The Affinity Trap – Ways to sabotage the interview

It is common knowledge that people like people like themselves. If you examine a random list of employees you will find a connection between the employees hired and the people who interviewed them. This affinity can be a barrier or a trap when used inappropriately by candidates or interviewer in an interview. It may actually stifle their chance of being hired.

You are human. Therefore, it is not unusual to find yourself sitting across from someone in an interview with whom you have similarities. You should be thankful for the diversity in companies. However, this variety is not a license for candidates to let down their guards and became too comfortable. Some candidates have crossed a line of professionalism and resorted to patronizing behavior and / or inappropriate familiarity. Additionally, some interviewers have used their affinity to trap candidates into saying something inappropriate and eliminating them from the interviewing pool.

It was an amazing sight to see. A person walks through the door, sees that I am African American, and a noticeable calm came over them. I have heard the same comments from Baby Boomers interviewing Baby Boomers, women interviewing women and other ethnicities and athletes interviewing someone who perceives a connection. Most candidates are pleasant and professional, but invariably an exception stands out.

I have seen candidates who were highly regarded from resume screenings, phone interviews and face to face interviews, transform themselves in an interview. Their demeanor changed. Their speech became more colloquial and another personality or alter ego came out of nowhere. I have discussed this phenomenon with a number of my colleagues and they expressed similar experiences and observations. The candidates were excellent and did not have to resort to these tactical errors. I understood their intent, but they lost out reaching for an elusive competitive advantage.

Other manifestations of this strategy are as follows:

• Behavior became more casual in posture and in speech
• They became too familiar through touch or questions
• They assumed that the job was theirs and indicated as much in their comments
• They lowered their guard and disclosed unnecessary information
• They saw the interviewer as a confidant and friend and disclosed unbelievable information
• Favors were expected and requested
• Negative comments, complaints and disclosure of conflicts on other jobs were mentioned as they completely let their guards down

When you notice a potential connection with an interviewer, who is like you, it is wise not to assume instant compatibility. You have to be very careful of the Affinity Trap (race, gender, age, ethnicity, interests, sports, education and schooling, contacts and place where you grew up). You may slide into a comfort zone that could be hazardous to the job interview. There is a book by Judith M. Bardwick entitled, Danger in the Comfort Zone. My wife likes to refer to it as Comfort in the Danger Zone, which is very descriptive. When you have an affinity of any kind you owe it to yourself to:

• Be courteous and respectful of the position of the interviewer
• Be extra careful and on top of your game
• Be professional in your demeanor and questions
• Do not expect special treatment by word or deeds
• Stay focused and deliver the best interview possible (this may be the chance of a lifetime)
• Deliver the same comprehensive profile of your experience you would give to anyone

It is generally OK to ask the interviewer if their affinity (gender or race) has been a challenge in their organization. This is a fair question and helpful in making your employment decision. You may consider getting the answer to this question during your research, before the interview. You don’t want them questioning why you asked the question. Additionally, some interviewers may use it against you, especially if that was the only question you asked.

Remove the prospect of better treatment or special treatment from your mind. This is an entitlement mentality and preferential treatment violates many policies on top of being illegal. Earn the inside track, by the quality of your background and the strength of the interview.

Sometimes the interview is tougher than usual because the interviewer feels they have to substantiate their selection. Many times your toughest interview will be with someone with whom you feel a strong connection. They are not necessarily trying to deprive you of being hired, but to prepare you for the tough road ahead. If you make it past them, you are more ready for the rest of the interviewing process. Also, you may encounter men and women who may feel pressure and extra scrutiny if they pass you along. They may be trying to knock you out or to make sure you are the strongest in the field. Be prepared for anything and anybody.

Respect your accomplishments, the position and the person in the interviewer’s chair. Your interviewer may be able to identify with you without you going out of your way to make a connection. Your greatest compliment to the person and the process is to deliver a powerful interview and perform worthy of the opportunity if hired. Artificial familiarity may breed contempt and therefore, will not give you a competitive advantage.

It may be an affinity or compatibility trap, because you feel someone may understand your position and issues. It could also be a trap because someone is out to get you and look for ways to bring you down and out of the interviewing process. Remember, they are not your friends, yet. They are not your coach or mentor, yet. You do not know them. They do not know you. Be on guard and do not fall victim to the trap. The interview may be slanted, but take nothing for granted. Go after the job based on your talents, abilities, potential and experience.

Maintain your professionalism. Keep your guard up. Let your resume and your record of accomplishments speak for you in your responses to the interview questions. Don’t change the dynamics of the professional interview by adding unnecessary tension and drama. Be careful and authentic as you avoid The Affinity Trap.

Copyright © 2013 Orlando Ceaser

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