velvet glove for the iron fist?
April 4, 2008 4:18 PM   Subscribe

Help my friend not be misperceived so that she can get a job! My friend is super smart, very industrious, a wonderful team member but... makes faces and has a certain demeanor that makes people think that she has, as one person put it, "an attitude problem." This label is TOTALLY NOT deserved, but I do understand why people might get this impression. What can she do to ensure that she comes off as more "likable" in a job interview?

She kind of looks at you like a quizzical pug dog saying "WHAT? YOU CRAZY!" It's actually really cute when you know her... She's hilarious, always honest, very considerate. You just have to learn how to read her. She's not even aspergersish or whatever... she gets people... it just takes them a week or so to get her.

Sometimes, though, she's a bit blunt. I've worked with her, and have had to do some "translating" for outsiders so that her valuable ideas are heard in the light that they need to be. Plus, she has two degrees from Ivy League type schools, so that might add to the presumed air of superiority, etc.

I've seen give presentations where she didn't come off this way at all. But she says she can't really control it. She says that in the past, when she's tried too hard to be nice at interviews, it comes off as fake and weird.

Can anyone offer any concrete tips to help her ace job interviews? She's going on the market this summer. Unfortunately, her skill set is such that "interpersonal skills" will probably be a hiring criteria. She has them... just not at first.
posted by lalalana to Human Relations (14 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
eye contact, good posture, and a smile will go a long way.
posted by thinkingwoman at 4:31 PM on April 4, 2008

Can you or another friend help her practice giving off a friendly and polite demeanor without seeming 'fake or weird'? It sounds like she needs some feedback on how she's coming off.
posted by frobozz at 4:39 PM on April 4, 2008

She kind of looks at you like a quizzical pug dog saying "WHAT? YOU CRAZY!" It's actually really cute when you know her...

she gets people... it just takes them a week or so to get her.

Plus, she has two degrees from Ivy League type schools, so that might add to the presumed air of superiority, etc.

If I may take a page out of your friend's book o' bluntness... I'm put off her just by reading this. She sounds that one girl they have on every season of America's Next Top Model who thinks she's the hottest and smartest girl there, but she can't spell "competition," and when all the other girls yell at her and empty cans of shaving cream into her brownie mix, she assumes it's because they're "jealous" and "intimidated," not because she's freaking insufferable.

I mean, she's probably not that bad, but that's the impression I get.

I know the "just do it"-type answers are generally frowned on around here, but it sounds like your friend knows exactly how she's coming across and why she's coming across that way, and she does know how to control it. She just doesn't because it feels unnatural to her.

A lot of interviewing does feel unnatural, though, especially if you're not used to it. There's a lot of "sure, I'm a very organized person, so cleaning up other people's garbage from conference rooms sounds great" and the like involved. (This skill is quickly acquired if the only job prospects you have involve picking up other people's crap, regardless of your degree.)

It gets easier with practice, though. Go through a few fake interviews with her, maybe including a third person who doesn't know her well, and give her honest feedback on what she could change. Maybe even with a tape recorder or video camera so she can return to it later and see what she's doing. If she has a lot of free time, she might consider applying for a few jobs that she's way overqualified for, for the practice and feedback (and the lesson in humility). Or have her contact a few recruiters, even if she has no intention of getting a job through them. In my experience recruiters are generally great at giving honest and constructive feedback.
posted by Metroid Baby at 4:56 PM on April 4, 2008 [1 favorite]

Practice in front of a mirror.
posted by kindall at 4:58 PM on April 4, 2008

Role-play interviews with her, and videotape them. Have someone she doesn't really know, or doesn't know at all, play the interviewer, so that she's a little nervous, the way one is in a real interview. Be sure to buy this person dinner or beer or something by way of thanks.

A lot of us have expressions or tics that we're not really aware of, and even hearing about them from friends may not make it clear how they're perceived by "outsiders." It helps to hear and see oneself. Good luck to your friend.
posted by rtha at 5:13 PM on April 4, 2008

@Metroid Baby- *She* actually doesn't think that people are jealous/intimidated of her at all, *I* speculate that it MIGHT add to her problem when people first encounter her.

It's definitely more of a "bluntness" problem than an "insufferable" problem. But it's interesting to think about it from that angle...
posted by lalalana at 5:25 PM on April 4, 2008

Tell her to think of puppies while she's talking to the interviewer. That always works for me. I'm apt to sound kind of removed or too deep sometimes and thinking of puppies always makes me seem lighthearted and nice.
posted by onepapertiger at 5:26 PM on April 4, 2008 [2 favorites]

First question - does your friend think she has a problem?

If she is game for it, I would vote for videotaping some practice sessions. For me (and most others) it is very painful to watch yourself talking. However, in her case, it should help her see how others see her. Have her watch the video tape with the interviewer and let the interviewer give her specific feedback on how he/she interpreted expressions, gestures, answers. Then do it again and let her critique herself. I she picking up on the problems when she watches herself? Then do it again so she can try out some changes. Then again until she likes her performance. For this purpose it is best to make the interviews short (10 minutes) so she gets more feedback faster.

The big benefit of videotape is that you can be very specific in your feedback. Not "sometimes you make faces" but " that expression right there makes me think you......"

