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Chapter Eight

Career Psychology is copyright © Dan Joseph Cavicchio. All rights reserved. No part of this book may be republished, reproduced, or transmitted in any form without the prior written permission of the author. The material in this book is provided solely for informational and educational purposes. It does not substitute for professional counseling or therapy. Information in this book does not represent clinical advice for treatment of psychological disorders.


Chapter Eight
Interviews

In this chapter I'll be covering not only the traditional interview, but the entire flow of communication that takes place between submitting your application and receiving a job offer. Every exchange you have with a company is part of the process. Each "touch" can be important.

Interviewing for jobs can feel intimidating at times. Let me share what I tell my counseling clients: For many people, three of the most stressful experiences in life are first dates, public speaking, and... job interviews.

Because of that, I want to reassure you that it's OK to feel nervous during the interview process. It's normal and expected.

You don't have to come across as "cool" during an interview. You can simply try to be friendly and helpful. Those are the qualities that most companies are looking for—not some kind of slick smoothness.

The most challenging part of interviewing for most people is the fear of rejection, and the anxiety that comes with that. In this chapter, I will share a number of techniques from the world of cognitive behavioral therapy that can help to make the emotional aspects of the interview process easier.

For now, though, let me state once again: If you simply focus on being friendly and helpful during the interview process, good things will likely happen. Most organizations are not looking for cool characters. Instead, they're looking for kind people.

"But Dan, you have no idea!" some of my clients say. "I fall apart in interviews. I get completely flustered. My mind goes blank and the whole thing is terribly awkward."

Let me share that I have struggled with shyness and fears of disapproval throughout my own life. That is one of the reasons I became a therapist. It is also one of the reasons I enjoy recruiting—the process of constantly reaching out to people (and dealing with "rejection" every day) helps me to work with these tendencies.

So although I haven't been in your exact shoes, I've probably had some similar experiences to what you are fearing. In fact, many of my interpersonal encounters were probably as awkward and anxiety-filled as anything you're anticipating.

Can you guess what happened to me because of those awkward encounters? Not a whole lot. I didn't impress the person I was talking with, but so be it. There's always another encounter to be had.

Let me ask you to consider a scenario. If you were the owner of a small business, and you were interviewing two candidates, which of the following two people would you choose?

     Person A is honest, friendly, and somewhat nervous in an interview.

     Person B comes across as smooth and confident, but doesn't necessarily strike you as trustworthy and kind.

Which of those people would you want on your team? Who would you choose to hire?

Every business owner I know would choose Person A.

I share all this because interviewing is really about relationship-building. And relationships are built on authenticity and trustworthiness.

I don't want you to feel pressured to fight your emotions in an attempt to impress people and generate a specific image. Instead, I encourage you to simply focus on offering kindness, friendliness, and helpfulness. Most people will react very positively to that.

The First Interview

To begin this chapter, let me discuss what a typical interview process looks like. If you're new to job interviewing, or have been away from the job search for a while, this section will outline what you can expect.

The first person who responds to your job application will very likely be one of three people:

  1. a recruiter,
  2. a human resources generalist, or
  3. a hiring manager.

Let me describe each of these three people.

Recruiters like me are considered human resources "specialists." We do just one thing: We find people for job openings. We don't deal with other aspects of HR like benefits administration, workplace conflicts, or employee trainings.

Your first contact with a company might be a recruiter. If so, please know that our entire purpose is to fill jobs—and we would love it if you are the one for this role!

There are other people called human resources "generalists" who handle a broader array of responsibilities. These people are involved in recruiting, but not exclusively so.

Small companies can usually only afford a single HR staff member, so it's quite likely that a generalist will be the first person you talk to. Larger companies usually have recruiters on staff who will handle communication with you.

Neither recruiters nor HR generalists will make the ultimate decision about whether you will be hired. In most cases, we are simply focused on finding you, talking to you about the job opening, doing an initial interview, and then (if all goes well) introducing you to the person who you will end up working for.

That third type of person is known as the hiring manager. "Hiring manager" is just a term we use; that isn't the person's actual title. The hiring manager is the person who will be your supervisor. If you're in sales, this person might be the Director of Sales. If you're in manufacturing, this might be the VP of Manufacturing.

The hiring manager is the person who will make the actual decision about whether to offer you a job. It's her team, after all. We recruiters and HR generalists are simply helping this person to find qualified candidates.

In most companies, it's rare for a hiring manager to be your first contact. Usually the hiring manager prefers that we HR folks conduct initial interviews with people. In tiny companies, however, there may not be a human resources department at all—so your first contact might be directly with your new supervisor.

