It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a person in a good suit sitting anxiously in an interview room, must be in want of a half-decent job.

I love Pride And Prejudice. Love it. I’m told this means that I am either (a) a big girl who has really let herself go or (b) a fan of vicious, seditious literature about the human condition. Austen’s recurring themes of communication breakdown due to pride, social class, family and, above all, prejudice have made for entertaining reading and viewing for generations. Pride And Prejudice was preliminarily entitled First Impressions and is is these early, erroneous judgements that give the book its spine and have made it so beloved.
When you are commencing a job interview, the interviewer’s ‘decision switch’ is set to Neutral. As soon as you greet her, the impressions start mounting up. Now, this decision switch is a finely-balanced tool and it has a hair-trigger – but only in one direction. Interviewers will make very quick decisions about who not to hire.

So there you are in your good suit, pitching yourself as enthusiastically and professionally as you know how and the impression count is growing. Your problem as a candidate is that it doesn’t take very many negative or ‘iffy’ impressions to throw the decision switch to “No Hire.” So how do you control this?
Well, the short answer is that you can’t. If you walk into a room as a single person and meet 30 people of the opposite sex, within a few minutes they will have arranged themselves onto a bell curve of opinion about you – a few who really like you, a few who have an instant, chemical dislike to you and a bunch of people in the middle who have no strong feelings about you either way (maybe with slight leanings for or against).

So why would you think an interview would be any different? This is why I rail and harangue people to be themselves in interviews. If the interviewer is going to reject you, let it be because she genuinely doesn’t like you or doesn’t think you’ll fit in with the team – not because she didn’t like the fake-ass mask that you were wearing in the interview room.

This doesn’t mean you have no control. Far from it. Skilled interviewers don’t click the “Hire” switch impulsively; but they click the “No Hire” switch v-e-r-y quickly when faced with visibly unprofessional, unenthusiastic or unprepared candidates. Those impressions are totally in your control. Totally.

To get a sense of this, all I need to ask most candidates is: “Walk me through your CV. I’m particularly interested in the reasons you had for making the moves you made along the way” and “Why do you think you’d be the best person for this job?” The 90% who stutter and stumble their way through one or both of those answers get dropped straight into the crocodile pit. Then I can start getting serious with the remaining few.

Prejudicial? Perhaps. Too quick to rush to judgement? Maybe. But folks – that’s life in this imperfect world. Walk into any bar or club and you can observe the same ‘decision switch’ being used in the dating game.

Pride And Prejudice is a series of acute observations about human interaction, but I also think it’s an invaluable tool that all interviewers should read – or maybe I’m just a big girl who really let herself go …