Showmanship At Interviews

By Mark Grzeskowiak

In October of 1992, my band was competing in the annual Battle of the Bands at our university. The lights were off, the amps were buzzing, and our only points of orientation were the spotlight at the back of the hall and the faint outlines of our audience members' heads in the darkness.

Isaac was missing.

Who was Isaac? Isaac was our drummer, and the last time that any of us had seen him, he was relaxing backstage with a cigarette in one hand and a beer in the other. The audience was starting to get impatient. I looked over at our singer, who looked over at our guitarist, who was looking down at his feet and shaking his head. It could only have been three or four minutes, but it seemed much longer. And then Isaac finally appeared. He was holding his drumsticks in his hands, had his arms raised high above his head and, as he walked across the stage, he started egging the crowd on, shouting "Yeah, yeah, yeah!!!" Most importantly, he was wearing only his red polka dot boxer shorts.

The audience loved him. And, despite the fact that our competitors were much better musicians, we won that year's Battle of the Bands.

So what does this have to do with a job interview? Most of us are aware that making a good first impression can play a large role in whether or not we get the job, but most of us aren't sure how properly to manage the first impression we give an interviewer. Nor are we sure how turn it into a winning impression.

Our clothes are important – and no one is suggesting going to an interview wearing only underwear. That would only "briefly" amuse the interviewers and leave them with a great story for their coworkers. On the contrary, experience tells us to dress conservatively and to avoid overdressing or underdressing.

Body language is also important. Interviewers are always on the lookout for signs of confidence in the way a candidate presents herself or himself. Does she have a firm handshake? Does he maintain eye contact during the interview? Is her intonation and volume natural? Is he taking care not to slouch?

Unfortunately, those are the easy things, and there is more to it. Your interviewer will expect you to be well dressed, presentable, and knowledgeable about the position and the facility. But she or he will also hope for more. This brings me back to Isaac.

Isaac's backstage decision to strip down to his underwear was, strangely, not out of character. (And it wasn't the result of drinking too much beer, either.) He was just always the consummate showman. He knew exactly how to seize the moment. While the rest of us were prepared to give the audience and the judges what we thought they wanted that evening – a solid musical performance by a typical four-man garage band – Isaac knew that more was required to win the competition. His cleverly orchestrated entrance, which must have taken him about a nanosecond to devise, ensured that we'd be the band that people were talking about at the end of the night and, ultimately, the standard against which our competitors would be judged.

A sense of showmanship can definitely help in interviews. Ask anyone who has spent time around people directly involved in hiring decisions, and they'll tell you that they like to be entertained during an interview. As a result, cookie-cutter candidates – those who fulfil the job requirements and look presentable, but nothing more – will always be at a disadvantage to the unique individuals who fulfil those requirements but still manage to stand out.

For people like Isaac, this showmanship comes naturally. For the rest of us, the key may simply lie in treating each interview like the performance of a lifetime, and finding a way to keep your interviewer thinking about you, long after you've left the stage.

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