I highly recommend that you look up your initial contact person on LinkedIn and see who you're dealing with before you talk to her. If you're communicating with an HR professional, you may have a very different conversation than you would with a hiring manager.

Recruiters and HR generalists will have only a basic understanding of the job you applied for. The hiring manager, by contrast, is the expert at the job and knows exactly what she needs. Your conversations with each of us will be different in depth and scope.

If your first contact is with a recruiter or HR generalist, your goal can simply be to come across as friendly, answer any questions, and help us identify the matches between your skills and our job opening. Then we can turn to the hiring manager and say, "Hey, I found a wonderful candidate! He seems like a great guy, and he has these five specific things from the job description."

If you help us find the matches between your background and the job at hand, we will then happily pass your information on to the real decision maker.

The Next Steps

If things go well with the recruiter or HR generalist, then your resume will be sent on to the hiring manager.

This is where your resume receives a much deeper read. I myself may not understand the difference between C++14 and C++17 programming languages, but you can bet that the Director of Software understands those differences intimately!

She will likely be reading your resume slowly and carefully in an attempt to determine whether you might be a fit for her job. (This is the point at which all the bullets on your resume get read, not just the first one or two.)

Along with your resume, she will have notes from the HR person who just spoke with you. The original conversation you had with us is extremely helpful, as it lets us highlight the matches and give our initial impressions. But it's really up to her to decide whether your background and skills are a good match.

Often there will be some back-and-forth. For example, a hiring manager might say to me, "Dan, can you check with this candidate to make sure that he has used C++17 in an embedded environment? We need that embedded experience." In that case, I'll give you a quick call back and ask you that, along with any other questions.

If the hiring manager is confident that there may be a potential match, she will likely schedule an initial interview with you. This can be a phone interview, a video interview, or an in-person interview.

When you interview with the hiring manager, there are two primary questions that she will be asking herself:

  1. Can this candidate help me with my work?
  2. Would I enjoy working with this person?

That second question is very important! I cannot state strongly enough how many hiring decisions come down to interpersonal chemistry. Very few managers will hire someone who they feel emotionally disconnected to—regardless of how skilled the person might be.

I have spent countless hours discussing this with my clients. The emotional spark that a hiring manager feels when she talks with you will dominate almost every other element. If the hiring manger says to herself, "I really like this person! He seems like a great guy—friendly, helpful, enthusiastic," that will significantly increase your chances of moving toward an offer.

In order to facilitate the sense of connection, it's best to not blast the hiring manager with an aggressive sales-pitch about your skills. She will certainly ask you about your skills. You will have ample opportunity to answer any questions she has. But that is often secondary to the click of interpersonal chemistry.

Some of my counseling clients stop me at this point and say, "Dan, I'm not schmoozy. I don't know how to spark that chemistry."

I tell them that this spark isn't about charm or charisma. It's about whether you'll be a compatible team member.

Will you work well with others? Will you be helpful and supportive? Will you be able to resolve conflicts? Will you be trustworthy? Those are the things that most hiring managers are looking for—not charisma. A friendly spirit of helpfulness is far more important than charm.

If the initial interview with the hiring manager goes well, you may be invited back to meet several other people you'll be working with. These might be fellow team members, other managers, or (if you're a manager yourself) the people who will be reporting to you.

In this next round of interviews, all the things I mentioned are applicable. Each of the people you meet will be asking themselves, "Is this someone I would enjoy working with? Does he seem friendly and kind? Does he have the ability to help our team with his skills?"

In most companies, three rounds of interviews is usually the maximum. You might have an interview with a recruiter or HR generalist, then an interview with a hiring manager, and finally an interview with the rest of the team. Once you're at that third stage, you can generally assume that you're one of a few final candidates.

Having said that, each organization is unique. Some big tech companies and investment banks conduct as many as seven rounds of interviews, complete with flying candidates across the country multiple times. Other companies conduct group interviews at the first or second stage, in which you meet with several interviewers at the same time. There is no set formula.

No matter what the format is for the interviews, people will be assessing your skill-fit for the job, and also assessing whether they feel enthusiastic about the prospect of working with you.

If you keep your focus on being kind and helpful, you'll very likely make a very positive impression on the people you interview with. Developing this sense of interpersonal connection is more important than impressing them with your background.

Flipping the Script in Interviews

Let me revisit a theme that I introduced earlier. You may remember that I wrote about "flipping the script" in the job search chapter. I described shifting from a focus on getting a job to a focus on giving your gifts.

The same flip can help a great deal during interviews.

