It happens all the time—an employer makes a hiring decision that I don’t un- derstand. I’m the one who set up the
interviews, but the hiring manager can’t
tell me the exact reasons why one candidate was hired and another turned down.
They just can’t describe what it was that
was so impressive. When pushed, their
reasoning sounds really wishy-washy.
It is sometimes described as the“it factor.” A client will say, “While Rami is a better fit technically for the CTO role, I think
that we need to hire Angela, as she certainly has it, you know, what we’re looking
for.” But this isn’t helpful—it just sounds
like a vague, catch-all phrase, which leaves
me as much in the dark as I was before.
But, after 30 years as a recruiter, I
now see that there is in fact such a thing
as the“It factor.” I’ve come to recognize
some of its elements—and how candidates can capitalize on them to optimize
it for themselves.
Ingredients of the “It” factor
Now, I interview boards and hiring man-
agers in great detail to determine what
they consider to be their “it factor.” But
even with such upfront efforts, clarity on
these intangible qualities that lead to suc-
cess can be fleeting. Committee members
say things like, “Well, I don’t know how to
put it, but I’d say that Candidate A would
do better here because he’s clearly more
open and willing to fit in. I’m sure I’d enjoy
working with him.” Or,“I’d say that Candi-
date B has more interest in the role; per-
haps presence or charisma best describes
the difference in her interview.” Presence?
Charisma? Both are important, but they
don’t really describe all of what“it” is.
Another challenge is that you can’t
teach charisma—it seems to me that peo-
ple either have it or they don’t. But certain
elements of charisma can be practiced by
anyone. You don’t need to have a“rah-rah”
salesperson personality. You don’t need
to go into an interview with practiced
lines right out of books with titles like
“100 Snappy Answers to Tough Interview
Questions.” Instead, you’ll need to inte-
grate certain elements of the charismatic
personality—that interviewer with “pres-
ence”—into the way that you interview.
When you break down the elements
of what these senior executives see that
they like, it’s achievable—even for the
introvert who is not naturally charismatic. Here are five ingredients of the
“it factor” that everyone, regardless of
personality type, can and should bring
to the job interview.
Do your best to leave your anxiety at home
and be comfortable. Don’t try to guess
what question you’ll be asked next. Just
listen well, maintain friendly eye contact
with the interviewer, and provide respons-
es that align with the general mission
you’ve set out with for the day—that is,
to be seen as a problem solver. No matter
what level of job you are interviewing for,
CTO or scientist, the company will come
back and hire the problem solver. Don’t
fixate on being“right” with your answers.
Just ensure you tie them into the compa-
ny’s needs as best you can.
No one hires people who are in the business of science without a core passion for
what they do. The“tell me about yourself”
section of an interview is a great place to
show how passionate you are for your science. Relate it back to how and why you
got into the business you are in now, and
directly relate it to something that excites
you. You’ll be uplifted by the feelings that
emerge and the interviewer can sense that.
Tied to passion in many ways, enthusiasm
needs to be real. If you go back and talk
about your thesis work, make sure you are
visibly charged up about it. When it’s time
for you to ask questions, make sure your
queries about the company and its focus
are accompanied by sincere enthusiasm and
appreciation of the opportunity to interview.
This element can only be achieved when
you have relieved yourself of anxiety. Sure,
it’s an important day, so some anxiety will
always exist in the background. But you’ll
do far better if you’re a friendly version of
yourself, not a nervous wreck. Remember
that, as they interview you, employers are
wondering, “What’s it like to work with
this person on a daily basis?”You want to
leave them with the feeling that it will be
a comfortable fit, which you can only convey if you are true to your authentic self.
Harnessing your body language
Hitting all of these points might seem
overwhelming, but you have a great tool
at your disposal: your body. In a TED talk
Winning an Interview
Through the “It” Factor
Exploring the elements that combine to make up the “it” factor
David G. Jensen
Dave Jensen, President of CTI
Executive search, is an executive recruiter with 30 years of experience in
biopharma recruitment, and he can be reached
at firstname.lastname@example.org. See his website
at www.careertrax.com for hundreds of open
positions across the industry.