Reading People


Sometimes I get asked by people I’m working with why it is that they seldom get the same advice from different professionals when it comes to interview suggestions. The simple reason really is that the two biggest variables from interview to interview are the people involved. People don’t have the same communication skills, and people will respond differently to exactly the same information when they receive it.

First of all let’s look at the person giving you advice and I’ll use myself as an example. I’ve gone to my share of interviews for jobs over the years. During that time, I’ve learned what to share and how to share it, how to deliver a line, and most importantly I’ve learned the ability to read the interviewer quite well. By reading the interviewer, I mean that I can pick up subtle cues in their facial expressions, their happiness in the answer they are getting or their concern over certain issues. If an answer I’ve provided isn’t clear and it required the interviewer to ask a second question to get at what they really want to know, I’ve remembered that, and provide clear and direct answers in subsequent interviews.

So you can see I hope that it is the frequency of interviews and the lessons I’ve learned through trial and error that allow me to suggest what works and what doesn’t. However, I’ve got skills and attributes that are unique in their sum total to me. You on the other hand, have a number of skills and attributes that when you add them all up are unique to you. If we were all the same in every way, advice would be more straight forward but we’re not. And those sitting on the other side of the table are never the same from interview to interview, and they don’t react the same all the time either.

It’s for this reason that you can help yourself immensely in an interview by learning to look for the visual and auditory clues that will tell you how things are going. So if you shared a small joke in an interview and got a positive response in the form of a broad smile and a wink from the interviewer, you may assume you’ve scored a point. Should you repeat that same small joke imbedded in the same answer but with another interviewer, you may get anything from no reaction at all to one with pursed lips, a frown or raised eyebrows indicating surprise. Based on the reaction whatever it is, you can either cease to continue with light-hearted banter and play it completely straight, or you might be encouraged to use humour and come across as taking the interview but not yourself too seriously.

You see the one thing that is almost never known going into an interview, is the background of the person or people conducting the interviewer. That would be tremendous information to have. If we knew how their past dealings with people have shaped their views of new people they meet, we would probably try to act a certain way, so that we were closely associated with the people the interviewer has come to work well with and like as people over the years. If they’ve got a disposition against aggressive people and we are aggressive by nature, it may be wise to ratchet it down a notch.

Some interviewers are extremely well-trained at masking their reactions all together. They either sit straight-faced and make it hard for the interviewee to read them at all, or they are smiling, pleasant and encouraging to all interviewees even when they’ve pretty much decided a candidate isn’t what they are looking for.

The general advice that is usually best is to be genuine in an interview. In other words be yourself. However, that doesn’t mean let your guard done completely, slouch in the chair like you would if you were reading a book at home, and put your feet on the coffee table in front of you. What I mean by this is that the interviewer is trying to read you too. They want to see the person who is going to show up everyday if hired, and that person may not be the person sitting in front of them right now who is nervous, fidgeting and stressed. And because you are generally on your best behaviour and may have been coached to act and answer in a polished and professional way, they may ask additional questions – some unusual in nature – to get you off the rehearsed answers and get you to reveal who you really are.

Like so many things in life, the more you do something, the more you do it well. Interviews are no different. Many folks hate the thought of going for interviews altogether. As a result of these feelings, it’s no wonder they don’t apply for many jobs, and so the ones they do apply for are generally the ones where a great deal is at stake because they want a certain job badly. However, because they’ve had limited interview practice for real, they perform poorly. My advice therefore would be that if you haven’t been to a job interview in a long time and are out of work, get into a few interviews if you can for jobs that are not always with your ideal employer. Consider it practice for the dream interviews upcoming. Practice and learn to read the cues from the interviewer as to what works in your favour.

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One thought on “Reading People

  1. I agree, practice is what you need. However, it’s increasingly difficult to make to the interview stage these days. Always apply for as many jobs as you can but make sure you have at least 90% of what they are looking for.

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