In job interviews or other business meetings we take people for granted thinking we have their undivided attention. So we go into the meeting as if we are the most important person in the world to them for the next 45-60 minutes. I need to let you in on a little secret: You are not. You may be the most important thing they are going to do for the next few minutes but truth be told, most people don’t like to interview other people and they start from the attitude of ‘how can I try and make this not a total waste of my time and as least painful as possible’. Sounds cruel and harsh, I know. But, it is the reality we are dealing with. Those who are interviewing have a full agenda of their own work and the smallest distraction can take them off the thought pattern you want them to follow and, you will lose them. Here are the tell-tale signs of losing the attention of someone and how to get them back to you when they drift.
The glance at the laptop. When you see the glance at the laptop, that means their mind is somewhere else and you need to recapture them. You don’t want them to be scanning those unopened emails and beginning to wonder what they need to do to reply. Change your inflection, change your speed of delivery, and feel free to shorten your answer so that they are back on track with you. Lean in and grab their eye contact.
Picking up the PDA. This is a killer and if that PDA slides down into their lap, then you are a goner. Even the furtive glance or picking up of a PDA sends a message that their mind has moved on. If they have the PDA in their hands while you are talking, then you need to finish up your answer with a question to them that makes them have to bring their mind back to you. Ask them something hard that gets them talking for a few minutes before they turn the floor back over to you. You just have to keep that PDA not in their hands.
Leaning back and taking excessive notes that you can’t see. These are likely not real notes. These could be their to-do lists, etc. You need to get that pen out of their hand and get them focused on you again. One way to do this is to reference something in your resume specifically and ask them to look at this with you. If the piece of paper they are writing on is on top of your resume and you can’t see what they are writing, then they are doing something else with your time. Try getting them to look and reference the resume as much as you can so they don’t go back to their lists, scribbles or doodles.
Dead silence at the end of your answers. This is especially dangerous in phone screens. If you are on the phone and you get those awkward silent moments and the next question doesn’t really flow, then they are not there with you. They may be (probably are) doing email or something else at the same time. You need to take control of the conversation by shortening up your answers and getting them to engage more often so that it feels more conversational. If they are doing so, then you have the chance of keeping them there with you, versus their mind wandering. Also, if you hear a keyboard clicking in the background, go ahead and assume they are taking notes. Ask them that since they are taking notes by typing: ‘should you speed up or slow down your answers?’. That calls them out, in a respectful way.
Here’s the sad part about all the things above: I know about them, because I have done them all. With all that we all have going on in our jobs, it’s nearly impossible to get anyone’s 100% attention. The best your can do is to keep control of the conversation by keeping them engaged, interested and moving the time along in the way you desire. If you stay in tune with the person you are talking with, then you have a better chance in keep them engaged with you. Good luck.