Interview Tone and Tempo
Most candidates think the recruiter or the hiring manager is responsible for the interview tone and tempo. Most candidates think that the interview starts when they are sitting across from the person conducting the interview. That may be when it was scheduled to start, but I know of a number of times where the decision to decline the candidate was made when they rolled into the parking lot with music blaring, or when they walked out of the restroom without washing their hands. All of this happened before the first interview question was asked because the interview tone was set by the candidate before formal introductions were made.
Scenario 1: your first date
If you are getting ready for a first date and from your bedroom window, happen to catch you date pulling up in their car, you will take a moment and watch. Hopefully, your date will do the standard: fix their hair in the mirror one last time, check their breath, and walk up to your front door. If you happen to see them wait for your neighbor to pass on the sidewalk instead of cutting in front of them, extra points. Your date either knows you are watching or is considerate. If they graciously engaged your parents at the front door when you came to the foyer, the mood was already set.
Scenario 2: your first and last date
If your date pulls up into your quiet suburbia neighborhood with loud music blaring and kicks at the neighbors barking dog, you may think twice when you open the door and see Mr. Charming with a grinning smile.
The same assumptions will be made when you drive through the parking lot at your first interview. You never know who is watching you. The person that you just cut off for a parking spot, maybe someone in your interview loop. You may have impressed your friends at the import car show on Saturday night, but here you are pure obnoxiousness. We aren’t here for a stereo competition or a fashion show, we are here to get some work done.
At many companies, HR will check in with the receptionist (think of this as the equivalent of your parents who answered the front door when your date came knocking) and see what the person at the front desk thought about the candidate while they waited in the lobby. Was the receptionist treated with respect, or like a rented mule? Did they engage in conversation and smile, or were they cold and arrogant? Interview tone and tempo were influenced here.
I would argue that the interview starts as soon as you arrive on the campus of the company. As soon as you hit the front lobby, smile. Try to convey you are a positive person and in a good mood. You are someone that others will want to work with. I can’t stress enough how first impressions set the interview tone. As a recruiter, the two scenarios leave me with two very different impressions.
You are sitting in the lobby, professionally dressed. You don’t have a frown on your face, but you aren’t smiling either. I don’t get the feeling that this is someone I necessarily feel welcome about approaching. It may only take me 5 seconds to turn the corner and come across the lobby to the receptionist to find out who I am meeting with until the time I introduce myself and shake your hand. But it is only human nature to size someone up in a situation like this. If there are multiple people sitting in the lobby, I am either thinking “please let it be him”, or “Please don’t let that guy by my candidate. Please, Please, Please don’t let hit be him”.
Same professionally dressed candidate. The candidate is engaged in a conversation with the reception person, and they are both smiling or laughing. As I turn the corner, I instinctively head towards the receptionist and the receptionist smiles at me and then introduces the candidate to me and makes mention of what they have found in common and what they are laughing about. This is a MUCH different introduction and actually sets the interview tone and tempo for the next 2 minutes.
The next two minutes is the walk from the front lobby to the interview room and is VERY CRITICAL to setting the interview tone and mood of the actual interview.
I and the candidate walk to the interview room. If I the recruiter have done my job, I have established rapport over the phone or in prior meetings so I, HRNasty have plenty to talk about for the next two minutes. I am trying to set the interview tone so that the candidate is relaxed and they consider me a friend. They trust me as a representative of the company and an ally helping them get through the interview process. I keep the conversation going.
But if I haven’t done that, I am distracted, or just don’t know better because I am new to the job, had little training, or had a bad day, then that walk to the interview room can be in silence. We enter the conference room and although it isn’t awkward, it isn’t “easy”.
As the candidate, you can set the interview tone of the entire meeting as soon as you walk into that lobby. Energetic, and welcoming. You aren’t nervous. You are comfortable with yourself and easy to talk to.
The walk from the reception is to the interview is a casual conversation that the candidate can drive just as easily as the recruiter. Complementing the recruiter on the décor of the office, the energy in the office, or even how great their directions were in getting you to the office. Start the conversation and keep it lively. Practice this if you need to, but you want to create a personal connection with the interview questions begin. If you are someone that has a hard time with chit-chat, just think about a few things you want to say before the interview.
Some random thoughts about the first two minutes:
If you are a man, show some manners. Let your recruiter go first through doors or upstairs. Act as if YOU are the host or the senior person, especially if your recruiter is a woman. Regardless of their gender take control of the situation.
Do not follow the recruiter, walk side by side. If you are walking behind the recruiter, the recruiter isn’t able to engage in conversation with you. It says you are subservient and don’t have any initiative. This is a “dead man walking” and a wasted opportunity.
In the lobby, you can engage the reception person with how easy the traffic was (even if it wasn’t), art in the lobby, or awards that are being displayed. (the ones you read about in your research)
If you need to practice this, then do so. Rehearse out loud in the shower if you have to. Every time you go into a store, make conversation with the cashier, compliment them on something. There is nothing worse to me than a flat interview where there is no connection, no energy, and no matter what I try, I feel like I am trying to reel in a dead fish. You as the candidate want me excited about you so take the initiative and set the interview tone and atmosphere. You want me running out of the interview straight to the hiring manager excited about the conversation I just had with you. If you aren’t excited, I definitely won’t be.