Ask the Coach #1: Recovering from a Bad Interview Experience

I blogged about this about a month ago, but I wanted to put this in front of a group of job search and career coaches and get more qualified thoughts on this question and issue, which I’m sure a lot of people have dealt with. So, let’s launch a new series called “Ask the Coaches,” where I present a bunch of coaches with questions from job seekers (SEND ME QUESTIONS :)), and they’ll answer it with their years of experience.  Let’s jump into it. The question I sent the coaches is:

“I had an interview and the feedback I got was that I was too low energy. You can imagine that was a problem since this was for a sales role. I am a pretty even-keeled guy, and I’m not super high energy, but I am very good at sales. His only hangup was my energy level?  How do I respond to the interviewer, and what do I do going forward?”

atc_headshot_john_sattler_125John Sattler, Certified Personnel Consultant and Certified Professional Resume Writer

Sales is about numbers and people, therefore, any question about your perceived energy deficit can be squashed easily via a dialouge where you turn it into a unique asset and show how you use it to your advantage. I’m assuming you made it to a face-to-face interview by showing proof of your sales performance in numbers. 

It’s best to evoke/uncover and address an interviewer’s concerns during the interview. After the fact can be done via phone or, as a last resort, email. If the job is ideal, try to set up another face to face appointment to discuss.
Interviewer: Do you have any final questions?
You: I’ve learned a lot today, and, although I was upbeat on the position prior to this interview, I am now positively enthusiastic. Based on what you know right now, are you ready to hire me?  
Interviewer: No. I am concerned because I’m sensing a lower-than-normal level of energy from you.
You: That is really interesting, what makes you say that?
Interivewer: You speak at a slow pace……and just your general aura. I feel little or no enthusiasm coming from you.
You: “Do you have any other concerns? (you MUST uncover ALL concerns and deal with them one by one)
Interviewer: Not at all, I feel strongly, however, that a sales representative must transfer feelings of energy in order to be effective…..”
You: I understand. As sales manager, of course you want a team of high peformers who get along reasonably well, are helpful, and represent the company is a professional and positive way. 
I bring all of those assets to the table – at least my employers think so – and I have found my personality to be a huge asset. You’re right, though, few would readily think someone they perceive as calm, introverted, and speaks with a slower-than-normal cadence would turn out to be a top-performing salesperson. But the fact is, I am just that, as my performance record indicates. I use this initial perception of me as an advantage by focusing the entire presentation on the prospect: I demonstrate how I will solve their problem, robustly and directly address their concerns, and communicate trust. The prospect is reassured that I am talking substance wholly unaided by “big personality,” if you will. I’m not saying it would work for everyone – it does work for me – and the proof is in the numbers.
So, I don’t blame you for stating your concern – at that moment you didn’t have all the information. Though now that you dohave plain proof, in quantitative and qualitative terms, that I can deliver top-tier performance and be an asset to your team, would you be ready to make the offer? (DO NOT SPEAK until they do). 

atc_headshot_frank_pomata_125Frank Pomata, Labor Tech/Suffolk County Dept. of Labor

I would urge the candidate to take the feedback seriously and perhaps engage in some mock interviews with others to see if they have similar perceptions.  Thank the interviewer for the feedback, but emphasize that many customers prefer not to be sold in an aggressive/high energy manner and how your track record in sales demonstrates the success of your approach.

That being said, consider being open to trying new techniques to show your energy level is at least equal to other sales personnel.

atc_headshot_melvin_scales_125Melvin Scales, Senior Vice President, Meridian Resources, wrote:

In my opinion, having a perceived low energy level when interviewing for a sales role has everything to do with what is being sold. In non-tangible sales such as consulting for example, being a high energy salesperson can backfire because the salesperson is seen as pushy. Of course this can happen in tangible sales such as automobiles, major appliances, computers etc. This is clearly an issue of preference demanded by the hiring manager. He or she is looking to hire someone like themselves. It has been my experience that the best salepersons are excellent listeners and remain focused and balanced throughout the client relationship.

atc_3_cheryl_lynch_simpson_125Cheryl Lynch Simpson, Career, Job Search & LinkedIn Coach | Executive Resume Writer

Assuming you have shared your sales achievements with the interviewer, then his “low-energy” comment indicates to me that he has a pre-conceived idea of what he views as a desirable candidate personality. He clearly equates high energy with sales success despite evidence of an exemplary sales record.

