Corrections or additions?
This article was prepared for the August 15, 2001 edition of U.S.
1 Newspaper. All rights reserved.
Job Interview Dynamics
Job seekers be aware: "One bad impression will
the interviewer." So says Julia Poulos, a corporate
whose specialties include training interviewers in the difficult art
of evaluating job candidates. Poulos, principal of All the World’s
A Stage, a company based at 33 Witherspoon Street, is quoting a study
done at McGill University. "The interview is vital," she says.
While there are pitfalls all through the process, Poulos stresses
that the tone is set in the first few seconds in a mutual, and largely
unconscious, mental dance. "It’s a real time dynamic," she
says. Both the interviewer and the candidate are "reading all
the signals all the time."
Poulos holds a degree in communications and theater arts from San
Francisco State University. Before founding All the World’s a Stage,
Poulos, who is an actress as well as a corporate consultant, worked
in corporate training positions for several large companies, including
Merrill Lynch. Her clients include the State of New Jersey, for which
she was project leader for a program on the prevention of sexual
in the workplace, and the Bank of New York, where, most recently,
she worked with vice presidents on sales presentation skills. In her
workshops on interviewing she urges hiring managers "not to go
on gut feeling alone," but to gather as much objective information
as possible, and especially to ascertain candidates’ competence at
"soft" skills such as teamwork and initiative.
Poulos speaks on "How Interviewers Interview" on Tuesday,
August 21, at 7:30 p.m. at a free meeting of Jobseekers at Trinity
Church in Princeton. Call 609-924-2277.
"I don’t know of anyone who had a horrible interview and got the
job," says Poulos. Job candidates may not be sure that an
went well, but most know when it didn’t. Poulos is no exception.
"I was at a lunch interview," she recounts, keeping in mind
her own advice about interviews conducted over meals: During meal
interviews she suggests that candidates never, ever drink, and that
they order something safe. "No lobster, with the cracking and
spurting," she advises. During her own meal interview, she ordered
a salad. "I thought that was safe," she says. Partway through
the meal, however, her interviewer interrupted the flow of
to point out that she had lettuce caught between her front teeth.
"What do you do?" Poulos asks, clearly at a loss even years
later. "I said `Thank you,’" she says. "And I think I
excused myself and went to the Ladies Room."
The interview had not been going well even before the lettuce
Poulos says. Perhaps pointing out the errant leaf had been just a
manifestation of the interview’s hostility. In any case, it is an
illustration of the tricky path job candidates face when, often after
many other steps, they win an interview. Here is Poulos’ advice for
making the most of the opportunity.
does, Poulos hears about the almost unbelievable behavior of some
job candidates. One interviewer told her about a candidate who was
breezing along. Impressive in his skills and skillful in communicating
them, the candidate was oh-so-close to an offer when he asked about
the company’s coffee policy. Told that employees pay for their own,
he became upset, and spent the rest of his allotted time complaining
about what seemed to him a lack of corporate generosity at the coffee
cart. Needless to say, he did not receive an offer.
silent though it is, communicates with a roar. That firm — but
not crushing — handshake upon entering the office sets a tone.
Follow through by sitting smartly. Not on the edge of the seat, Poulos
says, "but the chair should not support your weight." A
spine should be the support. Lean forward slightly from that posture.
Lounging back in the chair, legs crossed, is a no-no. The aim should
be a relaxed look that doesn’t break into something that works at
McDonalds or in a beach chair.
Poulos comes down on the side of a minimum of chit chat. What if you
comment on the photo of the handsome Golden Retriever only to be told,
maybe through tears, that the pup is now living with the interviewer’s
ex-wife? "You never know what response you will get," says
Poulos. Better, in her opinion, to start off with something like,
"`Thank you for taking the time to see me.’" Then a neutral
comment, perhaps a comment on the handsome corporate campus, could
interviewer will look for evidence that candidates have demonstrated
the qualities necessary for the job in the past, either in other jobs
or in school, or perhaps in volunteer work. Figure out what
the job calls for, then do a mental inventory to recall where and
when you demonstrated them. "You don’t have much time," says
Poulos. The examples should be cataloged and ready to go.
success scenarios in which to star is a bad idea, but Poulos stresses
the inadvisability of doing this a number of times. "Don’t make
up stories," says Poulos. Instead recall as many details about
real incidents as possible. "People believe details," she
says. They also enjoy narratives. Short narratives. Put it all
and an ideal statement of competency might include the date a project
was undertaken, for whom, how many people were involved, what
were overcome, how much money was spent, and what results were
about your strengths, find a way to fit them in. "Sometimes there
are just general questions," says Poulos. "`Tell me about
yourself.’ or `Tell me about your last job.’" This is an ideal
opening for short, detailed-filled anecdotes about demonstrating
or functioning under stress. Lacking this opening, it still is
to be assertive — but never aggressive — and search for a
way to insert a statement about how the qualities that led to a past
success could enhance a current company project.
is not optional, says Poulos. On the matter of how best to deliver
it, she is more flexible. Snail mail probably is still the way to
go, although she says "E-mail should be fine, too."
over why an interview did not produce an offer is futile. "You
may have reminded him of his brother," says Poulos. If the
has not resolved his sibling rivalry issues, he might have rejected
you instantly (and possibly unconsciously) because of the resemblance.
There isn’t a thing that would have changed the outcome.
That seems to be the case with Poulos’ unhappy lettuce-marred
The interviewer, using an unpleasant tone of voice, asked about a
personality assessment tool Poulos had administered in a previous
job. Poulos says she had thought putting skill at giving and scoring
the test, which divides people into 16 personality types, would be
a plus on her resume. In this case, at least, she may have been wrong.
"`And what type are you?’" the interviewer sneered. She
to dislike Poulos’ response, but who knows? Maybe her stock portfolio
had just collapsed. Or her neighbor had served papers connected with
a midnight fall on her sidewalk. Or maybe she just thought personality
tests were stupid. Impossible to tell.
control, and there may have been nothing Poulos could have done to
warm up her interviewer, it is well worth preparing thoroughly to
establish the best rapport possible. "If there’s no rapport,"
Poulos says, "there is no job."
For the story on the moves of Morgan Stanley and Merrill Lynch go to
Corrections or additions?
This page is published by PrincetonInfo.com
— the web site for U.S. 1 Newspaper in Princeton, New Jersey.