You're heading out for an interview. The job is the one you've dreamed about for years. Now for the hard part. You need to make yourself seem likable. Too many companies tend to hire based on whether they want to hang out with you after work, not the fact that you have multiple degrees from a prestigious university and won a bunch of industry awards (as disappointing as that may be).
The question is: How do you convince people you are worth hiring?
In meetings, at lunches and conferences, and during investor roundtables, the company picnic with the bigwigs, and everything in between in life and at work, it can be challenging to appear likable in multiple situations, especially since we all tend to fall into a mood once in awhile. Is it how you dress, what you say, whether you make some good jokes, your education, or some other magical formula?
I have a really good theory. As you may know, it's impossible to have a one-size-fits-all rule about likability because it depends so greatly on the scenario, who you are with at the time, whether it is more of a technical discussion or simply a matter of acting suave and debonair. Likable people often don't even know why they are likable. We just think: I like that person. Yet, I'm convinced there is a way to make sure you are more likable in almost any situation. Here's the secret.
The one consistent trait of likable people is that they offer more than you expect. As humans, we are always setting internal expectations. We assume, for better or worse, that people will do essentially what they are asked to do and nothing more than that. This applies to assigning tasks to an employee, meeting someone for lunch, or attending a conference with a few colleagues.
Here's an example. Let's say you are going to hang out with someone after work. You go into it thinking the person will probably chat a bit and maybe share a few jokes. You'll swap stories and eventually part ways. But what if your new work friend offers to buy you some food? Or maybe suggests introducing you to someone who can help out on a project at work? Your expectations are raised and you like the person more. We tend to like people who go the extra mile, who offer help and advice beyond what we expect, who don't just meet our needs but serve us beyond the norm. Likability and going beyond the expected are inextricably linked.
One of the reasons I know this "going beyond the norm" is a big factor in likability has to do with my role as a journalist. I am constantly testing products, but more importantly I am constantly dealing with the people who represent those products. Some just share the facts and arrange for the UPS delivery. No big deal. Others go much further. In one recent example, a rep didn't just send me a product--he offered advice about the entire subject matter (in this case, it was related to gardening). My reaction when this happens? This is a likable person.
Meeting a need is one thing. Going the extra few steps makes a major difference in likability. Isn't that true of everything? When a smartphone does more than we expect, we like it more. When a new car has features we didn't know it had, we like it more. Buy something that does what it claims and we react with a ho-hum attitude.
People are the same way. The most likable people in life are those who exceed our expectations. They take action. They encourage us when we didn't think we needed any encouragement. They offer advice beyond our expectations and we suddenly prefer spending time with that person. We pick them.
The challenge is to become that person. In interviews, offer up more information than the interviewer expects. At a work lunch, offer to be the one to clean up the mess. With the boss, volunteer to do an extra project that's not in your job description. Try going above expectations and see if you become more likable, then let me know if it works.