Emphasize enthusiasm, not degree to Impress hiring managers

Posted by Ben Weiss on Wed, Aug 15, 2012 @ 09:08 AM

Not long ago, we released a piece entitled "First Things First: Understanding the Psychology of First Impressions," which explores several tactics to improve a job candidate's chances of being viewed favorably by a hiring manager. After the piece was received, the community expressed an interest in learning more.

As such, Infusive Solutions sought out the wisdom of psychologist Dr. Vivian Diller, Ph.D. - a self presentation expert - to explore how candidates can externalize their confidence, caterto baby boomer hiring managers and fix a first impression that gets messed up. 

IS: What are the most important physical factors to control when meeting a hiring manager for the first time?

Dr. Vivian Diller: I’ll answer that somewhat backdoor. None of the physical features you focus on will be effective unless you feel confident about yourself and the interview. So I’d say that first you have to think about what is going to make you feel most confident. The key to a successful interview is having the right amount of confidence, which doesn’t mean pretending to be someone you're not or being boastful about your real qualities, but assessing carefully your abilities and coming into a room presenting your best self.

One of the first ways to do that as you walk into a room is be aware of how you carry yourself - your posture, your stance. While your eyes are typically considered the feature most remembered after initial interactions (studies show that we recall eyes most often, for example "oh, she had lovely eyes" or "he's the fellow with baby blues") when it comes to an interview, it’s the way you walk into the room that hits us first and makes a lasting impression. Why? Because anthropologically, back as far as we can remember, a person with a strong walk has been associated with strength. If you walk in sheepishly or with your head hung, you will be viewed as lacking confidence. So, that’s the very first thing, walk in the room with a confident stride. 

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Walk tall, exude confidence and do it with neatness

Following that, it’s the handshake and engagement with your eyes. Psychologically, the reason eyes are considered an important aspect of body language is because it is the feature that is most parallel to others. You don’t need to move your head to look somebody in the eye. Your eyes are also considered the window to the soul, which psychologically means it's the way others can get inside you, by looking into your eyes..

So if you avert your eyes, or don’t look [a hiring manager] straight in the eye, it appears as if you don’t have the confidence that they can get inside what you’re all about, … as if you’re hiding something, maybe even embarrassed or ashamed.

If you feel confident, it will be easier to engage with the eyes. But, even if you don’t feel that confident, walk in, make that strong stance, look the hiring manager in the eye and it might encourage that confidence to surface.

IS: That really drives home the importance of being prepared and doing research to own that confidence.

Dr. Diller: Any job counselor will tell you to do your research. That’s a given. If you’re not presenting yourself on the outside with what is on the inside, with all of that work you’ve done, then you’re undermining the natural preparation for a job interview.

And then there’s the things you have choices over, which are also important to keep in mind.

We have certain features we can’t do anything about - whether you have a certain sized nose, or a particular height or shape. But, when it comes to choosing how you style your hair or the clothes you wear, the important thing to keep in mind is that it says something. Because they are optional, it leaves an impression on others about our personal choice. So you want to make sure that you’re sending the message you intend to send.

For example, as a woman, you have to be conscious about whether to wear pants or a skirt. As a man, do I go suit and tie or casual? The most important thing is that whatever style you choose, wear it with a certain amount of neatness. It's a way to express non-verbally that you look after yourself in an orderly way. Organization and self-care is something you don’t need to say if you come into the room dressed that way.

IS: Through your career, you’ve become an expert on the baby boomer generation (defined as Americans born between 1946 and 1964) – a population segment frequently filling the interviewer seat. What insight can you provide to job seekers to make a great impression on these professionals?

Dr. Diller: Given that the baby boomers are currently the ones that often have positions of authority, it’s important to keep in mind that what they’re on the lookout for are those young adults who were spoon fed wonderful educations and opportunities by helicopter parents. These are applicants they want to steer away from.

Baby boomers are in their 50s and 60s, and they’re concerned about a work ethic that they aren’t convinced has been taught to those entering the job market, and they don’t want to have to teach them. So anything you can do that shows not just an eagerness to learn and to be stimulated, but a willingness to do what you have to do to rise up in the organization is great.

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How do you impress this guy ^?

What baby boomers want are people that come in with an eagerness to please and have the ability to tolerate frustration and criticism and learn along the way. Those are the people that are going to get jobs. It’s not necessarily the people that have the Ivy League degrees.

While a good education matters, these days, I see a greater eagerness to get those state university grads who rose to the top of their class. They’re worried about those pampered kids who turn out to be entitled young adults, concerned that they won’t have the discipline to stick to a job and all the frustrations that come with climbing the ladder.

IS: Sounds like something of a reverse bias against the Ivy League types. Anyway for that kind of person to break the stereotype and convey the work ethic you described to hiring managers?

Dr. Diller: Yes, you might consider downplaying the degree. Let your education speak for itself by how you articulate your experience. If you look like someone that is resting on your laurels, reporting what you did at Harvard, or when you traveled around the world each summer break, you might not realize that, in fact, you start with having to prove you have what it takes to actually work hard.

Instead, if you walked into the room feeling as if you’re on the same playing field as the person that went to SUNY Purchase, you can demonstrate to the hiring manager that, not in spite of, but in addition to having gotten a good education, you’re willing to get your hands dirty and get coffee and make copies and [the hiring agency] will get that combination.

It’s not like a good education is a negative, but it just can’t be a thing that you put out there as if it’s going to be your gold medal. You can avoid this by highlighting an eagerness to work hard rather than the papers you published or clubs you belonged to. All that is already on your resume.

IS: Lastly, if a candidate feels that he or she has made a poor first impression on the hiring manager, is there any way to regain that traction? 

Dr. Diller:  You can turn a moment of anxiety or inadequacy around by addressing it directly. If you’re quick enough, you can do it while you’re still in the interview, because to ride over that bump as if it didn’t happen, leaves both you and the hiring manager aware that it’s not going well because nothing is being said about it. It's like the elephant in the room.

Address it.

Sometimes you can right that wrong by taking charge of it. So if you feel as if you’ve made a bad move, I’d say find a way to address it and then move past it so you look like you’re not hiding anything or not embarrassed or ashamed. Instead, you’ll look like someone who, when they know they’ve made a mistake, can acknowledge it and make right something that’s wrong. That’s a quality people want in candidates.

IS: So candidates can actually use a misstep to really let their problem solving skills shine through.

Dr. Diller: Interviewing is a process. Yet, some people enter an interview and think of it as a performance; that they have to perform well and they only have one chance. The difference is, while there is that first impression, as you go through the process of the interview, [hiring managers] learn how you deal with problems, and there is a lot to be learned about you as a candidate in how you deal with that process. So if you don’t know an answer, how do you deal?

Acknowledge not knowing, but an eagerness to learn more as well. If you show enthusiasm about whatever your interviewer raises, that enthusiasm reveals something positive about you. It’s not just having the answers, it’s the interaction that tells the interviewer how you’ll deal with tasks they’ll see every day. So when you show you’re working hard in the interview, that’s already a good sign.


Infusive Solutions Inc. is a niche technical recruiting firm within the Microsoft Partner Network dedicated to serving the workforce needs of our clients as well as taking our candidate’s careers to the next level. Join us on Twitter and Facebook

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Topics: Interview Tips