I hated taking tests in school…I much preferred the term-paper option, which I excelled at (for myself and others, for a small “consulting” fee). Fortunately, I’ve never had to take any kind of employment test because when I graduated from college and started my first professional job, I already had two years of experience in an oceanographic laboratory and in the field. I worked as a co-op student for NOAA and upon graduation, was hired immediately as a research geological oceanographer. From that point on, my skills, knowledge, experience, and accomplishments opened doors for me no matter where my career path took me.
More employers are incorporating objective assessments as part of the hiring process. In fact, 76% of organizations with more than 100 employees rely on aptitude and personality tests for external hiring, and is expected to jump to 88% over the next few years. According to an article in the July-August 2015 issue of the Harvard Business Review, worldwide estimates suggest that tests are used for 72% of middle management positions and as high as 80% of senior roles, compared to only 59% for entry-level positions. And these assessments are becoming increasingly difficult to game, making it easier to weed out candidates who may misrepresent themselves.
According to the HBR article, the tests employers use today focus on three major areas: Competence, Work Ethic, and Emotional Intelligence. Competency includes expertise, experience, and ability to be trained; Work Ethic addresses reliability, ambition, and integrity; Emotional Intelligence covers self-management, social skills, and political (organizational) skills.
Résumés, aptitude tests, situational interviews are tools employers use to evaluate competency. I think that accomplishments and achievements–especially if they can be quantified–speak loudly and go a long way to measure not only competency but the capability to contribute to the higher strategic objectives of the organization. Employers will use references, personality tests, and peer evaluations to assess a candidate’s work ethic. Different types of interviews (think-aloud protocols, situational interviews/values, simulations) and personality tests are common assessment tools.
Rest assured, your assessment scores are not the only criteria for evaluating whether you continue forward in the hiring process. They are used primarily to establish a baseline or threshold to determine the candidate short list. One of the most important factors is your likeability, and there aren’t any assessments for that. It’s how the hiring manager feels about how well you’d fit in with the existing team, department, or organization. And as I write in my new book, Strategic Career Engagement: The Definitive Guide for Getting Hired and Promoted, many times the hiring manager’s intuition, gut instinct, or determination of “personal chemistry” with a candidate may override any difference in assessment scores with other candidates.
Someone once asked me at one of my seminars if “impression management” meant she had to somehow morph her personality into someone or something she wasn’t in order to get a job offer. I was careful to not use the word “personality” in that part of the program because impression management isn’t about personality transplants; it’s about adjusting the level of your likeability factor to continue forward in the hiring process. It’s turning the volume up–or down–on certain aspects of your persona to guide or shape a desired outcome, which may be a second interview, winning a contract, or getting someone’s vote.
While I use the informal term likeability factor in my seminars, books, blog, articles, and keynotes, it is nonetheless a strategy to enhance the prospects of receiving a job offer. Who goes into a job interview unwilling to promote their accomplishments, expertise, and character? Only the perpetually unemployed. Behavioral approaches that indirectly influence hiring recommendations are called impression management. If you’ve ever shown up for a job interview wearing your best business attire, you have engaged in impression management. If you’ve been conscious about your vocabulary during a job interview or first date, you too have applied impression management. If you’ve turned on the charm to avoid getting a speeding ticket, you’ve used impression management. Your attempt to influence a decision or individual in your favor through visual, verbal, and written communication can be thought of as building rapport. You’re trying to raise your likeability factor, and we’ve all done it.
There are many variables in play before, during, and after the interview, not the least of which are nonverbal and self-promotion behaviors of candidates. These behaviors, as well as the nature of the position to be filled, shape the direction of the interview and how hiring managers perceive the candidates. Because the impressions people make influence how others perceive, evaluate, and treat them, individuals often adapt their behavior to create certain impressions in the minds of others. Conveying a favorable impression increases the chances that a candidate will achieve a preferred outcome, which may be a second interview, a job offer, a promotion, etc.
If the idea of impression management sounds like it smacks of behavioral manipulation, you’re right. In fact, psychologists claim that public self-presentation is almost always overtly manipulative because the intent is to maximize projected benefits and minimize expected penalties. But it’s nothing sinister at all. You are managing your impression by simply observing others and mirroring their communication style and demeanor in an attempt to connect with them on a relational level that makes you memorable.
It’s not difficult to embrace that different people have different approaches to processing information, developing ideas, and communicating them to others. Candidates fluent in the language of impression management have the ability to adapt to the communication style of the person they are trying to impress, rather than remain within rigid confines of their “comfort zone.” Communication may be taking place, but the message being sent must be received by others in the same context and the same frame of reference.
Given equal technical or professional expertise among remaining short-list candidates, hiring managers often ask: “Which candidate would I and my team prefer to work with?” So long as many hiring managers rely to varying degrees on gut instinct and personal chemistry when making a hiring decision, people will have to stretch (or contract!) themselves accordingly to remain viable candidates in the hiring process.
During interviews, someone who is typically sociable can appear to be reticent and withdrawn; another individual who normally is quiet and restrained can seem outgoing and present. Which candidate will have the advantage? In both situations, the candidates could be mirroring the hiring manager’s demeanor (body language, energy, vocabulary, etc.) or reflecting the tone of the social setting. The key to enhancing your chances of receiving a job offer is to be fully engaged in the interview environment and with the participants present. That engagement may require dialing your impression management fluency up (stretching) or down (contracting) a couple of notches with each person you are interacting with.
The language of impression management isn’t all verbal; it’s also partly visual, and both work hand in hand to create that favorable impression that helps get that second interview—or avoid getting that speeding ticket.