There is an old saying, a truism, in sales: People buy from people they like. This same concept also applies when it comes to landing a new job: People hire people they like. But, where the hiring process is concerned, there is an additional, unique twist to the saying: People hire people they like . . . and people who are most like themselves!
In other words, in order for you to be a successful job candidate, hiring managers must not only like you personally, they must also be absolutely convinced that you are essentially a lot like themselves, that you can be a good cultural fit for their companies. How can you convince hiring managers of that? By at least appearing to possess virtually the same traits, personal mannerisms and behavioral characteristics as the hiring managers themselves, and, by logical extension, of course, of the vast majority of other company employees. A technique that can help you accomplish this goal is referred to as “mirroring.”*
“Mirroring” is really nothing more than a subtle, yet quite powerful, technique routinely and very effectively used by top salespeople. (And you would be well advised to consider yourself very much a salesperson when vying for a job in today’s challenging job market!) Here is how a successful salesperson effectively employs “mirroring”:
- If the prospect/customer (read: “hiring manager,” in the case of a job candidate) is someone who is soft-spoken and slow paced in his/her delivery, then the salesperson ensures that he/she is equally soft-spoken and slow paced.
- If the prospect/customer tends to be a somewhat loud speaker and have a rapid pace of delivery, then the sharp salesperson also picks up both the volume and the pace of his/her own delivery.
- If the prospect/customer crosses his/her legs, or leans forward (or backward) when asking questions or making key points, then the salesperson subtly follows suit.
- If the prospect/customer has an overall relaxed, casual, laid-back demeanor, then that’s the same demeanor the salesperson adopts.
Well, I’m sure you get the basic idea. More to the point, employing these same types of “mirroring” tactics during a job interview with a hiring manager can indeed brand you as someone who can easily fit into the hiring company’s culture, as well as pay you the same substantial dividends that such tactics consistently pay top salespeople!
Now, I am fully aware that, to some of you, “mirroring” may at first appear to be somewhat contrived and “phony,” even perhaps bordering on mimicry. Let me assure you that that is not the case—if it is practiced subtly. And that, of course, is the key to successful “mirroring,” to always be subtle about it and certainly never to come across as “making fun of” or rudely mocking the person being “mirrored”!
The importance of ‘mirroring’: a ‘real life’ example
Let me give you a real life example of the key role effective “mirroring” can and often does play in a job candidacy.
My executive recruiting firm recently had a top candidate in the final running for a chemist position with a Fortune 500 company. The position offered an annual salary of about $85,000. The hiring manager had winnowed down the number of remaining, viable candidates to just two: our candidate and one other. We felt extremely confident about our candidate’s chances of being selected for the position, though. She had an absolutely “sparkling” résumé, a verified history of significant achievements and a ton of exceptional experience with major companies. In addition, she had a graduate degree from one of the country’s top universities, etc., etc., etc.! In other words, we (both our recruiting agency and the candidate) firmly believed that there was absolutely no way she could not be selected for the position!
Obviously, both our candidate and the other remaining candidate met the first criterion I mentioned at the top of this blog for being hired: The hiring manager liked both candidates. Otherwise, neither of them would have progressed to the point of final consideration! So, did it then simply come done to which of the two remaining candidates the hiring manager liked best? Well, no, not quite. That’s not how the process works at all.
Remember the other criterion for hiring that I mentioned above? The one about how hiring managers tend to hire not only those whom they like but also those who are most like themselves? As is so often the case, this crucible was what determined the final outcome for our candidate.
While our candidate certainly looked great “on paper,” and she had properly impressed the hiring manager with her wide range of skills and considerable technical knowledge during the entire interviewing process, he later told me that he had nonetheless been bothered by something about our candidate throughout the entire process. He said he wasn’t able to put his “finger” on what, specifically, it was that bothered him about her until it came time for him to make his final candidate selection.
“There is absolutely no doubt about it, Skip,” he told me, “she has top-notch skills and could quite likely make a contribution to our team. To be honest about it, though, I fear that she is simply too assertive and too aggressive to fit in well with our company. I think there is a great potential for her to ‘ruffle some feathers’ down the line.”
Were we (and the candidate, too, obviously!) “blind-sided” by this revelation from the hiring manager after everything seemed to have been going so well for so long? You bet we were! Still, upon reflection, and despite the fact that our candidate had been thoroughly coached on how to effectively employ “mirroring” techniques, it was nonetheless clear that she had either failed to thoroughly (and 100 percent accurately) “read” the company’s culture as reflected by the hiring manager himself, or she simply had been unable to adequately reign in her somewhat natural tendency to be assertive and aggressive. Hey, it happens.
What’s the lesson to be learned here? That, in order for a job candidate to be successful in a job search, he or she must act like something (or someone) he or she clearly is not? Must the candidate resort to patronization, to being a patent “phony”? Of course not. A job candidate, any candidate, should certainly focus on truthfully branding himself/herself in this or any other job market. To do otherwise might prove effective in the short-run (though that is doubtful), but in the long-run falsely branding yourself can easily prove to be disastrous. You might “fool” a hiring manager and end up being selected for any given position, but once the “real” you is revealed on the job you probably won’t last long in today’s job market.
In my opinion, the major lesson to take away from an experience like ours is to make sure that a candidate not only brands himself/herself as an exceptional candidate in every conceivable way, and through the appropriate communications, e.g., résumé, targeted cover letter, etc., but also to be equally vigilant about and acutely aware of any “hidden” job consideration criteria, such as the necessity to be at least perceived as being somewhat like the hiring manager himself/herself. Otherwise, you risk alienating the hiring manager right off the bat! Like it or not, accept it or not, the fact remains that many hiring managers do indeed have such “hidden” job consideration criteria. They do in fact tend not only to hire people they like, they also tend to only hire people who are most like themselves.
Effective use of “mirroring” can give you a very powerful edge over your competition (other job candidates vying for the same position), who quite likely will not even be aware of the tactic, let alone actually employ it during job interviews. Frequently, it can literally spell the difference between being selected for a position and ending up being just another “also ran.”
*How to effectively use the technique of “mirroring” during a job interview—and get hired!—is just one of the many new “rules” of the hiring “game” we examine in “‘Headhunter’ Hiring Secrets: The Rules of the Hiring Game Have Changed . . . Forever!” It is also one of the many new rules on which we coach all of our executive recruiting firm’s candidates before presenting them to our hiring company clients.
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.