In this article I’d like to focus on the very important topic of soft furnishing, pink newspapers, and their significance in the interview process.
Few people are aware of just how much of an impact reception sofas can have on your success in the job interview. It’s a bit like that butterfly wings thing they talk about. You know, how a butterfly beating its wings in a hedgerow in Kent can set of a chain of events that end up with an iceberg breaking off the Antarctic and drifting into the Pacific Ocean and causing environmental mayhem.
Except perhaps not as devastating to everyone.
Let me explain because by now I’m guessing that you are quickly becoming anxious about that interview coming up.
Have you ever noticed the furniture in corporate reception areas? Big deep Chesterfield sofas. low coffee tables that are just enough out of reach to make you lean too far forward to pick up the copy of the FT that’s sitting there, tempting you to read it in the hope that it will make you look like you are interested in economics.
This is a recipe for complete job hunting disaster. You think I’m exaggerating? Think again. I’m being serious. Forget about the answers to interview questions. Forget about building rapport with the interviewer. Forget about remembering to ask some good questions when given the opportunity. Of course these are all important, possibly even as important as making sure you don’t sit in the Chesterfield.
It’s an easy and forgivable mistake to make. You pitch up and exchange a friendly smile with the person on reception, explain who you are and are immediately invited to take a seat while someone is called to take you to the interview room. You think to yourself, “Why not? It could be several minutes before the person arrives, and I need to compose myself, relax and feel at ease. That lovely big sofa should do the job nicely, thank you.” And so you take up the offer, settling yourself down, then wondering if your decline into the depths of this chasm of leather will ever end.
Contract cleaning firms have been known to discover people stuck down the back of these sofas hours after the interview was supposed to begin; the interviewer eventually assuming that the candidate had been overcome by the awe of the reception area and had second thoughts about going through with the whole process.
But let’s assume for one crazy moment that you’re not going to fall down the back of the sofa. Does that mean you should sit there and read the FT?
I say no!
Nobody reads the FT in reception areas. They are there for decoration. Anyone who picks up the FT to read it is considered strange. Reading any newspaper in the reception area is strange.
Picture the scene: You are sitting in the low sofa with a large newspaper spread out blocking out the field of vision of just about everyone in the same postcode zone. Along comes the nice person who is either interviewing you or going to take you to the interviewer. He or she checks it’s you. “Yes” you say and they proffer a hand for you to shake. While all this has been going on you have been trying to fold up the newspaper while defying the laws of physics and physiology in an attempt to separate yourself from the furniture.
By the time you succeed your host has lost all sensation in their hand, and has probably lost most of their interest in you.
Let’s wind it back.
The reception area of an organisation is full of valuable information for you. It tells you about the atmosphere and culture of the place. You just need to know what to look for.
First of all the receptionist. Apart from the absolute golden rule about being friendly and respectful (more employers than you imagine take a sounding from the receptions about how you behaved and treated them so be nice), how does he or she behave? Alert? vibrant? polite? interested? knowledgeable as to what you are doing there? helpful? do they offer you anything? What do you think a miserable receptionist says about the place? This is your first impression of the organisation, and if you’ve read my blogs before you’ll know how important first impressions are.
Now, having introduced yourself you’ll be invited to take a seat. Instead go to the toilet. It’s another opportunity to learn a bit about the organisation. It may be something a bit weird that I inherited from my dear mother, but I actually think a person’s lavatory tells a lot about them. Besides, you might be relieved to have the opportunity to use it for a freshen up and to check your hair is where it’s supposed to be.
On returning to reception don’t sit down. Instead set your case or bag down on a chair in a way that makes it easy to pick up with your left hand. That way when your host comes to meet you you’ll be ready to shake their right one.
Don’t read a newspaper. They are difficult to dispose of neatly and easily when your host arrives to greet you. Besides, you won’t learn anything about the company by reading the FT, unless the company is front page news following a dramatic collapse in the share price or they are being investigated by the FSA or something, in which case, you don’t want to embarrass them by being seen to be reading all about it. Wait until you get home.
On the other hand there may be some useful leaflets and publications from the organisation to pick up and scan. this shows interest, may actually be informative, and will probably be fairly easy to put down when the time comes. I’m not saying it will be boring in a put-downable way, just physically easy to put down. Although, come to think of it, it probably will be rather boring. These things usually are. Oh, and maybe there’ll be some posters around that tell you something about the place and people, or an art exhibition they are sponsoring. Taking note of all this stuff is much more useful to you than yesterday’s closing bond prices.
Another fun thing to do in the reception area is called “watch the employees walk through and try to decide if they enjoy their job”. It’s not an accurate reflection of corporate morale, but it’s not a bad thing to be thinking about as you embark on your journey of deciding whether to spend a third of the upcoming phase of your life doing what they’re doing.
Anyway, that’s why flapping around with a newspaper can end up ruining your job prospects.
If you want to know how to prepare really well for interviews attend my half-day workshop in London on Friday, December 16th. Only £45 plus VAT, the class is restricted to a maximum of just ten people so you get plenty of attention. DETAILS HERE.