Moreover, because he seems to be insisting that all of his hires must have the same sales personality, I believe he is probably a micromanager. Is that the kind of person you want to work for? If it’s not, then I suggest you move on, but clarify for yourself what kinds of personality and leadership traits you are seeking in an immediate supervisor and make every effort to screen your potential managers going forward.

atc_headshot_lucie_yeomans_125Lucie Yeomans, Certified Career Services Professional and Job Search Strategist

Don’t take the feedback too hard. Your personality has led you to what sounds like a great sales career. Going forward, here are a couple of strategies you may not have considered.

  1. Recent studies show an overwhelming majority of interviewers today are looking for a cultural fit as much as they are looking for the right qualifications and experience. To show your enthusiasm and energy, do your homework on the hiring company. Go beyond just reading the company website. What are the industry trends, opportunities, and challenges? Have thoughtful, engaging questions and your accomplishment stories ready to discuss with the interviewer(s) regarding these topics. You want the interviewer to notice how impressive your up-to-date industry/company knowledge is, which will bring out more of your personality and enthusiasm as you engage them in meaningful discussions.
  2. Also, many candidates never consider whether the hiring company is a good fit for them. You are interviewing them as much as they are interviewing you. Check out the company’s social media platforms and engage with employees. What are the employees tweeting about? What is their culture like? Is it a good fit for you? Too many clients have come to me after they jumped at a job only to find out within a few months the company was not a good fit. The trick is to not be one of them.

atc_headshot_denise_taylor_125Denise Taylor, career coach, Chief Inspiration Officer, the 50 Plus Coach, responds:

It sounds like you were interviewed by an extrovert, high energy person who was looking for someone similar. You want to be ready with all the examples of how you are successful in sales, and how you adapt to different potential customers. That’s the experience bit, but this person wants to see and hear your energy. Here’s some suggestions for next time. Let’s think about what’s going on inside and outside. Inside you know you can do it, and are enthused but it’s not coming through so find inside you the energetic enthused you from a previous, possibly non work situation and hold that thought. How did you feel act – was there more passion in how you spoke? More energy? Changes in how you hold your body? Now take that and make it come to the outside – make some changes to your voice tone and posture and let this energy shine through. You’re not looking got a radical change but a shift of maybe 10%.

atc_headshot_gina_bartosiewicz_125Gina Bartosiewicz, Professional Resume Writing Consultant

Never sacrifice who you are and what you stand for, personally or professionally, for any role or any company.  If you are getting feedback on an interview (which, by the way is great!), that you are not a particular fit for that company’s culture, then this feedback is extremely valuable and not to be taken lightly.  One of the most important things you can do for your well-being and your career is to take on a role with a company where you will feel like you mesh well with the culture, and can effortlessly fit in, and therefore, find it easier to contribute and make a difference! Always attempt to do your research on a company’s culture prior to the interview, if possible!

I have been hearing more and more about this type of feedback, or feedback in general pertaining to an interview candidates skills or qualifications being brought to the attention of the interviewer during the interview itself.  Although, most are not prepared for this type of feedback during an interview, it is becoming more commonplace, and I think it’s a positive thing.  Historically, you receive a letter or email after the interview with a simple “thanks, but no thanks” and not a lot of reasoning behind it, but having something to actually think about and have hard facts and reasoning behind the “no thanks” walking out of an interview can be enlightening  It may not be what you wanted to hear, but any constructive feedback can be helpful to you in your job search.  Additionally, it helps YOU weed out the company.  Remember, you are also interviewing the company.  This particular company wanted high energy sales.  This was not the candidates style, and it may have just been an uncomfortable fit for everyone.

atc_3_headshot_elvabankinsbaxter_125Elva Bankins Baxter, Certified Master Coach

When the feedback is “low energy”, it can be a matter of “fit” as it relates to the high achievers on the current sales team or it could be a reference to the age of your friend. Your friend may be older than the sales team’s high achievers and potentially exude less energy.  Either way, the interviewer perceived a cultural mismatch.  While this feedback is frustrating to hear, when the candidate has proven successes and high achieving sales, it’s an “Ah Ha” moment for the candidate.   My advice for this candidate moving forward is to tell stories about his key wins, not just state the statistics about a win.  He or she should give specifics about these key wins and what made him or her successful in beating the competition.   Told early in the interview,  these stories must be brief and should be rehearsed well before the interview.  I recommend using the S.O.A.R method for story telling.  Most people like to hear a good story that has a beginning middle and a highly successful ending.  The telling of the story will demonstrate the candidate’s passion, credibility, energy, and fit and enables interviewers to see the potential value that this candidate brings to the sales team.

atc_3_headshot_ron_auerbach_125Ron Auerbach, Author of Think Like an Interviewer: Your Job Hunting Guide to Success

Even-keel can be used to describe those who let things just roll off their backs. Translation, things just don’t bother or get to you. This is a good thing because it says to interviewers that you’re somebody who will not get very upset, lash-out, or give up. But when it’s used to describe somebody who is less motivated or dedicated, that is an extremely bad thing! So less energy = less motivation, dedication, and/or desire to achieve or succeed. And with sales, this is a job killer!

