June 25, 2018

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Your Job Interview Environment

Ignore these clues at your own risk.

Most job seekers think the interview begins the moment they stand up to greet the person interviewing them. This is false. An interview is a two-way street, so your interview should begin the moment you walk through the company’s door. In your haste to make a good impression, don’t forget to keep your eyes open and your senses tuned to what’s taking place around you.

Is there a receptionist? How is the phone answered? Do any employees wander out to ask the receptionist a question? Are they terse or chatty? Do they scuttle away quickly when your interviewer appears? How are you announced to your interviewer? And do you find yourself smiling at what’s going on around you, or becoming even more nervous than you were when arrived?

Jump in and ask a question or two while you’re waiting. Is there ease and friendliness in the answers or does the person dodge the question, smile politely, and disappear?

On your way to the interviewer’s office, odds are you’ll be walking through part of the company. Notice what’s going on around you. Are people jovially discussing different projects? Or intently bent over their computers, silently at work? Do you hear laughter? How are the employees moving from one place to another, and what is their body language saying? If your interview includes a tour of the office, you’ve been given an exceptional opportunity to pay attention to the interaction – or lack of it.

Depending on your awareness level, you may or may not pick these cues up cognitively, but you are registering them nonetheless. So the main question here is: while you’ve been waiting, and as you walk through the company to the interviewer’s office, how do you feel? And is that feeling agreeable to you? For instance, silence or conversational buzz is neither good nor bad when taken in conjunction with other cues. What’s important is how you feel about it and whether you can work in that environment.

What if your interviewer forgot he had an appointment with you? Did he stop what he was doing and conduct the interview anyway? Did he apologize personally and reschedule with you? Or did someone else appear and handle it for him? If you have meetings with multiple people, are you escorted to the next office? Or just pointed in the right direction? And how long are you kept waiting prior to each interview?

One person I know was conducting her own job search. Having passed the screening interview, she was scheduled to meet with all four of the company’s principles in the same afternoon. The first one was out of town. The second one was rude and insulting. The third one made her wait. She actually stayed to interview with the fourth one! The time to leave was somewhere during – or certainly after – the second interview. Why they brought her back for these interviews is another subject entirely.

In a more functional environment not only she would have been written in on each principal’s calendar and anticipated, but they would also be familiar with her and her background. The secretary/receptionist would have offered her something to drink. She would have been led to each person’s office, instead of having been pointed in the direction she was to go.

Factors other than the people who work there are important too. What’s the light source? Is it artificial or are there windows? Will you have an office or a cubicle? What floor will you be on? If you don’t have visual access to the outside, will that affect your emotional level and thus your work?

When you walk into a company you form an impression almost instantly, in the same way you do when you enter a strange room or social party, or meet a new person. That impression comes from the energy level you are subconsciously picking up from what’s taking place around you. It sends a signal to your gut – thus your “gut instinct” about what’s going on - even though you might not be able to pinpoint any specific reason for the way you feel.

Although it’s wise to pay attention to the details, if your concentration during the interview was focused on what you learned during the conversation, it doesn’t matter. Because while you were paying attention to the larger cues, your gut instinct picked up the smaller ones – and it’s often the small ones that are telling: the noise level, facial expressions and body posture of the employees, the degree of individuality of offices and cubicles.

Whatever that gut instinct is telling you – trust it – especially if you’re getting a bad vibe. It can be the difference between happiness and misery a few long months down the line.

- Judi Perkins

Judi was a very successful recruiter for 22 years (15 contingency, 4 agency, 3 retained) and has now been a career coach for 3. The recruiter background, especially having been all three types, gives her deep insight into both sides of the hiring process. Now she teaches job seekers both the skill and psychological aspects of job hunting. She has been interviewed as an expert for books at each author's request; has her own book, "How to Find Your Perfect Job;:and has been quoted in numerous on and offline articles. She's also done radio interviews and speaking gigs. Her clients find jobs quickly, ending their months of frustration!

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