Friday, July 16, 2010

The best piece of interview advice I've ever read or heard

Recently, I've been reading the book 59 Seconds: Think a Little, Change a Lot by Richard Wiseman. If you can find it at a bookstore or library, I highly recommend it. It's a great book, well researched and easy to read. One of the chapters deals with persuasion, and in that chapter Wiseman describes what researchers have found can make all the difference in a job interview: likeability. In the book, he quotes a study where interviewers for a particular job said that they generally hire based on qualifications and on work experience. However, when the interviewers completed surveys on their candidates' traits and qualities and whether they'd be hired, the choice ultimately came down to whether the candidate was a pleasant person. Would this person get along with others at the office? Would they be a decent human being to work with?

That's not to say that you can get a job if you have a sparkling personality but you're totally unfit for the position--you do still have to have some of the other traits a company is looking for. But just being pleasant in an interview can make all the difference between you and a slew of other folks vying for the same spot. Being pleasant isn't necessarily smiling all the time; that's a sign of mental illness. But it does mean smiling appropriately, making eye contact, asking the interviewer questions, and even complimenting the other person and their company. It can also include small talk about things that are related to a job ("You just did a project in Chicago? That's a great city--my aunt lives there. Did you get to visit much while working on the project?) as well as things not related to the position or even your career ("Oh, the traffic on Parker Road is terrible in the afternoons. That's why I take Evans Avenue instead--plus it gives me an excuse to stop by this wonderful little pastry shop on the way for a late-day latte and their hazelnut scones!")

Being pleasant, polite, and amicable in your dealings with others doesn't just help you get a position with a company--it can help you get a project with a client, and it can help you get good work out of consultants. Polite chatting can forge connections between people, and it makes you more human. Instead of just looking like an architect going after a project, you look like a real human being who would be fun to work with for the next two years. Talking to and with consultants like you actually care about other people (and you do have to ask sincere questions, like "how was your vacation? where did you go? is it as humid as everyone says it is?", by the way--this cannot be faked) acknowledges the humanity in your colleagues and makes them more likely to respond to your requests in a favorable and timely manner. Pleasantness breeds pleasantness, and a little can go a long way.

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