The Recruitment Underground Blog

Career Skills, Training and Transitions

It’s Not Who You Know…

Posted by jamesseetoo on June 24, 2009

First, get your mind out of the gutter!  That’s not what I’m talking about.

Today I thought I’d touch on some of the skills portion of the blog that I promised previously – especially for those who have interviews coming up.

When there are a lot of people all trying to get the same job, trying to distinguish yourself from the pack can be tough.  There is something to the old saying: “It’s not what you know, it’s who you know” but I’d like to add something to it.  Its who you know who LIKES you.

If there are a bunch of candidates who are in the same ballpark skill-wise it’s the person the interviewer likes who is going to get the job.  After all, we spend an incredible amount of time at work and we want to be around people who we like.

And do we like people who are different from us?  No! We like people who are like us.  That’s why you hear all the HR mumbo-jumbo about a “good cultural fit”. What they are trying to say is they want someone they like – really someone who is like them.  Someone with whom they have – and please remember this word – RAPPORT.

We’ve all experienced being in rapport with someone.  We meet people that we just “click” with, there’s a certain chemistry with some people.  We can tell when people are in love by their body language and the way they might finish each others’ sentences or even when they’re walking together in step.  It’s not something that most people consciously think about.  The either “click” with some or they don’t.

But there are ways of generating rapport and over the next few posts I’ll be going into three covert keys to building rapport and successful interviewing.  Now they aren’t the only ones but these you can pick up and use quickly, easily and immediately

Key #1 – Matching verbal speed and tonality

This should be practiced regularly both in person and on the phone until it becomes something you can do automatically.  At first it will feel a bit strange but one of the main things to remember is that if you’re speaking with someone for the first time, they don’t know how you speak to begin with so you won’t get caught.  In a little while it will be just the way you communicate.

I’m sure you’ve had the experience of speaking with someone who speaks so fast you can’t understand her or so slow that you’re bored to tears and stop listening.  What that person was doing was “broadcasting” on a different frequency than yours and not getting through to you.  Everyone has a preferred speed of speaking and when you’re in rapport with someone you tend to speak at the same speed.  So if you consciously match your speed of speaking to the person you’re speaking with you’ll be communicating on the same frequency and you’ll be building rapport.

At the same time, we’ve all heard people whose tonality just rubbed us the wrong way – maybe like fingernails on a blackboard. (Not sure if they haven’t replaced most of those with dry erase boards but you know what I mean.  If not, watch Jaws).  When we match tonality and speed, especially on the phone the unconscious reaction the person you’re speaking with is to feel that you’re on the same page – that he likes you.

Now, it must be remembered that the speed at which someone speaks has nothing to do with intelligence, just with the way she processes information.  But when you do this, you’ll distinguish yourself from other people that are interviewing for the same job.  At the least, you’ll be a “good cultural fit”.

So here’s an exercise:

Start with matching someones verbal speed either on the phone or in person.  It could be someone you speak with on line at the supermarket or a recruiter on the phone.  Take note of that person’s reaction to you.  Does he open up more than in a casual conversation?  Is her body language more open?

It takes a little while to make it automatic but when you do you’ll be creating rapport very quickly and when you do that in an interview you’ll find that you are able to really distinguish yourself.

Remember, your skills are your job security.  The second covert key in the next post.


James Seetoo


9 Responses to “It’s Not Who You Know…”

  1. Suzanne said

    Great blog James! You are so correct. Especially in a small company where people see each other all day, everyone needs to like each other for the place to thrive.

    • jamesseetoo said

      Thanks Suzanne, try the exercise, it works great in every day interaction as well. Naturally you don’t have to let anyone know what you’re doing but please do pass along the blog.

  2. Absolutely! On the flip side, it’s good for a candidate to take a look at the people within the organization to see if that’s a group they’d want to spend inordinate amounts of time with 🙂
    Great blog James!

    • jamesseetoo said

      I agree and when you’re able to build rapport, interviewers will tell you all kinds of things they usually wouldn’t tell a candidate.

  3. Irwin Hirsh said

    For the comical side of this and perhaps some addtional insight I highly recommend the Woddy Allen film “Zelig”

    Thanks for the insights on this James

    On a serious side, as you know I work Global and the international language of commerce is International English. How can your suggestions be applied to a group where not everyone is a native English speaker and you are…hence a difference in verbal communication styles. Also what about a scenario where all are non-native English speakers. is there anything differnt here to consider when trying to match the ones you hope to impress/connect with for better business?


    Irwin Hirsh

    • jamesseetoo said

      Hi Irwin,

      Thanks for the feedback. Zelig was a good movie but rather than just blending, the point is to gain rapport and then lead with it and other people will follow where you’re going. For the international situation there will be other ways to gain rapport and that will be in one of the upcoming keys. But rather than necessarily working at the same speed, you can match the tone. Matching the speed might be a little tough when you’re not speaking your native language. But if you’re all speaking in English, it might make sense to slow down a little if they’re speaking slowly so they can process what you’re saying.

      This is the opposite of the common mistake of yelling loudly and slowly.

      Let me know what you think.


  4. Irwin Hirsh said

    wow look at all the typoes sorry…I promise to proof next time

  5. Nice post. I have often thought about some of the points you bring up. The way you expressed it
    really makes alot of sense. I’ll bookmark this page and come back.

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