Job hunters get all kinds of advice, wanted and unwanted, on what to do and how to do it. Sometimes they listen and learn, and sometimes they tune out, thinking they have it under control. Sometimes the reticent and reserved say too little and are too easily forgotten. Sometimes the affable, outgoing job seekers with the folksy, easy going styles overdo it, memorably. Here’s an interviewer’s description of the latter:
The job applicant arrived at our office, laid eyes on me, stepped back, then opened his arms wide, flashed a big, broad smile, and lunged forward, shaking my hand and grabbing my shoulder as though we’d been in battle together and hadn’t seen each other in years. I had never laid eyes on him. We went to my office, him smiling and chatting, leading me down the hall, asking about my wife and kids, and telling me about his. I don’t have a wife and kids. I opened my office door and he let out a long slow, appreciative whistle, and, walking around, picked up my photos, moved my mementos, and leafed through a file on my desk, all before I could snatch it all from his grasp. When I did, he let out an exaggerated groan, then winked, and said that I shouldn’t take work so seriously.
What’s the teachable moment? In addition to keeping one’s hands to oneself (a professional handshake is fine… but leave it at that) don’t touch anything in the interviewer’s office. As to small talk, let the interviewer take the lead and stay in the lane they’ve opened. Keep it professional, work focused, and don’t under any condition let the conversation wander off into personal (and typically dangerous) territory.
If one example’s good, here’s another: An interviewee, told by his friends that he’s a great conversationalist, unspools his strengths and undoes his chance to move to the next round. Listen in as the employer begins the interview…
I opened with the standard, ‘Tell me about yourself’ question, and immediately regretted that I did. The job candidate told me more than I would ever want to know. He described himself in long, spinning, aimless yarns that took us miles and years from our purpose. He went so far afield I think he forgot that he was interviewing for a job as our Energy Efficiency Manager. He wasted so much time and energy, we dismissed him from consideration.
Teachable moment? This applicant missed the mark when he ignored the purpose of the interview: Meeting the needs of his prospective employer.
When you’re asked the ‘tell me about yourself’ question, the interviewer wants to hear your elevator speech (a personal pitch, two to three sentences, delivered in the span of an elevator ride); a pitch that states who you are, what you do, and how you make a difference to an employer. “I’m the kind of person who quickly responds to a challenge and solves problems that result in positive outcomes.”
How do you make a difference and what difference do you make? That’s what an employer wants and needs to know.