Let’s face it: People who are technical wizards have a reputation for social awkwardness for a reason. They often exist in a community where their quirky behavior is normalized and, as a result, they think nothing of it. The challenge of course is when they have to interact outside their normal habitat… like with non-technical staff during a job interview.
While many companies do have peers conduct some portion of the interviews, other non-technical staff will likely also be part of that process. Their input is crucial. Getting them to give high marks to your candidate can be critical in who eventually gets the job.
So, to help sway those non-technical interviewers (and maybe even some of the technical ones!), review these tips with your candidate so they can better connect with people during their interview and make a good impression.
1. Remind candidates to introduce themselves and make eye contact
This one seems obvious, but it still trips up technical candidates time after time. When called into the interview, they get up from their chair, scamper into the room and grab a seat like they’re reporting for oral surgery.
Make sure your candidates know their first introduction leaves an impression and is an incredible opportunity to connect with the person they’ll be talking to about the job they want. So they should be nice!
They should smile, make eye contact, shake hands and say the name they prefer to be called. They should remember the interviewer’s name, repeat it and strive to be pleasant. It only takes five seconds, but these actions set the tone for the rest of the interview.
2. Encourage them to take their time and slow down
This is a pervasive issue among smart technical candidates. Many tech folks talk fast. Often it’s the challenge of wanting to say a lot and cover all points they think are relevant. But a fast-talking candidate gives a nervous and frantic impression.
People connect with someone who seems in control of the situation and associate that control with leadership. Tell candidates to take their time and think about the question before starting their answer. Encourage them to match the same pace as their interviewer.
They should make sure the interviewer acknowledges their points and leave the interviewer time to interject questions, clarifications or even suggestions and compliments. A good interview is one where the dialogue moves along naturally.
3. Tell candidates to open up and share something personal
Yes, this is a job interview. Yes, they want to understand a candidate’s qualifications to port the company’s COBOL application to Android and make it a First Person Shooter—but they also want to understand a little about the candidate and how they will fit into the team. So encourage candidates to share a little something about themselves.
Perhaps they could mention their love of mountain biking and how they noticed all the bikes parked in the hall. Or they could discuss their love of silent movies and how thrilled they were to see posters around the office. Remind them to be selective and connect to something they know about the company, the team or the office.
Though candidates should be personable, they don’t need to overshare. They might not want to talk about how they spend most weekends chugging Red Bull and playing WoW in a custom latex Orc suit… Save that until after they’ve cleared the probation period.
4. Encourage your candidates to actively engage with their interviewer
Yes, your candidate is the focus of the discussion, but they’re also trying to connect with the person—not just the job. Encourage your candidates to listen and ask follow-up questions. When the interviewer asks them about their hobbies, they can reciprocate with similar questions.
This provides valuable information about their values and interests and how they may spill over to their work life. But remind candidates to avoid dominating the questioning, which could put the interviewer on the defensive. They should think of it as a friendly game of table tennis; they want a nice rally, not an aggressive smash fest.
5. At the end, remind them to ask about next steps and close politely
If your candidate has done everything suggested above and made a great impression, they don’t want to destroy their progress by ending poorly. Tell them to let the interviewer control the pace and timing; when they’re moving to close, let them do it gracefully.
They should be sure to thank the interviewer for their time, mention how much they enjoyed the discussion, ask about next steps and request the interviewer’s card if appropriate (it usually is). As they leave, they should make eye contact and shake their interviewer’s hand. They shouldn’t bolt out of the office like Bill Gates off the set of The Daily Show! Remind them to check in with HR to see if they need anything else or should meet anyone else.
These items might seem simple but often seem to befuddle the technical candidate. Taking a little time to review these tips with them can make a huge difference in how frequently companies say yes to your candidate.
Rob Masson is the co-founder of Virtual Atomics, a staffing and consulting firm specializing in technical candidates. He’s also a confirmed geek and is just as proud of his ability to shred code as his talent in schmoozing at a networking event. Reach Rob at firstname.lastname@example.org.