I encourage you to flip the script during the interview process, and shift from trying to get your interviewer's approval to simply giving helpfulness in an enthusiastic way. This can reduce a sense of anxiety and pressure. It can also simultaneously increase that interpersonal chemistry I referenced above.

Paradoxically, the less you focus on trying to impress your interviewer—and the more you simply focus on your desire to help her—the more likely you are to make a positive impression!

I've interviewed a number of candidates over the years who said something like, "Dan, I'd be delighted to help your company in this role. I believe I can be a great contributor. But if it turns out that I'm not the best fit, I'd be happy to recommend a few other people I know. I'd like to help you either way."

What a great statement! That approach is just bursting with helpfulness. Look at the language: "delighted to help," "be a great contributor," "happy to recommend a few other people," "help you either way."

As you can imagine, those people jump to the top of my list. They're not trying to impress me and sell me on themselves. They're simply trying to be helpful. Their helpfulness impresses me more than any sales-pitch they can make.

You too can flip the script, and approach every interview with a spirit of helpfulness. This will make a great impression. Even if you're not the ideal fit for this specific job, your interviewer will likely remember you. She may end up contacting you for an even better-fit position down the road.

Interviews are all about relationship building. Interviewers are looking for people whom they feel comfortable with—people they can trust to help them. Friendliness, helpfulness, enthusiasm, and authenticity go a very long way.

Forming Rapport

Let me go a bit deeper into the relationship-building process. Forming a sense of connection and rapport between yourself and your interviewer is one of the most crucial parts of the process.

As I mentioned, most hiring managers will make their ultimate hiring decisions based on how they feel. They might not be aware of this. They might even deny it, and swear that they're simply deciding based on "facts." But almost all decisions are heavily influenced by feelings.

Because of this, the most important thing you can do in an interview is to help the interviewer feel connected to you. This supersedes almost everything else.

Now, to be clear: I am not suggesting that you should try to manipulate your interviewer's emotions in order to "sell" them on yourself. Most people will see through manipulative tricks. That is why many people hate sales—they have had negative experiences with emotionally manipulative sales people, and know how uncomfortable that feels.

I am not recommending that you use anything I have shared in a manipulative way. Instead, I recommend that you simply focus on developing a connection with your interviewer. The goal is to help her see you as a trustworthy team member.

In order to develop rapport, let me suggest a basic approach that I share not only with my career counseling clients, but also with my clients who are in the process of dating. (After all, first dates are similar to job interviews!)

The basic rapport-building approach I recommend involves three phases that create a cycle:

  1. Point out commonalities between yourself and your interviewer.
  2. Share relevant information about yourself.
  3. Ask questions of her.

Many interviewers will begin by seeing you in a neutral way. The goal is to help your interviewer move from this neutral place to seeing you as a potential member of her team—her "community." That is why we start by finding commonalities.

When I am contacting candidates for open positions, I usually begin by doing a little research. I try to find one or two things I have in common with the person—even if they seem like silly little things. Then I lead off the conversation with those commonalities.

For example, I have had hundreds of conversations that started like this:

"Cole," I say, "thanks for chatting with me. By the way, I see that you worked for GE Capital in Connecticut. I used to live up on High Ridge Road in Stamford myself."

"Really? You're kidding! I lived next door in New Canaan," Cole says.

"Oh, there was a great sushi place in New Canaan with a little fish pond in the floor. We used to go there all the time. What was that called?"

The conversation goes on from there. But we now see each other as part of a community—the "used-to-live-in-Connecticut" community. This can be a great rapport-builder, even though it seems like a small connection.

Here's another example:

"Josephine," I say, "I appreciate you taking my call. By the way, did I see on LinkedIn that you did some volunteer work with a non-profit that helps coffee-growing communities?"

"Yes, I did. I helped them with some of their fundraising activities."

"What a small world," I say. "When I was in college, I helped a non-profit called Coffee Kids in Providence. I developed their newsletter and even wrote fundraising ads for them. They supported families of coffee growers around the world. I'm delighted to see that there are other non-profits doing that type of work."

And we go on from there. Josephine and I have now established a connection. We're in a "help-coffee-related-non-profits" community.

You would probably laugh if you knew how far I stretch at times for some of these connections. But even the stretch ones can have a powerful rapport-building impact.

Let me borrow a page from the world of social psychology. Our minds are often primed to sort the world into "insiders" and "outsiders." Most people default to seeing everyone they don't know as an outsider. But it feels uncomfortable to be surrounded by outsiders—and so, the mind is constantly seeking for confirmation that the person in front of you is a safe insider.

Finding little commonalities can calm the scanning-for-outsiders part of the mind. It can trigger an "all clear—he's one of us" message. That is a fundamental part of rapport-building. I highly recommend that you look for commonalities as you go through the interview process.

