“I want to be pop-u-lar” is a song many parents may be hearing these days as kids head back to school. And there’s a good reason to want to be popular. Never mind always having someone to sit with at lunch; lessons learned by the popular kids are also applicable when it comes to interviewing throughout your career.
If you want to be part of the “in crowd” (i.e. get the job at the company of your choice), consider these lessons from the “cool kids” (even if you weren’t one in high school).
1. Your Presence Carries Weight
Popular kids always have an “air” about them. They walk into a room and own it fully. When they make a statement or decision, they’re confident, and their body language exudes that.
Your presence in an interview setting, whether in a room or on the phone, needs to carry that same certainty and confidence. Having confidence and projecting that presence lead to you being seen as a natural leader—someone who can walk into any situation, take control, feel at ease and make others listen to you.
There’s a fine line between presence and cockiness, so don’t turn into a jerk. Instead, believe that the person you’re meeting wants to hear what you have to say. They believed in you enough to request your presence in an interview, so it’s critical that you exude the same confidence in yourself that they’re expecting to see based on your application.
2. Be the Kid Every Parent Likes
Remember when you brought home certain friends to meet your parents, and your parents were immediately enamored with them? I used to always roll my eyes, thinking, “Why do my parents like my friend more than I do?” They just never stopped talking about how great a certain friend was, even after meeting her for only five minutes.
That friend knew how to be likeable. They knew how to charm your parents’ socks off. And likability is a key factor to interviewing successfully.
It may sound clichéd, but the easiest way to charm someone from the first impression is to deliver a genuine compliment. In fact, it’s an old sales technique—walk into a store, and notice if the salesperson compliments your bag, shoes or outfit. Compliments immediately change our behavior; they make us smile, feel more proud, stand up a little taller and want to continue to chat with the compliment-giver.
It’s easy to do. With every person you meet for an in-person interview, you have visual cues that enable you to create an instant bond through a compliment. Pick an item of clothing or an accomplishment you see in their office area, and make sure that a compliment is one of the first things out of your mouth.
Hint: If you can deliver it while you’re shaking their hand during the initial meet, even better.
Compliments not your style? Charm can come in many other forms after you establish your presence, such as being approachable, open to answering questions, keeping a smile on your face and being fully engaged in the conversation.
3. Make Them Feel Like the Most Important Person in the World (For the Moment)
So maybe you weren’t part of the popular crowd as a teen, but that doesn’t mean you haven’t established your own crowd in life. When looking at the people who are most important to you, don’t you feel a sense of being important to them as well?
I can’t tell you how many interviewees I’ve seen throughout the years who completely dropped the ball here. It’s easy really: the interviewer has given up some time of their busy schedule to meet with you and see if they can help you further your career, so show them you respect that commitment and make them feel important during the interview.
Don’t go overboard; it’s enough to simply be attentive to the interviewer, respectful of their time and create a genuine interest and connection with them. Think about how you engage with your best friend. You don’t text or take notes while you speak to them. You don’t try to wow them with every word that comes out of your mouth. You don’t make it all about you, all of the time.
Lure the interviewer into a conversation about your experience, but don’t just play question tennis, letting the Q&A’s fly back and forth. Share your suggestions, knowledge and drop in some points of interest specific to the person or company. By doing so, you show them the effort you put into researching the position, as well as leaving the them with the feeling of time well-spent.
4. Know Your Place and Be Appropriate
Popular kids are popular because they tend not to step out of the clearly defined lines for their role. They blend in much more than they stick out and are “appropriate” within the expectations set for them. (Kind of an oxymoron at times, I know, especially if we dig into what those expectations are—but I digress.)
The popular kids look the same, dress the same, act the same. They know their place, and in an interview, you need to know yours, too.
I’d never suggest changing who you are as a person, but you do need to understand the cultural norms for each position for which you interview. Dressing appropriately is critical, and looking the part is important.
A famous example of this is interviewing at Google. Having been through the process myself, I can tell you it’s almost comical how big of a deal is made of attire during the interviewing process. Google has a Q&A posted, and the recruiter reminds you several times (verbally and through email) what not to wear (“No suits!”). Their culture doesn’t mesh well with more formal interview attire, so you better not show up wearing a suit, even if you want to.
The same rules should be applied at any interview. Figure out what’s appropriate as interview attire for each company—not only what dress is expected, but what other components should be considered (hairstyle/color, makeup, accessories, shoes and so on)—before you step into their office. What is appropriate at a fashion magazine is not necessarily going to be appropriate at a financial institution.
Popularity isn’t a contest when you’re an adult (thankfully). But we can still learn a thing or two from the “cool kids” that we can apply in various career situations like interviewing. You don’t have to be a popular kid; you just have to leverage the right skills and actions to make the hiring manager want you to be part of the company’s “in crowd.”
Melissa Anzman is a former human resources leader and founder of LoosenYourWhiteCollar.com, where she helps people fall in love with their jobs and understand how Human Resources works. She is the author of two books, How to Land a Job: Secrets from an HR Insider and Stop Hating Your Job: How to Be Happy at Work Without Quitting, and can be found at @MellyMelAnz.