, I want to focus on the process of developing soft skills and the mindset you should have while acquiring them.

  1. Be patient.

    Give yourself time to develop the soft skills you need. If at first you don’t succeed – or nothing seems to be happening – keep at it. An irate customer or difficult colleague caught you off guard? Can’t wrap your head around those complex ideas? It happens to all of us. Just get back on track as soon as you can. University of British Columbia brain researcher Dr Lara Boyd says “increased struggle leads to more learning and greater structural changes in the brain”. So, when we find something particularly difficult it is a good sign we are going in the right direction. Your brain is working, first to create the chemical connections required for short term memory, and then the functional and structural neural connections required for long term memory. Don’t give up just because it’s hard or slow.

  1. Be attentive.

    Take notice of what is happening in your environment. Although things can happen quite quickly at work, try to notice learning as it is happening or learning opportunities as they arise. Do you need to be resilient, show empathy or to use your initiative? Are you missing out on the opportunity to learn from that difficult teamwork situation that has just arisen? Notice the tensions, anxieties or uncertainties as they are good indications your brain is attempting to make a connection here. Manage those emotions and situations to your advantage.

  1. Be reflective.

    You must also reflect on learning after it has happened. Monitoring one’s learning helps more than people often think. Not only does it test what you know but it also provides invaluable inspiration that will motivate you to keep going whenever you have an off day. Jot it all down in your notebook as evidence of progress. It will also help you understand how you learn best.

  2. Be progressive.

    Look for ways to keep improving your skills. Think of the muscle-builder. He or she keeps adding increasingly heavier weights to help the (specific) muscle get stronger and stronger. Do the same with your soft skills. In fact, in Talent is Overrated: What Really Separates World-Class Performers from Everybody Else, Geoff Colvin makes the case that this is the difference. Most professionals never move beyond a standard level of proficiency because once they feel they have reached a stage of knowing enough they switch off learning. Be different. Never stop.

  1. Be open-minded.

    Feed your soft skills from a wide range of sources. A tree doesn’t survive and grow by water alone but also by absorbing sunlight and nutrients from the soil. It needs all three to produce the energy it needs to grow. Likewise, look around for a variety of methods and sources to provide energy to the development of your soft skills. For example, use books, videos and podcasts alongside your practice. Approach your understanding of each soft skill from a different perspective. Be creative. The more you do this, the stronger and quicker the neural connections in your brain will develop. And you will soon see the long-term acquisition of the soft skills you desire.

Do these 3 things to develop your soft skills while still at university and employers will thank you for it

The only way to successfully compete for a graduate job is to develop your soft skills while you are still at university.

Education is not just about acquiring knowledge but also about developing the person you are. Agree? Good, then you’re on the same page as employers when it comes to views on how critical it is to develop your soft skills while still at university.

Employers believe education must also develop your character. It must develop the attributes and attitudes that guide the way you interact with and respond to people and events. Education doesn’t teach you these things but creates opportunities for you to develop them. Consequently, it is possible to go through university and never acquire the right skills at all. This, employers have been saying for many years, is much to your disadvantage.

Why is that so? The main reason is because every year, about 450,000 new graduates swarm onto the UK job market where there are already over 1,000,000 graduates with five years or less experience. A fair number of them will be just as, if not more, knowledgeable and qualified in their subject matter as you are. They will be also going after the same graduate jobs. The only way to differentiate between you and another equally qualified candidate is by your soft skills.

On top of that, soft skills are what help you hit the ground running. When you first start a job, you’ve a lot to learn about the role, company and industry. You don’t just walk into a job today and become an expert at it tomorrow, so you need something else: soft skills. They determine how quickly you learn the ropes, connect with colleagues, clients and bosses and generally get good at the job.

So, to get a graduate job and make it in today’s workplace, you need to do 3 things:

  1. Demonstrate evidence of soft skills.
  1. Understand and articulate what these skills are.
  1. Show what you did at university and during any internships to acquire them.

You must begin as soon as possible, preferably during your first year at university if not before. I suggest you buy yourself a notebook or diary to record your progress – it’s easy to forget events that may prove useful for swaying an interview your way: they are won on such small differences.

Demonstrate evidence of soft skills – what are they

I found the following description of soft skills by the Jubilee Centre very handy. It describes them as ‘a set of personal traits or dispositions that produce specific moral emotions, inform motivation and guide conduct’. It then divides them into the following four categories:

  • moral virtues: like courage, honesty, humility, empathy
    and gratitude;
  • intellectual virtues: like curiosity and critical thinking;
  • performance virtues: like resilience, application
    and self-regulation; and,
  • civic virtues: like acts of service and volunteering.

Understand and articulate what these skills are

Okay, now you have your notebook and a knowledge of what these skills are. Work at them (see below) and practice talking about them so that it comes natural to you when it counts. Make notes in your diary about what you did to acquire them. Think about the process – how difficult it was at first and how you eventually succeeded. What did you learn and what would you do differently next time?

Developing soft skills isn’t like acquiring a list of individual items you tick off. Many work together, overlap and can be developed simultaneously during a single event (i.e. organising an awareness day), which you then strengthen by repeating over and again.  All it takes is a bit of awareness of the situations, events and people you encounter each day.

Show what you did at university and during any internships to acquire them

Look for opportunities to lead projects and people. Lots of people shy away from project work because they see it as something that gets in the way of ‘real’ academic work. They don’t want the headache of managing deadweight and lazy team members who come with a bucketful of issues and sulk when they can’t get their own way – but that’s the whole point. Working with your difficult peers mirrors the scenarios you’ll encounter at work. Welcome these as opportunities to develop skills such as perseverance, patience and problem solving. It’s all great material for use in the job interview room.

Travelling is a great way to learn about the diversity and cultures of the world but the next best way is to take an active interest in the people around you. Be curious about viewpoints, etiquette and behaviours that may help or hinder effective communication.

Are there opportunities to volunteer at university? Get involved in the student rag, student union, open days and so forth. Don’t limit yourself only to events connected with your course, subject or department but find out what’s happening elsewhere.

Okay, finally, if there aren’t any opportunities, create them. Don’t wait for stuff to fall into your lap. Demonstrate initiative and come up with ideas yourself. Look around your environment for a problem to solve. Lunchtime queues too long? Freshers not well supported? Do your peers lack motivation? Are they struggling to manage finances or unduly suffering from stress? Do something about it. Start a petition. Make stuff happen. Do these things to develop your soft skills while you are still at university and employers will thank you for it.