Recently I attended an ACS regional meeting, and had a very interesting discussion about interviewing. It seems that region had a large employer of chemists, who always used a certain car company to pick up candidates from the airport and drive them to the corporate site for their job interview. What the candidates did not know was that the vast majority of the drivers for this particular car service were retirees of said company, and they were instructed to engage the candidates in conversation. The driver’s evaluation of the candidate was communicated to the hiring manager, and was factored into the employment decision. For these candidates, the interview started the minute the driver met them in the airport – but most of them didn’t realize that, and many were a little too candid with the driver.
Over the years, I have talked to many people who learned this lesson the hard way.
There was the candidate who was running late for an interview, so he cut off another driver to get a parking space, and even made a rude gesture towards her. Imagine his surprise when that driver ended up being his interviewer. For some reason, it was a short interview and he did not get an offer.
And then there was the candidate who sat in the company lobby waiting for her interview, talking on her cell phone about how she didn’t really care about this job, rather just interviewing for the practice. Apparently the receptionist relayed that information to the hiring team, and there was no offer made there, either.
In reality, every interaction you have with anyone is part of an interview, and even more so when it’s someone who has connections to a company you’re interested in working for. Since you don’t know whom anyone else knows, and you should always be looking for your next opportunity, the only safe bet is to consider every interaction important, and always be on your best professional behavior.
Think about the last time you interacted with someone who was peripheral to your project – a receptionist, administrative assistant, or even a summer intern. Did you treat them with the same respect as everyone else on the team, or did you have “an attitude”? Did you brush them off as unimportant? Do you know what their relationship is with their supervisor? What about with your supervisor?
Of course you should not treat everyone as a spy, and suspect them of ulterior motives. Contrary to what you may believe, everyone is not focused on you. Most people will only remember you if you make an exceptionally good or bad first impression. Which one would you rather be remembered for?
So, go out of your way to leave a good impression. When going on an official job interview, make sure to let them know how much you want the job, how much you have learned about the company from your research, and how well that job and that company match up with exactly what you want to do next in your career. Even in casual conversations, be careful never to speak ill of people or companies, since you never know what connections someone has. In your current job, your volunteer work, and anyplace else that you interact with fellow professionals, you always want to leave a good impression. Do more than what is asked, with a positive attitude, and make sure to share the credit with your fellow team members.
You never know who will be the next person to put in a good, or bad, word for you with their boss – who just might become your boss, or connect you to your next boss, at some point in the future.
This article was written by Lisa M. Balbes, Ph.D. of Balbes Consultants LLC. Lisa is a freelance technical writer/editor and author of: “Nontraditional Careers for Chemists: New Formulas for Chemistry Careers,” published by Oxford University Press.