These commonalities don't need to be shared experiences like the ones I named above. They can be shared values. For example, you might say:

"I appreciate your commitment to helping your customers have a positive experience. That's my primary goal at work as well. I'm so glad to hear that we share that in common."

"Thanks for letting me know that quality control is so essential to you. I also value that enormously. In fact, I wouldn't want to work for a company that didn't value quality."

"I love your mission of bringing affordable health care to the public. That is a core value of mine as well. It's something I've valued for my entire career."

These type of statements show that you and your interviewer have a shared set of values. Articulating these commonalities will go a long way toward developing a sense of connection.

Sharing Information and Asking Questions

Let me now discuss the next two phases of the rapport-building cycle: sharing relevant information about yourself, and asking questions of your interviewer.

In personal conversations, it's common to gravitate toward a 50/50 balance between talking and listening. You share some thoughts with your friend. Then you ask your friend a question, and let him share his thoughts. A 50/50 split of talking and listening usually makes for a comfortable, well-balanced conversation.

However, in job interviews, there will be more of a focus on you. A common time-split in a job interview is 75/25. You will likely spend around 75% of the conversation sharing about your past work experiences, your skills, and your goals.

Anything more than 75% can start to feel unbalanced. It's best to keep an exchange flowing, as most people find one-sided conversations to be draining. It can be helpful to allow your interviewer to "have the floor" at least 25% of the time.

Some interviewers will be naturally chatty. (Especially those of us who do recruiting!) These people may naturally pull you toward a balance during the interview.

For less chatty interviewers, you may want to sprinkle in questions throughout your interview. Questions allow you to take a break from sharing about yourself, and give your interviewer room to talk.

As an example, candidates have asked me things like:

     "How would you describe the culture of your company?"

     "What type of personality does the hiring manager have? What is her style?"

     "Can you describe the growth trajectory for the company? What is the goal over the next couple of years?"

And people also ask me questions about myself:

     "Dan, what's your favorite part of recruiting for this company?"

     "Do you only focus on executive searches?"

     "I see that you have a Colorado phone number. Where do you live?"

I get that last question all the time, and it's a great bridge to a new commonality-finder. When I tell candidates that I live in Boulder, some say:

"You live in Boulder? Oh, I love Boulder. I once stopped by there on a cross-country trip. We went to Rocky Mountain Park and saw all the elk on the roads. You must love living out there. What brought you to Colorado?"

Now, that's a fun topic for me. Forget about the job for a minute—let's talk about Colorado! If we spend five or ten minutes comparing notes about Boulder, we'll move on in the interview with a deeper sense of connection.

You'll have to get a "read" on your interviewer, of course. But in general, it's perfectly fine—and often ideal—to ask your interviewer questions. You can do this to gather information about the job opportunity and company. You can also ask questions to develop the bond between you and the other person.

The Four Common Questions

Let's now discuss a few questions that an interviewer might ask you. Again, it's likely that up to 75% of the time in an interview, you'll be answering questions and talking about yourself.

There are endless questions that you might be asked. If you search online, you can find lists of hundreds of potential questions—including the old-fashioned, "Where do you see yourself in five years?" (I personally don't know anyone who has ever asked this.)

You're welcome to look through those lists of questions and think about them. However, there are four questions in particular that I recommend you prepare answers for in advance.

These four questions are as follows:

  1. What interests you about this particular job?
  2. Why are you seeking a new position?
  3. Can you tell me about a successful work experience, and what it showed?
  4. Can you tell me about a difficult work experience, and what you learned?

Now, an interviewer may not use that exact language. But it's very common to receive variations of those four questions. I'll cover some specific variants below.

As a reminder, let me reiterate something I mentioned at the beginning of this book. One of the top "interview techniques" I recommend is to use stories when you answer questions.

Stories and anecdotes will illustrate your points more skillfully than any other method of communication. Stories will help the interviewer understand details of your experiences in a very personal way.

As an example of this, let's pretend that I am interviewing for a recruiting role with a corporate client. The CEO of the company says, "Dan, tell me why you'd like to help us with recruiting."

If I were to give a standard answer, I might say, "I've been working as a recruiter for over twenty years. I've completed searches for C-level executives, engineers, sales people, and technical production workers. I feel confident about my ability to fill your searches, and I'd love to help your company."

Now, that's an OK answer. It's an accurate description of my work. There's nothing wrong with it.

However, if I use a story to answer that question, the impact will be greater and more personal. Here's how it might look:

The CEO of the company says, "Dan, tell me why you'd like to help us with recruiting."

