Financial Alley

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.

This is no time to carp. Training interviewers as she

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.

Sit up straight, but not too straight. Body language,

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.

Small talk can be dangerous. This is a tough one, but

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


Think about your strengths well in advance. The smart

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.

Don’t make anything up. It should be obvious that creating

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


Steer the interview. If the interviewer neglects to


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.

Follow through. A thank-you note following an interview

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."

Don’t take it personally. Harder said than done, but


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.

While not every element of an interview is under the candidate’s

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."

Top Of Page
Financial Alley

For the story on the moves of Morgan Stanley and Merrill Lynch go to

Corrections or additions?

This page is published by

— the web site for U.S. 1 Newspaper in Princeton, New Jersey.

Facebook Comments