The Job Interview: The “Normalcy Test”

IS YOUR APPEARANCE AND BEHAVIOR “APPROPRIATE”?

While both you, and the interviewer, are working to build rapport, you must be aware of a second task the interviewer has.  Ultimately, the interviewer is charged with eliminating candidates and paring down the list, and ultimately making the choice of the best candidate for the organization.  To accomplish the task quickly and efficiently, balancing tests and scoring systems are devised.

Most hiring interviewers engage in their own personal “normalcy” test, which is to evaluate if your appearance and behavior are consistent with their concept of ideal behavior for someone at your age and level.  We say the interviewer’s own test because there is no one style or format.  In most cases it begins right at the start of the interview, is informal and conversational in tone, and is broad and general rather than specific.  The “normalcy” test is part of, and impossible to distinguish from, the rapport building that two people do at the beginning of an interview.

In the nonverbal check the interviewer seeks data concerning initial appearance, dress, fitness, and the way you carry yourself.  Tim, who has just graduated from college, would not be expected to have the same quality of dress as Susan, a proven senior executive.  However, Tim would be expected to have on a conservative, dark suit and tie if that’s the company culture.

The verbal portion of the “normalcy” test begins during the “get to know you” or rapport building mode.  The purpose is the same as in the nonverbal check:  Does the interviewer find differences between actual and expected behavior?  Rapport building is a critical time for both the interviewer and the candidate.  The introductory period lasts as long as the interviewer feels it is productive or time constraints allow.  Most theory indicates that an interviewer discovers a lot about a job seeker, including attitudes, values, and behavior by helping the individual to relax and become comfortable.

Consequently, most interviewers spend time focusing on the candidate’s personal interests or mutual interests.  This time normally gives the candidate a chance to relax and become comfortable in the new surroundings.  Suppose, for example, the interviewer and Kristina were having a conversation about skiing.

Interviewer:  Kristina, I see that you have an interest in skiing.

Kristina:  Yes.  I really enjoy skiing.

Interviewer:  Have you been interesting in skiing for long?

Kristina:  All my life.  My father was on the United States downhill ski team, and he started my brother and me on skis at the age of three.

Interviewer:  Have you skied competitively?

Kristina:  Yes, I have won numerous championships, but unfortunately there isn’t enough money in the sport to make it a full-time occupation.

Interviewer:  You seem a little sad about that.

Kristina:  Well, I guess I am.  It has been a big part of my life.
Interviewer:  Are you able to keep up with your skiing now that you’re working?

Kristina:  Absolutely.  I try to go to Vermont every weekend from October to March or April.

Those are simple enough statements:  “unfortunately there isn’t enough money…to make it a full-time occupation” and “I try to go to Vermont every weekend from October to March or April.”  They seem to be speaking, however, about big time commitments.  Kristina didn’t say, “a few weekends” or “a number of weekends” or even “most weekends.”  She made it clear that she tried to go “every weekend.”  Now there is an issue to be addressed on the interviewer’s normalcy balancing scale.  Has the interest gone past “normal” or “reasonable” and into a red flag zone?

On the one hand, Kristina has every right to her personal life, interests, and passions.  Passions may even indicate energy, excitement, and zest for life.  Indeed, many employers look for employees who have participated in competitive sports because they know about dedication, commitment, and how to win.

On the other hand, what about the company and its needs?  If hired, will Kristina come to work on Mondays and Fridays with enthusiasm for her job?  Or will those days be mental extensions of her weekend?  What happens when there is an emergency project that requires evening or weekend work?  How about the two corporate planning weekends each year between October and April?

How the interviewer weighs that short dialog may well be the critical determinant in whether Kristina’s candidacy continues or ends.  The normalcy test continues just as it did in our example throughout the interview, with the interviewer making value judgments that reject or propel a candidacy.

At the conclusion of the initial “get to know you” time, the interviewer normally indicates that it is time to move on.  Whether there is a clear signal or not, the emphasis shifts to business oriented questions.  You must remember, however, that rapport building and the “normalcy” test continue throughout the interview.

Career Profile-The “Normalcy” Test

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