Sales is a profession where candidates need to be seen as highly-motivated and extroverted. Somebody who is extremely personable that can relate well to new prospects and existing clients. And a person who will be able to handle the pressures and rejections that are commonplace in sales. So to be successful in a sales interview, an interviewer must perceive you as displaying these qualities.

Now you don’t want to go overboard! Being seen as too aggressive can turn off an interviewer just as easily as being too shy. So you need to avoid crossing over into arrogance or cockiness territory. So extroverted and personable enough to say prospects and clients will feel very comfortable with you. And cool enough to say pressure and rejection won’t get to or bother you.

Sadly, it is too late for this questioner to do anything about that interview because it was after-the-fact. And the time to have been seen the right way has passed. So speaking up now won’t change their minds. But going forward, is is crucial that he be seen in a very positive light. So learn from this by displaying a more animated and extroverted personality. One that says you’re outgoing, personable, can handle pressure, and don’t let things bother or stand in your way. Those are the KEYS to success in a sales interview!

atc_3_headshot_rich_grant_125Rich Grant, online career course instructor for Peak-Careers

Your response to the interviewer (ideally the hiring sales manager) is your opportunity to demonstrate your competencies as a sales person, primarily overcoming objections and highlighting the benefits of your product or service in terms of the customer’s needs. A good sales person is a good listener and asks good questions. By the way, this might be a test to see how persistent you are. You want to make the point that being low key does not mean “low energy.” Ask some questions to find out more about the personalities and temperaments of the customers. Do they expect a hyper, high energy sales approach or would they prefer a serious, less pressurized, consultative approach? You overall point is that you get results. You’re good at sales. Your even-keeled demeanor provides a benefit to the customer because you listen and they’re comfortable with you.

atc_3_headshot_gavan_ambrosini_125Gavan Ambrosini, Executive Coach, Career Consultant

First off, congratulations on getting the interview.  Your resume and/or your connections are working for you, and that is a great start.  Second:  Try not to take it personally when you get feedback that isn’t 100% positive. Use it to your advantage to work on your interviewing skills, and be sure to thank them for the useful feedback (yes THANK them) It shows you have a growth mindset and are open to learning.  It could keep the door open to continued dialogue with them.  Perhaps send them a few testimonials from happy customers to illustrate your point that you don’t need to be super outgoing to be successful or to please your clients. The next time you interview, tune into the body language of your interviewer–and mirror the person you are talking to. If they speak with a more energetic tone– match their pacing with yours.  If they talk slow and deliberately, then slow down your pace down.  People are naturally & unconsciously biased towards those who are like them unless they are trained specifically to recognize it when it pops up.  Remember, feedback is subjective and tells you more about the person giving feedback than it does about you. The only reason feedback may bother you is if you think there is some truth in it.  If not, it wouldn’t bother you.  If so, then there are ways to work on it to present yourself differently for the next time.

atc_headshot_heather_maietta_125Dr. Heather N. Maietta, Master Career Coach

Addressing the feedback in the moment would be ideal. This is easier said than done, especially when caught off guard. In part, the interviewer wants to see how you respond to unconventional questions or feedback, so how you react is as important as how you respond. In this instance, letting the interviewer know that’s your signature approach to sales and it has brought you much success to date. People respond well to your easy going, laid back demeanor, as supported by your excellent sales record. Mention this is a question she should pose to your references when he calls so he can be rest assured your energy level is a non-issue.

atc_headshot_wym_bumgardner_125Wym Bumgardner, Career Services Representative

Every interview is different.  “Being too low energy” means different things to different people.  And, kudos to the interviewer for pointing this out.  This is a “gold nugget” for you to consider, and also to engage your interviewer in a discussion about this.

It sounds as if the interview is over.  You have an opportunity to follow up with the interviewer, thank him for his comments, get specifics about what “low energy” means to him and what a “high energy” interview would be.  Let him know that you are flexible with your style, and that your excellent sales results speak for your skills.  Offer to meet with him again, demonstrating a high energy level.  Practice with a trusted colleague for this “high energy” interview before you go.  Being prepared both with “energy” and strong sales accomplishments could lead you to a new position.

And that’s it for our FIRST Ask The Coach Question… click here for more!