Thursday, March 28, 2013

Job interviewing: Stop talking with your thumbs

THUMBS DOWN: Texting and social media could be
weakening your job interviewing skills
There's a big reason you're struggling to succeed in job interviews, and you need look no further than your thumbs. Here's why.

Our fast-paced, hyper-connected society has used ever shorter and faster forms of communication over the past decade. Email. Instant messaging. Text messaging. Facebook. Twitter. And now even all this could be considered passé with the invention of apps like Snapchat, "the fastest way to share a moment with friends."

Amid it all, we have been using our thumbs to communicate through increasingly narrower windows of time, condensing our thoughts and words into micro messages on our mobile devices and social media handles. Indeed, we have virtually created a new language made of shorthand, acronyms, and emoticons. Our brains are increasingly operating in the informal digital realm, weakening our interpersonal skills and causing us to be more casual in our communications.

This is where it starts impacting job interviews. I've helped many students prepare for job interviews over the past several years, and one of the biggest problem areas I've seen is their verbal (and, for that matter, written) communications skills.

The big question is, what contributes to career or business success more: technical knowledge or interpersonal and communication skills? The Stanford Research Institute recently conducted a study to find out. Take a few minutes to watch this video from careers consultant Darryl Cross, "Communication and Listening Skills," in which he summarizes the study. The conclusion at the end will likely surprise you.

Many students are unfamiliar and uncomfortable with engaging in face-to-face conversations. They might not be sure how to read and react to body language; use proper conversational etiquette; and exhibit their personality and charm. Some students also have difficulty forming well-constructed sentences. Others are simply not formal enough in their overall demeanor and dress.

Although many students have historically grappled with these challenges, I'm seeing significantly more students struggling in these areas today. I believe it's because they are used to communicating in a fast-paced, casual, digital world, and they haven't been able to learn and hone all of their formal conversational and interpersonal skills.

Developing these abilities, however, is crucial to positioning yourself for a successful interview, one in which you can impress the hiring manager, demonstrate your intelligence and savvy, and show how you are the ideal fit for the open position. There are a few important steps you can take to overcome communications challenges you might be facing during job interviews and even in your day-to-day. Here are eight do's and don'ts of job interviewing in today's more casual, social media society.

DO …

DO take a leadership position in a club or activity. There are many opportunities where you can play a leadership role, such as in an academic club, student organization, athletic team, group project, community board, or volunteer committee. Find one you are passionate about and take a leadership position. It can be great experience for learning how to set an agenda, guide a team, deploy members, promote efforts, generate support, achieve goals, and report results to constituents -- activities that all require solid written and verbal communication skills. What's more, you can build valuable experience to share on your resume and during job interviews.

DO attend Toastmasters workshops. Toastmasters International is one of the biggest and most reputable providers of communication and leadership development training. The organization holds meetings around the world where participants can practice and hone their speaking and leadership skills, learn how to conduct meetings, and build other vital interviewing and business capabilities. Practicing to speak in front of a room of people might sound intimating and downright frightening, but realize that everyone else there is probably feeling the same way! Beyond this, Toastmasters can also be a good networking opportunity.

DO practice striking up conversations. Striking up conversations with strangers can help you develop small talk skills, teach you how to interact with anybody you meet, and build your self-confidence when meeting and conversing with people -- including hiring managers. Next time you're in the check-out line at the grocery store, comment on a magazine cover to the person next to you. Or when you're shoe shopping, ask someone nearby what they think of the pair you're trying on. Most people will be happier than you might think to engage in some small talk.

DO put your phone down. In most cases, your phone doesn't have to be attached to your hand every waking second. Try leaving it in your room while you're having a meal with friends. Or, if you are more comfortable having your phone on you when you're out, keep it in your pocket or bag until you really need it and set it on vibrate so it does not interrupt any face-to-face conversations. Avoid using your phone as a pastime. Live in the digital world less, and the real world more.

DON'T …

DON'T give one- or two-word answers during interviews. In your day-to-day, you might answer many questions using the least amount of words as possible. You could be dashing off a text, and your goal is to communicate as quickly and easily as possible. Hiring managers, however, are not looking for the quickest reply. They want to get you talking so they can evaluate how you speak and what you say. Provide solid, well-articulated responses that give hiring managers details they need to understand your experience, creativity, innovativeness, honesty, and ability to meet deadlines and accomplish tasks. Remember, most interviews are behavioral tests. When you are asked whether you have experience with a particular area, don't just say yes. Now is the time for you to tell stories and give examples of your past experience and successes so the employer knows you can do the job in the future. Talk! To get in the habit more, you can also start writing complete sentences when texting and communicating on social media.

DON'T use acronyms on first reference. We've invented a great deal of shorthand in our text-heavy, social media world, and many of us use acronyms more frequently. You have probably even created some acronyms that only you understand amongst your friends and family. Don't assume hiring managers understand any of these acronyms. State the full name or phrase on first reference. If you'd like to use the acronym subsequently, you can also say, "or the EFG for short," or whatever the acronym is.

DON'T tell the hiring manager you looked them up on LinkedIn. The Internet and social media can introduce a sticky situation beyond the realm of communications skills. Many job candidates research hiring managers on LinkedIn and Google before their interviews. This is fine to do, to understand the background of the person interviewing you, but do not tell the hiring manager you did so or bring up facts you learned. From the hiring manager's perspective, this feels like an invasion of privacy and it's an immediate turn-off. If you'd like to discuss the hiring manager's background, ask them about it.

DON'T forget the pleasantries. I've found many students aren't sure of the "pleasantries" to use when meeting hiring managers, and for that matter, many other people in general. Pleasantries include smiling, giving a warm hello, and pronouncing your name slowly and clearly so the other person understands it. Ask how he or she is doing today. These are some niceties that can help break the ice, set a friendly tone from the get go, and show common courtesy and formality. This is a great opening to start some small talk. Make a point of remembering (or writing down) at least the first names of people you are introduced to at an interview. When appropriate, use the person's first name, indicating you have respect for them and they are important to you.

Many Generation Zers have been plugged into the Internet, social media, and instant communication from an early age, and many Generation Yers are now well indoctrinated into the culture. Consider, though, could it in some ways be hindering your job interview abilities? Try some of the ideas here, and see how they help you improve your verbal communications and interpersonal skills during job interviews, and in your life overall.