IT career checkup part 4: Face-to-face interviews -- the 'eyes' have it, then the ears

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Once you've earned the chance to interview new job or promotion, why not enjoy the spotlight by investing in your appearance and negotiating talents?

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The most critical phase of any search for a higher rank or new, better job is dynamic, face-to-face interviews with the people who'll likely supervise you or be part of your team if you land the new position you want.

But IT is rife with communication challenges, and an interview is the last place you want to experience one. So before you press the flesh and interact in real time, take note of another IT communication challenge first: its acceptance of terse, brief, even blunt speaking habits and its corollary, the easy-going look that's an IT uniform.

1. Dress codes versus writing code

Face-to-face hiring or promotion interviews are always formal. IT's unique culture, nevertheless, demands a subtle approach to this truism.

Investigate the clothing subculture of your potential new employer's industry if it's different from your current one. Observe, if possible, what constitutes formal attire for the rank directly above the one you'll have. Sort through the data to find two or three new ideas to polish your outfit without crossing a line into inauthenticity or awkwardness.

Ignore casual Friday. Dress how you would in person if you're conducting an interview on Skype or another similar video chat service from your home office. (Make sure what's behind you is reasonably tidy and attractive and warn interviewers of any potential interruptions by pets, children, deliveries, etc.).

2.  Mirror, mirror on the mainframe

When you are interviewing, you want to look your best. For better or for worse, we are judged on our personal appearance. For both men and women, this might be a good opportunity to reflect on your look and make subtle changes, like some new clothes or even a new hairstyle.

For male IT pros, if you're sporting a beard or mustache (or long hair), watch how facial hair standards become more conservative as you move up the ladder, industry by industry. As with its standard "geek" clothing, IT gets away with more than its fair share of grooming informality.

One final thought: Keep the new you under wraps when your search is a secret. Take blazers, ties, shirts, jewelry, nice shoes, etc. to work in a bag if you'll go from your office straight to an interview outside your company. If your makeover amounts to a big transition, do it slowly and in bits.

3. Crack a smile, break the ice

Waiting patiently for its turn in my career checkup series is humor.

IT has a reputation for quirkiness and fun, so why not take advantage of it when you need it most?

Aim small; one or two quips, quickly told, are plenty. Here are three tactics for helping your interviewers, and by extension you, become less self-conscious:

  • Have your funny line impart a lesson or emphasize a theme integral to your message. Your primary purpose is not to entertain but to enlighten those present about your problem-solving abilities.
  • Be the sole butt of the joke and make it easy to laugh with you. A harmless but totally unanticipated misunderstanding or miscommunication keeps things lighthearted.
  • Hold off on introducing humor until things are well underway. When the stakes are high, the first chord to strike is a serious one.

If the idea of laughter in such circumstances leaves you unsure, recall times you've tapped your funny bone to overcome embarrassment or disappointment or simply to savor others' company. You might be surprised by how often comic relief saved the day.

4. Thankfully brief

Here's another instance when you must set aside IT's nonchalant, dry tone.

Send typed, personalized thank you notes to all your interviewers on quality stationery or email a PDF with a personal letterhead and your handwritten signature. There are no exceptions to this rule.

Always confirm the spelling of their names and full titles by referring to business cards or web searches. Rebekah, Jon, Carroll, Marc, Julee, Thom, are you paying attention?

Use first names in your salutation if you did so in person, otherwise stick to Dear Mr. or Ms. (often still the case for senior executives outside of the technology industry).

No matter what the outcome, remember to thank the recruiter, too, and keep in touch with news about any promotion or interesting new project you handle. If you sensed a specially good rapport with anyone you met, invite them to connect on LinkedIn, Google+ or similar business-oriented social networking service.

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