Archive for February, 2012

First Impressions Include Rapport

February 24, 2012

Years ago, I was a candidate for a VP Sales role with a small software company.  In meeting with the CEO, I was peppered with numerous situational questions.  I believed I nailed it as the questions dealt with issues that were right in my wheelhouse.  Technically, the interview appeared to go very well.  Subsequent interviews went equally well and ultimately, I received and accepted an offer.

However, what I didn’t know at the time was that the CEO nearly passed on me – not because of my ability to do the job, not because of my answers (and questions) during the interview process, and not because of any concern over my past.  The issue came down to an initial lack of rapport.  In his words, the CEO characterized me as “stiff.”  People who know me tend to appreciate my passion, drive and humor.  So how did my passion, drive and humor become supplanted by stiffness in the interview setting?

A funny thing happens in interviews.  Perhaps due to nerves, anticipation, or over-thinking it, many candidates turn into people they’re not.  Similarly, many hiring managers turn into people they’re not.  We’re taught that interviews should be an interrogation, not a conversation.  Does that mean that interviewers should check their personality at the door?  Of course not!  Because forming a connection is a two-way street, hiring managers also need to avoid acting in an impersonal, robotic manner.

In an interview, hiring managers are trying to envision the candidate as an employee.  Yet, in order for the picture to make sense, the candidate must make for a humanistic fit as well as a technical and tangible fit.  It comes down to aptitude and attitude.  Well, the attitude portion also includes establishing rapport, cultivating an initial sense of chemistry and kinship.  Naturally, getting a read on your audience will help immensely. For example, humor may help the cause in some cases while hurting it in others.

At the same time, candidates are trying to envision working for the interviewing manager.  If the manager does nothing to put the candidate at ease or take steps to demonstrate a genuine interest in them, then it could lead to a lack of connection.

Over the years, I’ve heard many post-interview characterizations of candidates and hiring managers alike.  In many cases, the feedback just doesn’t seem to match the individual.  Here are some examples:

Disorganized – Came to the interview ill-prepared with documents, information and questions missing

Unfocused – Can’t stay on topic; scatterbrain

Dry – No personality

Stiff – Reserved, no dynamics, strictly business

Disinterested – No passion or enthusiasm; looking at the time, gazing at incoming emails, glum responses; not engaged

Pompous – Delusions of grandeur; air of superiority; controlling

Poor Listener – Didn’t answer question directly; didn’t acknowledge or respond to points made; asked a question, but didn’t give any attention (or respect) to hear the answer

Loquacious – Of course they’re a poor listener — all they did was talk

Fidgety – Can’t sit still; like a caged animal; would get up and sprint around the building, if given the chance

Loose Cannon – No sense of tact or diplomacy; no filter between the brain and the mouth; volatile

These first impressions are hard to overcome, especially since they create an air of discomfort that cannot be erased.  Granted, you don’t have to strive for drinking buddy status.  But as consumers, we know that people buy from people who engender a sense of trust and establish some sort of connection.  The same thing applies in the interview setting.  We prefer to work with people we trust, connect with, respect, and appreciate.

If I had a dime for every candidate who told me after their interview that it went very well, only to find that it didn’t, I’d be a millionaire.  To be sure, much of this issue comes down to self-awareness.  If I had been more self-aware back when I had interviewed for that VP Sales opportunity, then perhaps I could have sensed a need to loosen up at least a little bit.  I could have given off some non-verbal cues (e.g., smiled more, relaxed my shoulders, used hands to emphasize points, etc.) to demonstrate I was not only engaged, professional and up for the challenge, but also charismatic and down-to-earth.  Anything but stiff!


Action items:

1.  Consider doing a role play mock interview with someone you trust.  Granted, it won’t rival a true interview setting, but the feedback you get might give you some insight into how you come across.

2.  A company may be an exciting, entrepreneurial, market-breaking high growth up-and-comer, but if the hiring manager comes off like a dead fish in the interview, it doesn’t matter how great the company is.  In the eyes of the candidate, there’s a major disconnect.  Whether in a press conference, client meeting, or interview, there must be a correlation between the buzz surrounding the company and the energy of its people.

3.  Think of people you recently met who came off in ways they probably didn’t intend to.  What are some of the things they could have done differently to give off a more favorable first impression?