In fact, if she says "I don't know what you are talking about" you could ask if she would be willing to do a short videotape practice session and then you could show her what you are talking about. (Note: only do this if your friendship can stand the honest criticism - otherwise you need to accept that this is her problem not yours. Ditto if she refuses your offer or if she looks at the video and still says she doesn't see a problem or doesn't want to change.)
posted by metahawk at 6:33 PM on April 4, 2008

um, i am not sure i understand. if you teach someone to pretend in an interview, then the job is not likely to work out well. interviews are not that complex - qualifications speak for themselves, then it's a matter of personality. if the hirer cant see the genuine quality of her, then the job wont work. to say "she has them, just not at first" is a really tricky statement. a lot of her workplace interaction will be the "at first" bit.
tips for doing the interview are simple - be confident but take your time, listen closely to the questions, try and be polite - thats about it.
but if you want to make her into something she's not for the interview, thats a lot more difficult.
posted by edtut at 6:39 PM on April 4, 2008 [1 favorite]

This reminds me of a distant family member of mine. Nice when you get to know her, but she has zero tact, zero class. I personally cannot stand to be around her. Why because as well intentioned as she might be the inappropriate social skills still irk me.

I had a friend who I treated with very little sensitivity. I was a great friend when he needed me - I was always there to listen; my door was always open whenever he needed to spend the night - but I always came across like a jerk when I spoke to him. I thought my bluntness was doing him a favor - "I'm the only one who will say it the way it needs to be said", I used to say. Well, this guy doesn't call me anymore.

Sometimes words speak louder than actions. And facial expressions speak loudest of them all. And as wonderful as your friend might be, she needs to realize that her words and expressions mean so much more sometimes, especially to those who don't know her on an intimate level. I for one as blunt as I am get super offended when someone I don't know on an intimate level gives me one of those "Are you for real" looks - even if I know that the person likes and respects me.

I think it's not about passing the job interview; it's about changing her style completely.

Obviously this doesn't mean that she has to become a gushy, girly, googly plush dollie, but she does need to soften up. And trust me, it ain't easy. But the blunt way isn't working for me. Perhaps it's not working for your friend either.

I really like the idea of videotaping as mentioned above, or even tape recording. I am sure that if I heard myself speak, I would have been disgusted by what I heard coming out of my mouth.

Wish your friend good luck - from one blunt person to another!
posted by bitteroldman at 8:00 PM on April 4, 2008 [1 favorite]

I have had similar issues in the past (overly blunt; odd tones of voice/expressions). What helped for me was to role-play interviews and get a few good friends to critique me on expression, tone of voice, posture, body language, and phrasing.
posted by ysabet at 12:35 AM on April 5, 2008

Facial expressions are not that easy to change as they are largely done unconsciously, so I would suggest she find a career coach/therapist who specializes in this. I know for sure their are therapists that specialize in helping people get through personal issues that are interfering with them getting ahead in their careers (I've heard for things like being more assertive and dealing with bullies at work, but I bet they handle this kind of thing too). I don't have this problem really, but the one thing I've been told is that I tend to look bored, when in fact I'm trying to concentrate on what the person is saying (for instance when I'm being given an assignment). The way I dealt with it is to always have a pad and paper around, so I can be furiously writing away and then it's pretty hard to come off like I'm bored. Finding little things like that might really help your friend.
posted by whoaali at 7:01 AM on April 5, 2008

The posters above who say your friend should watch a video of herself are wrong. The problem is that your friend has learned a non-standard communication pattern: simply seeing herself communicate will not teach her what she needs to know. Your friend has to learn exactly what she is communicating to people who are not familiar with her style. Seeing a video of herself does not accomplish this. Here's what will: 1) do a mock interview 2) in front of 3-4 people your friend trusts who are competent assessing what most job interviewers are looking for (good attitude, willing to take on problems, team player, etc.) 3) give each mock interviewer 3 cards--one green, one yellow and one red. During the interview each of the mock interviewers should hold the cards up one at a time: the green when they are impressed, the yellow when they are neutral and the red when they are concerned (about something said, an expression, etc.). This way, your friend gets feedback about each and every thing she is doing and can actually begin to learn what she is communicating to someone who is not familiar to her regular style. During the mock interview, if your friend is confused about getting a red card, pause the interview and have the interviewer explain why. By having multiple judges, your friend will realize there is a consistency to it and will trust it more. Throughout this process, it's important to think of this as a new language she is learning--not a replacement language of her own (which might crush her creativity and spirit). This new language will enable her to communicate with anyone she wants and will allow her to go far. Your friend is lucky to have you.
posted by Murray M at 7:52 AM on April 5, 2008 [2 favorites]

All the above ideas were great, but for someone who seems to like how she is, with a take it or leave it attitude, I would simply remind her that she has ONE shot at marketing herself to the interviewer, and she would be wise to make the best of that opportunity. SHE is the seller, and the company is the buyer.

ONE buyer, many sellers.

A good dose of reality goes a long way, and as my poker buddies used to say, "You can't win, if you ain't in."
posted by LiveLurker at 7:13 PM on April 5, 2008

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