I say, "You know, I was 27 years old when I did my first recruiting search. It was the dot-com era, and I had to find a Perl programmer for a company in Brooklyn. Do you know Perl? It's this old-school programming language that looks like spaghetti with lines and dashes. The language was old-fashioned even back then, and people were tough to find. I searched for Perl programmers for weeks. When I finally found a great candidate, I felt like a dog who had found a buried bone. It was such a blast to help the company find a programmer, and also help that Perl coder find a home. After twenty years, I'm still like that dog looking for bones. I love the hunt, and I love to build teams."

The CEO might be smiling at that story. If she wants more detail, I'll give her another story, and another. I'll let my stories do the talking. They will illustrate my actual work experience far better than any rote description.

You don't need to come up with a large number of stories. Just a few are fine. Also, your stories don't have to be incredibly interesting or funny. Just a quick anecdote like I gave above is great. If you have a few stories in your pocket—especially for the "successful work experience" and "difficult work experience" questions, it will give you something helpful to draw on.

Let's go through each of the four questions from above. I'll give a few examples of how stories can help with these questions.

The First Question

The first question is an important one: "What interests you about our job?"

It's best if you have a very specific, enthusiastic answer for this one. Even if you're not enthusiastic about the entire job, you can nonetheless find a few elements that seem interesting to you. You can focus your answer on these.

While you're preparing an answer for this question, feel free to look through the company's website. Read about their products and services. Learn what their mission is. Study a bit of their history. You can then custom-tailor your response by including some of this information.

Let's imagine that I'm interviewing a job applicant who did a good job researching information before talking to me. She says, "Dan, your company really caught my eye. I saw that you have a number of government contracts in process—including that one with the FDA. I'd love to hear more about that. It would be really exciting to help advance medical technology like you are doing."

Do you know how many people reference this basic level of company detail in interviews with me?

Less than half.

Many job applicants I talk to haven't even taken time to read the website of the company when they talk to me. Some aren't even sure what the company does!

That doesn't upset me personally, but it does lead me to question how excited the person is about this particular job. And I've had hiring managers rule out candidates completely because the candidates didn't take five minutes to learn a bit about the company before an interview.

So it's best to personalize your response to the "What interests you about our job?" question with specific information. You can also weave in a story at this point.

The applicant above might say, "I actually worked on an FDA contract at my last job. It was far more difficult than we thought. Mid-way through the process, our contact at the FDA called us down to Washington and said…"

And so forth. As I mentioned, your stories don't need to be funny or fascinating. But if they're relevant to the matches between your background and the job opening, they will carry a lot of weight.

Your stories illustrate that you've actually done the type of work involved in this job. They paint a picture better than any basic description can.

The Second Question

Let's move on to the second question: "Why are you seeking a new position?"

This is a common question. After all, a hiring manager will want to know if you're bored at your current job, or if you are seeking more responsibilities, or if you're underpaid, or if you were recently laid-off.

You can be as disclosing in your answer as you wish. That choice is up to you. If you choose to be open and honest, please make sure that you don't say anything negative about your current or past employers—even if your past experiences were painful. Critical comments in interviews are never received well.

If you'd like to give a less-disclosing, general answer, you can always say, "At this point, I'm looking for new challenges, and your role looks like a great fit."

If you're bored at your current job, you can say that you're looking for new challenges.

If you're underpaid, you can say you're looking for new challenges.

If you were laid-off—well, now you are looking for new challenges!

I receive this "looking for new challenges" answer more than half of the time. It's a fine answer. You can make it even better by adding a story.

For example: "I'm looking for new challenges, and your company seems like a great place to grow. At my past job, I helped build the supply chain group from scratch. We really didn't have any systems in place. It was rewarding to plant seeds and watch them blossom. I'd love to help a company like yours grow your supply chain group as well."

That's a small, simple story—but it gives color. It also gives your interviewer an opening to ask further questions. "Wow, that's great. What were some of the things that you focused on when you were building the supply chain group?" The story can emerge in greater detail from there.

Even if you were laid-off or quit your previous job, you can give an anecdote or two about the great work that you did—and the new challenges you'd like to tackle.

It's very possible that the interviewer won't delve further into questions about why you're seeking a new role. You're off to the races with a discussion of interesting stories and projects.

Third and Fourth Questions

The third and fourth questions—"successful" and "difficult" work experiences—can be handled very skillfully with stories. I always recommend that you have a couple of success stories lined up, plus a couple of stories about a difficult situation that you learned a lesson from.

There are many forms that these questions can take. An interviewer might ask you:

"What was your greatest accomplishment at your last job?"
     (You can share your success story.)

