Job interviews as exercises in ‘moving others’

Daniel Pink’s book To Sell is Human presents some interesting ideas on selling, with useful application to job interviews.

As his book title suggests, these days people spend much of their time at worked engaged in ‘non-sales selling’, meaning persuading, influencing, convincing, moving others in ways that don’t involve making a purchase. If you consider the amount of time spent dealing with other people, whether they be staff, colleagues, clients, stakeholders, it amounts to a significant amount of time and much of this work revolves around helping people to see the world differently, behaving differently, thinking differently. In short, moving people.

Part of Pink’s book focuses on people’s negative views towards selling. As times have changed, ourthinking needs to change. The ‘old school’ of selling focused on closing the deal and a belief that only extroverts were good at selling. This thinking stems from a time when the seller knew much useful information not available to the buyer. These days, anyone can find out all they need to know from the internet, so information per se is no longer the seller’s advantage.

Pink suggests three skills are crucial for today’s ‘mover’:

Attunement: Bringing oneself into harmony with people  and contexts by being an effective perspective-taker. This is the ability to bring one’s actions and outlook into harmony with other people and with the context you and they are in. Who are the skilled attuners? This is where Pink explores research to show that the evidence for the extravert being a sales success is flimsy. The people who are most successful are the ambiverts, those on the midpoint between extroverts and introverts. These are the people who know when to speak and when to shut up. They have a wider repertoire that allows them to achieve harmony with a broad range of people in varied circumstances.

Buoyancy – a quality that combines grittiness of spirit and sunniness of outlook. These are the skills and qualities that enable you to stay afloat when faced with rejection. Pink explores the research covering before, during and after a ‘sales’ experience. This material is also relevant to the job applicant who has had bad interview experiences and/or is nervous facing an interview. Pink draws on research that indicates that the self pump-up, highly positive self-talk is not as useful as we think. Yes, we could tell ourselves prior to an interview: ‘I can do this.’ ‘I am a strong candidate.’ ‘I am well prepared.’ Research suggests the value of self-talk is more nuanced. Drawing on the example of Bob the Builder who asks ‘Can we fix it?’ Pink explains that interrogative self-talk is more useful. Using questioning self-talk is more effective because it elicits answers and within those answers are strategies for carrying out the task. Asking yourself a question may prompt you to give tactical advice, to summon resources to accomplish the task. Asking yourself a question is also more likely to tap inner motivations, giving you a reason for doing what needs to be done. For example, you might ask yourself: Can I make a great case during this interview? You might respond with: Well yes, I can present a strong case during this interview. I’m well prepared. At my last interview I didn’t research the job and so was unable to respond well to some questions. This time, I’ve done my homework.’

Pink’s material on explanatory style for after the sale is also useful for job applicants. Drawing on Martin Seligman’s work on optimism and pessimism, Pink suggests that using an optimistic explanatory style is a useful way to respond to rejections. This style sees rejections as temporary rather than permanent, specific rather than universal, external rather than personal. To illustrate let’s imagine you have attended a job interview and you later receive a rejection letter/email.

Ask three questions:

  • Is this permanent?

Bad response – yes I’m hopeless at job interviews
Better – no I didn’t prepare well and hadn’t done my homework.

  • Is this pervasive?

Bad – yes all job interviews are rigged.
Better – no this panel wasn’t highly skilled in their interview technique.

  • Is this personal?

Bad – yes the reason they didn’t offer me the job is because they didn’t like my answers.
Better – no my answers could have been better, but the real reason is the person they offered the job to had more experience than me.

Keep in mind that eternal optimism is not a good strategy. Some ‘defensive pessimism’ is also warranted in order to think through the gloom and doom scenarios and mentally prepare for the very worst that can happen during a job interview. This will help with managing nerves. Two strategies Pink describes are to ask What if? questions and figure out the answers, such as, What if I don’t understand the question? The second strategy is to write yourself a rejection letter. Imagine you are the selection panel and you have knocked back you. Write yourself a ‘Thanks, but no thanks’ letter explaining why your application was not successful. Such a letter may not only give you a moment to laugh, but on a more helpful note, may point to areas that still need work during your preparation.

Clarity – the capacity to make sense of murky situations. Rather than problem solving the focus is on problem finding, uncovering challenges people may not know they have, finding the right problems to solve. Two skills are needed to identify problems as a way to move others: skilled curating of information and asking questions. Given most people can find information, moving people now relies on sorting through the data and presenting relevant and clarifying material. Asking quality questions uncovers possibilities, surfaces latent issues and locates unexpected problems, all of which can be used to provide clarity.

As a job applicant, how could you become a curator? One way is to research what the current and potential problems are in your field – whether that be subject matter, a profession, an occupation, a type of project. What are some of the trends, or latent issues that need to be addressed. How have you addressed these issues? How have you used your skills to identify problems and help people to think about them differently?

As a job applicant, asking quality questions both before you apply and during an interview are critical skills. Finding out more than what is stated in a job description will help you decide if you wish to apply as well as give you deeper insight on which to base your application. Asking questions during an interview that reveal your interest, show you’ve done your homework and generate opportunities to provide further material to support your case, will help make a positive impression.

Moving people is your goal as a job applicant. Using Pink’s three skills – attunement, buoyancy and clarity – will help you achieve this.

Dr Ann Villiers, career coach, writer and author, is Australia’s only Mental Nutritionist specialising in mind and language practices that help people build flexible thinking, confident speaking and quality connections with people.