Wednesday, October 27, 2010

First Impressions - Trust your Instincts

"When I walked into her office, I thought almost instantly that she reminded me of my fifth grade teacher. I hated my fifth grade teacher. Of course, I know that sounds silly because I realized consciously she is a completely different person. But the rest of the interview was a struggle for me because I couldn't get past her glasses and turtleneck. Well, I accepted the offer because all of the other factors...great opportunity, company, salary and location...lined up with my expectations. Despite the nagging feeling that I was missing something, I thought I'd made the right choice. Until the third week in and she called me into her office. It was like being transported back through time to my former 11 year old self, and Mrs. Walsh was humiliating me for being overwhelmed as she called me out in front of the class, and I was unable to give her the correct answer. It was in that moment I regretted not listening to my gut instinct. This was just bad chemistry and I wished I'd paid attention to the red flag waving boldly in my face two weeks before."

How many times have you received a very strong sense of someone from the moment you met them and had the undeniable feeling you'd met them before? Something about them seemed familiar and brought up a variety of feelings, positive or negative, that made you very comfortable or very uneasy. Some may describe this as an inner voice, a subconscious guide, a miraculous little memory keeper or advanced warning system. Whatever its name, this utility exists within all of us. Tapping into it during your interview process and using it to either confirm or contradict your decision-making could be the one tool that makes the critical difference.

Many times when I hear from a candidate after a few months in their new role I like to ask them whether their original perception of their boss, or their team mates, held true and aligned with reality. Of course it did! Then I remind them of how attuned they were to their instincts, and to always rely on their gut. It's incredibly validating to know that, while your brain is doing it's own thing forming opinions, decisions, and calculating risk using vast amounts of data consciously collected in the interview process, you've also got a wizard in the works developing impressions, collecting visual and auditory cues, and shaping them into conscious meaning. Whether you want to believe it or not, using content coming in from different sensors, such as memory, olfactory, tactile and behavioral observations, can help you make a much better decision on whether or not this is the right boss, office and company for you. Just pay attention to the sign posts, red flags and intuitive insights your "wizard" is collecting for you.

One of the best ways to reach this collective insight is to sit down with a pen and paper and write free flow with one or two word observations that come to mind right after an interview. Describe the way you felt meeting each person...words like 'at ease', 'intimidated', 'engaged', 'anxious', 'bored', 'distracted' or even 'thirsty', to describe the way you felt. Then observe the feelings that came up, even if they make no sense to you. Include people you were reminded of, sights and sounds that connected you to another time in your life. Were there were any physical clues your body was transmitting? Perhaps a headache, numbness in your toes, a tremor in your eyebrow, even a sense that you were really thirsty or desperately craving a cup of coffee? All of these sensations are clues to how your whole person is perceiving that interview experience. Write them all down, then allow yourself to explore their meaning. Some of the meanings may be very self evident and need no further exploration. But if you talk to your spouse, close friend or even your therapist about your observations...and let the feelings associated come to the surface, this "research" will truly help you tap into your gut instincts, developing into a much clearer picture of what this opportunity means to you.

At the end of the day, it's still a roll of the dice. But the odds are more likely to be in your favor if you've done the internal work first.

Interviews are a two way exchange and the energy in that exchange is typically perceived very accurately by both parties involved when the interview goes well. While you felt 'at ease', your interviewer may have described you as open or relaxed. When an interview hasn't gone well, it's typical to hear both parties reflect a very different exchange. If you felt 'anxious' or 'distracted', the interviewer may have perceived a lack of engagement or overall disinterest in the job. The reason you felt this way, however, is not always a true reflection of your interest in the job, but more so the energy between you and that person. Something put you in a funk, and that can set off a chain reaction that can't be easily curtailed. Getting to the bottom of these exchanges, understanding what it was about that interview, and why it stood out as the game-changing moment, can help you determine whether this opportunity is really all it seems to be. It can also serve to manage your expectations relative to your candidacy for that particular company overall.

There are no "do-overs" in the interview process. First impressions are indelible and not usually easy to overcome when they're negative. While it's ideal to win every one over in the interview process, it's not realistic to expect to have excellent chemistry with everyone you work with. You can start out on a positive track with a new company if you know how to navigate successfully around challenging internal alliances. More on that later...

For now, the best due diligence practices will help you avoid stumbling blindly through the job interview process, and land the best job for you, the Whole Person.

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