"Can you tell me a time that you had a conflict with a coworker?"
     (You can share your learned-a-lesson story.)

"Is there an example of how you successfully handled a tough project at work?"
     (You can share your success story.)

"How have you dealt with angry customers?"
     (You can share your learned-a-lesson story.)

"What would you consider to be your top strength?"
     (You can share your success story.)

"What is your greatest weakness?"
     (You can share your learned-a-lesson story.)

Note that we're going to answer that dreaded "greatest weakness" question with a story. We're not going to share a negative story, but a story about learning from a difficult challenge.

By taking this approach, your "greatest weakness" answer becomes a story of personal development and growth. You flipped that question by giving a positive story about how you developed wisdom!

As an example, if a corporate client asked me, "Dan, what is your greatest weakness?" I might pull out one of my learned-a-lesson stories. I'd say:

"I've always had a tendency to defer to hiring managers even if they seemed to be on a wrong track. Let me give an example. I once worked with a manager who gave me an extremely narrow set of parameters. He wanted candidates to be from one of four companies on the other side of the country. I spent months reaching out to hundreds of people at those companies without success. Finally I pushed back and insisted that we open up the parameters. Once we expanded the search, I was able to find a couple of good local candidates quickly. I still do have a tendency to overly defer to hiring managers. However, I'm working on respectfully but firmly stating any disagreements up front."

You can see how that story adds color, and answers the "weakness" question with a learning experience. I may still have a tendency to defer to hiring managers more than I should. However, I'm working on being more outspoken so that we can all benefit. It's a good answer to that question.

Now, is that really my "greatest weakness" in life? Certainly not! Not even close.

I would give a completely different answer to a close friend or family member, or a therapist. But an interviewer isn't acting as a therapist, and interviewers are not looking for our deepest vulnerabilities. Instead, they're looking for self-awareness about an area of growth, and they want to know how we're working with that dynamic.

If you have a story or two of a great accomplishment, and then another story or two about a challenging situation that you successfully learned from, it will make it a lot easier to answer these types of questions.

I recommend to all my counseling clients that they have a handful of these stories in their back pocket.

Freeing the Mind

Let me now share some ideas about the aspect of interviewing that is the most difficult for many people: the anxiety that arises during the process.

Interviewing can be nerve-wracking, especially for people who don't like to be in the spotlight. Many people feel as though they are on stage during an interview. Butterflies, stage fright, and even outright panic can ensue.

This is normal. I myself have become tongue-tied and frozen in interviews, and so have many people I know—even people who don't consider themselves shy or anxious by nature. If you experience these feelings, you are not alone. There's nothing wrong with you. You are not any different than the rest of us.

I share this because one of the best ways to move through the stress of an interview process is to not fight your feelings. The "fight/flight/freeze" stress circuits tend to get ramped-up in interviews. If you fight your stress feelings, you will simply end up increasing them.

Instead of resisting your feelings, I recommend that you adopt a radically self-accepting mindset—as best as you can—and hold to it throughout the interview process.

No matter what happens, your fundamental goal will be to practice self-acceptance.

If you lose your train of thought in an interview?

Practice self-acceptance.

If you freeze up and can't get words out?

Practice self-acceptance.

If you are shaking with adrenaline?

Practice self-acceptance.

If you give the "wrong" answer to a question?

Practice self-acceptance.

If you "blow" the interview completely?

Practice self-acceptance.

I encourage you to become a self-acceptance-generating machine. The more self-acceptance you can practice, the clearer your mind will become. This will improve your chances of connecting with your interviewer, and increase the likelihood of a job offer.

Even if the practice of self-acceptance doesn't lead to a job offer, it will make the interview process easier. And that is a reward in and of itself.

If you can develop a pattern of interviewing in a peaceful, self-accepting state of mind, you have accomplished something wonderful that will assist you with future interviews. Any step toward self-acceptance is helpful.

The TEA Cycle

As support for this process, let me return to the TEA Cycle that I mentioned in the job search chapter.

As you may remember, TEA stands for Thoughts—Emotions—Actions. These three elements tend to cycle on each other.

For many people the TEA Cycle in an interview looks something like this:

Thoughts:

"I have to impress this person!"
"I need to get this job!"
"I don't think I'm coming across well."
"I have to try harder to make a good impression!"

Emotions:

Self-Pressure
Anxiety
Worry
Self-Consciousness

Actions:

Scramble to come up with impressive things to share.
Try hard to not say the "wrong thing."
Try to figure out what the interviewer wants to hear.
Analyze and monitor how you seem to be "coming across."

