Persuasion isn’t just for salespeople: It’s an important skill for many professionals. Why? Because it’s the key to getting support for your ideas or the resources to complete project tasks; or, even more importantly, being able to sway a hiring manger in your favor.
The good news is that persuasion is a learnable soft skill. Here are some subtle ways to influence a key decision maker during the hiring process without seeming overbearing or manipulative.
Express Interest Nonverbally
Leaning forward in your seat, nodding your head and making eye contact with an interviewer or hiring manager communicates interest, attention and involvement. “It’s like shaking hands without shaking hands,” explained Sylvia Lafair, PhD, president of Creative Energy Options.
Sitting near the front of the seat is ingratiating, but in a subtle way, she added. Even better, leaning toward others, especially when combined with proximity, helps you reclaim power over the decision-making process because it signals: “We are in this together.”
Get Your Head on Straight
Persuasive people are able to communicate their ideas quickly and clearly. It’s easy to get overwhelmed or muddle your message when you rush from work to an interview with a hiring manager, explained Kevin Kermes, partner and co-founder of Career Attraction.
“Take a moment to reconnect with your beliefs and to clarify what you do well before you arrive [at the interview],” Kermes said. If you’re not clear about your strengths and goals in your own mind, it will be evident in everything you say and how you frame your responses.
Convince Like a Consultant
It’s a misconception that persuasion is about selling or you doing all the talking. In fact, the more you talk, the less convincing you are. “Be in problem-solving mode from the outset by asking questions,” Kermes advised.
For instance, if the hiring manager opens with “tell me about yourself” or “walk me through your résumé,” resist the urge to launch into a boring, off-target speech that is likely to have little impact. Instead, try asking a question that allows the interviewer to explain their true organizational challenges and the specific problems they want their new hire to solve. Then, listen to their answers.
Say something like: “I’ve achieved a great deal of success in my lengthy career as a software engineer, but to make sure I can contribute, can you tell me what problems you need this person to solve in the first 90 days?”
Frankly, the mechanics of persuasion are based on science, not just art. When someone is an expert in a field, they are more likely to be effectively persuasive. And there’s no better way to demonstrate your expertise than by asking a lot of really good questions, Kermes pointed out.
“It brings a totally different energy to the exchange,” he said. It focuses the conversation on informed decision making rather than “are you going to give me an offer?”
Moreover, showing your willingness to apply your knowledge in ways that solve problems for the organization positions you as a valuable expert—not just a commodity that can be replaced by someone with less experience.
Communicating assertively with a hiring manager may feel uncomfortable at first, Kermes admitted. But he suggests that you “get comfortable being uncomfortable.” Remember that hiring is analogous to buying—the decision is mutual.
One of the key elements of influence is likability. In fact, experts claim that people are also more likely to listen to others who are complimentary and similar to them.
How can you come across as similar and likable? Don’t be afraid to ask get-to-know-you questions. “Show interest in the hiring manager as a human being,” Lafair advised.
When the time is right, ask about their hobbies, interests and activities outside of work. By learning more about a hiring manager’s outside interests, you can discern their personality type, what drives them and what type of person they are. From there, you can highlight a few similarities or interests that you have in common.
A negotiation study showed that, when two parties exchanged personal information and identified a similarity, 90 percent were able to come to a successful and agreeable outcomes that were typically worth 18 percent more to both parties.
Don’t try to be someone you’re not. But if you are likable, hiring managers will view you as more competent. Likability, like persuasion, is a learnable skill.