Even if your personal brand is one of a highly confident, self-assured, enthusiastic professional, let’s face it, there simply are times when you don’t feel, act, or project these characteristics. If you tend to be shy, retiring and/or kind of “stand-offish,” well, you certainly won’t project these characteristics. And under many circumstances, neither this temporary lapse nor the total absence of a confident, self-assured, enthusiastic image would cost you all that much. Not so when it comes to a face-to-face job interview!
To coin a phrase, then: If you can’t quite “make it,” i.e., project an image of self-confidence, self-assuredness and enthusiasm during a face-to-face job interview, then you had better learn how to “fake it”! (No, I am not talking about trying to be deceptive, dishonest or trying to be something or someone you’re not. What I am talking about here is the absolute necessity for you to learn how to project genuine interest, self-confidence and a high degree of enthusiasm when it truly counts, such as during a job interview—whether or not you feel like it, and whether or not it is the “real” you.)
No matter how qualified you may be “on paper,” if you don’t come across in the first 60 seconds of a face-to-face job interview as being confident, self-assured and enthusiastic, the odds are overwhelming that you will immediately be eliminated from further consideration, at least in the hiring authority’s mind. Did I say 60 seconds?! Yes, I did, because that’s about how long it takes the typical hiring authority to form a “yea” or “nay” opinion about any given job candidate, based upon his or her initial impression of the candidate. (Then they spend the next 59 minutes justifying that 60-second impression.)
Don’t believe it? Think I’m over-stating the importance of this issue? Let me relate a recent, real-life example of how important it is for a job candidate—any job candidate—to project confidence, self-assuredness and enthusiasm when interviewing for a job today.
Just last month, I presented the résumé of a candidate with the perfect credentials and just the right background, experience and skill sets to a Fortune 500 client of mine for a position they wanted to fill. After seeing the candidate’s résumé, the hiring manager immediately called me and wanted to schedule a face-to-face interview with the candidate. That’s how excited he became once seeing the candidate’s résumé.
After the interview the hiring manager called me up to provide feedback, and of course I was expecting to hear only good things. Wrong!
“Skip, there is no doubt that he can do the job,” the hiring manager told me. “However, he did not exude confidence when I came down to the lobby to meet him. As a matter of fact, he didn’t even look me in the eye. His shoulders were slumped and he appeared tired.”
The hiring manager went on to tell me that it was certainly his job to screen for skills and ability, but he also needed to focus on the overall image projected by a candidate.
“When I send a candidate I’ve interviewed to my boss for her to interview, she expects me to send her a candidate who will literally ‘light up the room’ when they enter it, a person whom others will want to interact with on the job.”
Obviously, our candidate, despite his incredibly impressive credentials, didn’t meet this hiring manager’s minimum standard. An unusual situation? Not at all, actually. Today, I am seeing more and more companies taking precisely this same approach, using essentially the same “yardstick,” as this hiring manager.
So, how can you learn to project self-confidence, enthusiasm and self-assuredness during a face-to-face interview? Here are some suggestions:
Pay particularly close attention to your posture. Remember when your parents used to admonish you to “stand up straight!”? There actually was a good reason for that! Few things brand you as a potential “winner” (or a clear “loser”) more quickly or more thoroughly than your posture. When you stand up straight, with your shoulders back, your head held high and look people directly in the eye, your posture literally shouts, “self-confident,” “self-assured,” “enthusiastic,” and a whole bunch more positive adjectives!
Conversely, of course, a person who continually slouches around, won’t make eye contact, and projects an overall image of secretiveness, deception, etc., well . . . I’m sure you get the idea!
Watch the Comedy Channel. Learn to laugh, or at least to smile! What’s the usual reaction from people when you smile at them? They almost always smile back at you, don’t they? And when you smile your body radiates a strong, nonverbal message of self-confidence, self-assuredness and enthusiasm.
But, you may be saying to yourself, what if I don’t feel like smiling? Wouldn’t I come across as a “phony”? Not if you’ve learned how to be a good “actor,” and that’s what you had better learn to be if you want to be successful in your job search in today’s job market!
Remember, the people interviewing you are quite likely harried, stressed out and very, very busy themselves. Oftentimes, interviewing you (or anybody else!) may be the last thing they want to be doing at that moment. If you can make them smile, they are far more likely to be drawn to you, to want to learn more about you.
If necessary, fake enthusiasm! In any interview cycle this question (or one very similar to it) virtually always comes up: “Why would you consider leaving (or why did you leave) your current (or previous) position?” All too often people use this question as an opportunity to “spew venom,” i.e., to say negative things about a current (or previous) boss and/or company. The savvy candidate uses the question as an opportunity to express enthusiasm about the career opportunity at hand, by saying something like this:
“One of the things I really enjoy about my current work environment is the way my boss challenges me to new heights. Thus, I feel like I’m ready to take on new responsibilities with a company such as yours, and that opportunity is not afforded me where I currently work.”
Sound fake? Maybe to you, but probably not at all to the person interviewing you—IF you can deliver the statement with a high degree of sincerity and enthusiasm!
Include POWER words in your vocabulary. Power words increase the probability that you will come across as highly confident and very self-assured and qualified. Such words imply ACTION! and AUTHORITY! For example, “created” is more powerful than “made,” don’t you think? Here are some other power words for you to consider incorporating into your vocabulary: Penetrated, formulated, instituted, out-maneuvered, overcame, accelerated, turbo-charged, aggressively analyzed, anchored, etc.
Analyze your everyday speech, then empower your vocabulary by replacing some of the “lame” words you now use with POWER words. Trust me, with practice, it will become quite natural, i.e., you can “fake it” till you can “make it”!
Keep in mind: We humans are social creatures (or at least most of us are!). Today’s work environment is harried and stressful enough as it is. No hiring manager wants to add people who are glum, unenthusiastic or otherwise project some sort of “downer” personality. And you can be assured that most will not add such people (or people they even perceive to possess such negative characteristics) to the payroll. It’s difficult enough to even get a job interview today. Don’t give the hiring manager any reason to suspect that you are not the enthusiastic, confident, self-assured person he or she is looking to hire!
Skip Freeman is the author of “Headhunter” Hiring Secrets: The Rules of the Hiring Game Have Changed . . . Forever! and is the President and Chief Executive Officer of The HTW Group (Hire to Win), an Atlanta, GA, Metropolitan Area Executive Search Firm. Specializing in the placement of sales, engineering, manufacturing and R&D professionals, he has developed powerful techniques that help companies hire the best and help the best get hired.