All that is completely normal. It is an extremely common TEA Cycle for people who are being interviewed.

But it is an exhausting, draining experience. Mapped out like that, you can see how much pressure, anxiety, and effort this person's mind is putting forth. Even if the interview leads to a job offer, this person may say to himself, "That was awful. I hope I never have to interview for a job ever again."

Let me share an alternate TEA Cycle that you can begin to practice. I will start with self-accepting thoughts, which I mentioned above.

A new TEA Cycle—which will probably take repeated practice to develop—might look like this:

Thoughts:

"It's OK if I don't get a job offer. This is good practice."
"It's OK to feel nervous. That's normal."
"It's OK if I don't end up impressing this person."
"I can focus on being helpful and let the chips fall as they will."

Emotions:

Patience with self.
Nervousness but without fighting it.
Appreciation for self.
A sense of willingness to go through the process.

Actions:

Focus on commonalities with the interviewer.
Answer and ask questions to develop a connection.
State my enthusiasm about helping the company.
Allow feelings to pass through my awareness without fighting them.

You can see that the new TEA Cycle starts with a number of self-accepting thoughts. Those thoughts will lay the groundwork for new emotions and actions to blossom.

Instead of walking in with a barrage of self-pressuring, anxiety-producing thoughts, you're deciding right up front that it's OK to not get this job, it's OK to feel nervous, and it's OK to not end up impressing this person. That reduces pressure and anxiety.

"But Dan," some of my clients say at this point, "I do need this job!"

I say to them, "You need oxygen, food, and water. But you don't need this job. You might want this job, and we'll do everything we can do to increase the odds that there will be a match. But you don't need it. If you insist that you do, you will be flooded with a sense of pressure and anxiety."

The mind responds to the thoughts, "I need oxygen!" and "I need this job!" in a similar way. If you generate those thoughts, the mind will treat both of those as life-or-death scenarios—and it will ramp up every adrenaline and stress circuit at its disposal to keep you alive.

That's great when it comes to oxygen. It's not great when it comes to job interviews.

So it's best to ease off this type of thinking, and instead let the mind know that it's OK to not end up with a job offer. We'll aim to get the job; we'll use the methods that I'm covering in this book. But if an offer doesn't come, that's OK. There are plenty of other companies to help.

In the new TEA Cycle, you begin by generating self-accepting, de-pressuring thoughts. You allow nervousness and anxiety to be present without fighting them. You meet those feelings with a sense of patience and appreciation for your efforts to simply show up. You allow your feelings to be present, and give them permission to pass through you like a wave.

You then focus your actions on finding connections and commonalities with your interviewer. You express your desire to be helpful, and your enthusiasm to contribute to the company's goals. You come across as friendly, and highlight matches between the job and your background. Then you practice letting go of results and move on to offer help to another company.

If a job offer comes, that's fantastic. If one doesn't come, that's fine—perhaps there simply wasn't a tight-enough fit. You weren't rejected. You didn't fail. In fact, you may have succeeded in connecting with your interviewer, and she may call you in the future with another job opportunity that's an even better fit.

The more you can practice this new type of TEA Cycle (and it does take practice) the easier the interview process will be. I have known people who needed to interview with five, six, or seven different companies before this new TEA Cycle began to solidify. Each time there was more peace and less pressure.

I'll discuss a few more emotional aspects of the interview process in the Q&As that follow. However, let me conclude this section by saying once again that anxiety in the interview process is normal. You can practice meeting anxiety with self-acceptance. You can focus on simply coming across as friendly, and helping your interviewer to understand how you can help her company.

If you do that, you've succeeded—regardless of whether you receive a job offer in the end. At the very least, you have begun to establish a new pattern that will aid you in future interviews with other companies. Every step in the right direction is worth the practice.

After the Interview

After the interview, I recommend that you email a friendly note to each of your interviewers. You can thank them for their time, express your enthusiasm for the position, and state a few things you appreciate about the company.

Do you know how many people send me a note like that after I conduct an interview with them?

Less than 10%.

Candidates probably send notes more frequently to the hiring manager than to me. But my guess is that fewer than 30% of people send thank you notes to anyone.

It's not a requirement to send follow-up notes, of course. But it gives a wonderful boost to your candidacy. At the very least, it demonstrates your thoughtfulness and continued interest in the position. That goes a long way.

Many times, companies will end an interview process with a "tie" between two people. One person may be a slightly better match, but often they're fairly close.

If the first person follows up by expressing their excitement about the position, and the second person goes silent in the days after the interview, it begins to tip the scales very strongly.

