I’ve met candidates who were good networkers and amazing students, with outstanding resumes, but I didn’t hire them. I’ve met student leaders and all-American athletes who didn’t stand a chance. I’ve even interviewed people who gave all the right answers but still didn’t get an offer. They were missing what every recruiter is looking for: the It Factor. The X Factor. That certain je ne sais quoi.
There used to be a TV series called The It Factor, and there’s currently a series called The X Factor, so my attempts to find a good definition on the web were largely unworthy of mention. Though most would agree that some combination of confidence, polish, comfort and communication give a presence that makes one stand out in a sea of sameness.
For job seekers, there are a few differences. For instance, extreme confidence may give an athlete the It Factor, but would be inappropriate in a job interview for a client service position. Junior job seekers have it even easier, because they only have to outshine the competition, which is generally relegated to other junior people. Candidates under the age of, say, 25 are generally only competing with other candidates under the age of 25, whereas candidates for a mid-level management position could be competing against people aged 25 through 50. So while there are a lot of recent grads competing for corporate positions, there aren’t many people under the age off 21 applying for those same jobs. There’s an imposed age floor that helps. Though in a tough market young people are competing with plenty of more seasoned pros (about which I wrote here), it’s still the general rule that junior roles go to young people, even when senior people apply. (Employers know that over-qualified employees are flight-risks, and assume that once the market turns, they’ll be out the door. Employee turnover is one of the costliest concerns for large corporations. In many roles, the return on investment–which includes recruiting and training costs–for a new employee is close to 2 years.)
Back to the It Factor. Other people have been writing about this since 1937 (ahem, Dale Carnegie), but as I mentioned, it’s a little different for junior professionals. It takes years of practice to develop a personal It Factor, so there’s no expectation at the junior level. But that doesn’t mean there aren’t things to work on to increases the chances of a job offer. Whether in an interview, while networking, or at the grocery store, it’s important to represent yourself the right way. So how can someone get better at the It Factor? Here are three simple things we can all do.
- Practice talking to strangers. Many of us aren’t likely to strike up a conversation with the checkout clerk at Target, or with the wait staff at our favorite restaurant. It may seem silly, but it’s important to hone the skill of talking to strangers. True, nothing may come of the conversation in and of itself. But becoming more comfortable talking with strangers is a key to maintaining composure during an interview. There are books and even classes devoted to the art of small talk–that’s how important it is.
- Get comfortable in interview clothes. This is especially true for recent grads who’ve never had to wear a suit for anything longer than a funeral. When candidates are uncomfortable in their clothing, it shows. Some people might think it’s cute, but I see that they’re not ready for Corporate America. People will advise wearing something comfortable to the interview so as not to obsess over a tight necktie, all the buttons on a coat, or the leather shoes that always give blisters. Yes, be comfortable. But always dress professionally. The only way to combine those two is to be comfortable in dress clothes. In my experience, it does take a little time. But it also takes the right clothes, especially the fit.
- Smile, smile, smile. Recruiters are professional talkers. They’ll crack a joke or two and watch for a reaction. Comfortable, confident people smile and laugh, while uncomfortable, unsure people don’t know how to respond. Further, smiling raises the pitch of person’s voice, making her seem more approachable and like-able. Two solid options in my book. So practice smiling and other happy facial gestures. Watch any A-list celebrity: people with the It Factor are always smiling.
Of course there are more ways to build your It Factor, like knowing your stories (the importance of which I cannot over state, I wrote about it here and here), doing your research, and acting and appearing professional. But these three are solid starts, and easily practiced every day.