Job Interviews and the Power of Silence

Job Interviews and the Power of Silence

In this latest Hiring Manager Interview, Mark Settle, the CIO of BMC Software, shares the first-hand lessons he's learned about talking too much during job interviews and advises job seekers on how to establish a rapport with hiring managers during job interviews.

Mark Settle, CIO of BMC Software, doesn't mince words when he explains what a hiring manager is ultimately trying to learn about a candidate during a job interview: "Do I want to come in to work and go to meetings with this person every day, and do I think this person can cover my back and get done what I need them to get done to make me look good? I know that sounds Machiavellian," he admits. "But subliminally, that is exactly what is going on[in the interviewer's mind]."

To get answers to those pointed questions, Settle's approach is oblique. He prefers to establish a dialog with the candidate he's interviewing, rather than ask the stock questions that so many other hiring managers rely on to determine a candidate's fit, such as 'What brings you here today' and 'What's your biggest flaw'. A conversation about the candidate's background or approach to solving a particular problem helps Settle understand the candidate's thought process.

Another technique Settle uses in job interviews is silence. In the 1980s, while working for gasoline company Arco, Settle learned to leverage the power of silence in job interviews. He had seen a training video on how to interview people for jobs and was shocked by how much time interviewers spent talking when the purpose of the interview was to get the job seeker talking. He realized that if he could hold his tongue and not fill breaks in the conversation with his own voice, the job seeker-uncomfortable with the silence-would fill in those pauses with more candid, unrehearsed information about themselves.

For all of his specific interview techniques, Settle doesn't exhaust himself trying to determine a job seeker's fit. He says trying to assess whether a candidates is a 98 percent fit with an IT organization is unrealistic.

"The best you should hope for is about a 75 to 80 percent fit," he says. "A good manager can take somebody who fits the position 80 percent and get them up to speed faster than it would take to find the person who fits the job 98 percent. That could take a year and costs time and money."

In this Q&A, Settle shares the first-hand lessons he's learned about talking too much during job interviews, the importance for job seekers of connecting with hiring managers on a personal level, and he advises IT professionals on how they can advance their careers with their current employers.

When you first started hiring people, did you receive training on how to interview job seekers?

Yes, in fact, some of it I remember very distinctly. My first hiring experience took place at ARCO in the 1980s. I was the head of an R&D tech services group of 60 to 80 people. I remember a "real world" video tape of people interviewing. One of the things that made a big impression on me was how much of the time the interviewer spent talking to the interviewee. That was a learning experience for me because at that stage of my career, I had a certain ego need to fill part of the time with my own voice. I learned to listen a little more closely.

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