Every company wants to hire employees who are excited about working there. Some companies even wait a while to see how candidates will respond post-interview. They want to ascertain how enthusiastic the candidates actually are.

So follow-up notes are powerful. You can also reach out by phone to the recruiter or HR generalist you original spoke to, and express your enthusiasm and interest. We may not have a decision yet, but we'll appreciate that you're eager to move forward.

The Decision

Once the company makes a decision about their top choice, one of three things will usually happen:

  1. The company will make you a job offer.
  2. Or the company will tell you that they decided to make an offer to someone else.
  3. Or you will be left in limbo for a while.

As frustrating as it is to be left in limbo—and it is frustrating—the limbo scenario isn't always a bad thing. There might be some behind-the-scenes dynamics taking place.

Let's imagine that you are one of the final two candidates for a job opening. The company decides to make an offer to the other candidate. However, they also like you—and would be delighted to have you on their team.

In that scenario, the company will likely extend an offer to the other person, and leave you in limbo for a while.

Why? Because the first person might not accept the offer. If she declines the offer, then the company will make an offer to you.

This has happened many times in my recruiting work. We may be secretly hoping that the first person will decline, because we actually really liked you. We simply had to make an offer to that person due to her remarkably tight skill-fit with our job opening. Or her salary requirements may have been quite a bit lower than yours.

So we give her a few days to consider the offer, and then if she declines, we make you an offer. You were not our "back-up" exactly; we are actually happy that she turned down the offer. We're excited by the prospect of you joining our team.

Again, I have had this happen numerous times. If a company tells you that they're "in the decision process," you might be in a situation where you and another candidate are both good fits.

As with every other aspect of the process, you can simply express your enthusiasm at this point, ask if there is anything you can do to be helpful (including offering additional information), and then let the decision process unfold.

Responding to an Offer

If the company decides to make you an offer, there is often a negotiation process that begins at that point.

What salary or hourly rate are you seeking? Even if this was discussed previously, it's now time to lock-down the numbers. Will there be a bonus or other "variable" element of the compensation package? What about vacation time? Is there an option to work partly from home?

My recommendation during this negotiation phase is to seek "win-win" solutions. A win-win solution is an arrangement where both you and the company feel happy with the result.

I do not recommend that you aggressively push to extract as much as you can from the company, without regard for their happiness. I have seen this approach sour many compensation discussions. You can push, of course—but push for a win-win solution where both you and the company feel happy with the arrangement.

I will write more about win-win dynamics in chapter twelve of this book. However, for now, let me share a conversation to illustrate win-win negotiations. This conversation is similar to many that I have had.

"Cassandra," I say, "everyone really enjoyed meeting you. They would love to have you join their team. I'd like to extend an offer to you on behalf of the company. Now, did I remember that you were looking for a salary of around $75,000?"

"That's wonderful to hear!" says Cassandra. "Yes, something around $75,000 would be great. I'm wondering if there might be an opportunity to earn a bonus as well if I were to exceed my goals."

"You know," I say, "we weren't planning to include a bonus for this position. But what were you thinking?"

"I'm flexible—but I know a few people in my type of position who earn a 10% bonus for exceeding goals. Is that something that you might consider?"

"I'm happy to check," I say. "If we can't do a bonus, would a straight salary of $80,000 feel comfortable for now?"

"Sure, that would be great," says Cassandra. "However, could you check to see if the company might be open to including a bonus in the future? Perhaps in my second year, if I'm meeting all my goals? I really love to have something to stretch for."

And the conversation goes on from there. You can see that Cassandra is skillfully presenting options and requests, while keeping things positive and friendly. She's making it very easy for me to work with her.

If I can convince the higher-ups, I might be able to come back to her with an offer for $80,000 and a commitment to set up a bonus program at her one-year anniversary.

In this process, we are seeking win-win solutions together. The tone is friendly and respectful on both sides. This approach is much more successful than pushing to extract concessions until the other side hits a breaking-point.

Again, I will write more about this later, as finding win-win solutions is an art that can help with many aspects of your work life.

For now, I'll suggest that you lead any type of salary negotiations with a statement like, "I'd like to find an arrangement that we both feel good about." That establishes a cooperative playing field. It places you in alignment with the company, rather than at odds.

As a final note: If you are told in the end that the company will not be moving forward with an offer to you, please remember that you did not fail. You were not rejected. There simply wasn't a tight-enough match for this role, at this time.

You very generously offered to help the company. You met with people there and formed connections. You accomplished all that you needed to do.

You can now move on to offer help to another company or organization. Acting from this spirit of helpfulness, you will very likely find a number of happy takers for your offering.

click for Chapter Nine:
Interviews: A Deeper Look