How Not To Interview For A Job

I recently started following a prominent politician on Instagram for no other reason than the entertainment value derived when seated for interminable hours in Nairobi traffic. I concluded that if he spends as much time delivering on his mandate to his county constituents as he spends on his personal and highly publicized grooming, he will certainly introduce a much-needed amalgamation of diametrically opposite precepts: Yves St. Laurent please meet Lee Kwan Yew? Over my professional life, I have had the opportunity to sit in on interviews for various roles from junior clerks to c-suite executives. The variety of individual approaches to this grave endeavor runs the whole gamut of human intellectual effort, much like the fashion-meets-county-governance convergence.

Take for example Mary* who was once interviewing for a c-suite role. She walked into the interview room and was greeted by name by the lead interviewer. She very loudly and pointedly corrected the lead interviewer that her name was preceded by the title “Dr.” as she was a PhD holder. Alright then, the interview was off to an intellectually snobbish start. As the interview proceeded, Mary circulated a neat folder with copies of her original academic certificates individually encased in the transparent plastic compartments that made up the folder’s pages. However, the first three pages were full of photographs of the same Mary in various work-related functions, meeting prominent personalities within her industry. The photographs were individually labelled with a blurb noting who was in the picture, which faces were fairly unfamiliar to the interview panelists but clearly of profound import to Mary.

From its intellectually snobbish start, the interview was now galloping at full braggadocio speed. Key lesson to any potential interviewee: humility is not a biblical concept. Interview panelists are more impressed by the interviewee’s grasp of industry knowledge and personal mastery of her craft, rather than who she’s met and what she wants to be referred to. Calling an interviewee by the wrong name or title can in some cases be a deliberate tactic to see how the interviewee will react in the face of social provocation.

One conclusion I can draw from the countless interviews I have participated in as a panelist is that many of us are greatly lacking in the significant personality trait called self- awareness.Executing a breathless monologue for 7 wretched minuteswhile completing ignoring the body language of panelists who are slowly sliding off their seats and under the table in despair is a key pointer to lack of self-awareness. Learning to watch out for verbal and non-verbal cues to stop talking is critical. Verbal cues would include “ok, right” or “that’s fine” and are usually accompanied by a grim expression that should not in any way be misinterpreted as encouragement to prattle on. Non-verbal cues would include the panelists losing eye contact with the interviewee, panelists enviously looking through the window at the guy mowing the hotel lawn outside or the panelist writing long shopping lists on the side of their interview score sheet.

A good trick I’ve learnt along the years is to get a trusted friend or relative to take a video of you as you answer some questions during a pre-interview rehearsal. With even the most basic smartphone today, you can take a few minutes of video that will play back some interesting self-revelations. Videos demonstrate what unconscious idiosyncrasies you have like inserting your left finger into your right nostril when your nervous, your use of verbal anchors like “umm” and “err” before you answer any questions or as you string an answer together which may come off as being unsure or just verbally incoherent, or your habit of speaking to the screen when undertaking a presentation rather than looking at the panelists and building a connection through eye contact. A video also helps you see how you pace yourself as you speak and whether you think before you answer or just rush into giving an answer through a rambling monologue that hopes to arrive at a triumphant result somewhere near minute 6. It will also reveal distracting inclinations to cover your mouth with your hands as you speak, which means that panelists don’t quite hear what you’re saying. Next week I will cover how some of the best (and therefore successful) interviewees have shown up at their interviews.

Twitter: @carolmusyoka