Many job seekers go into interviews expecting to be cross-examined. They prepare for an interrogation, practice their answers to the usual interview questions, and have their talking points ready to dazzle the interviewer at just the right time. But according to Monster staff writer Thad Peterson (Think of Your Big Interview as a Simple Conversation), many job seekers fail to recognize that often the best interviews don’t feel as much like interviews as they do absorbing conversations.
If you think about the situation from the interviewer’s perspective, a comfortable exchange with someone who has similar interests may be a welcome relief from the typical structured interview. Peterson believes that if you have the ability to make whomever you’re talking to feel like they are simply engaged in an interesting conversation, you could be setting yourself apart from other candidates.
Turning an interview into a conversation does not imply that you shouldn’t prepare for the interview. In fact, the more knowledgeable you are about the company and the skills required for the job, the more conversational and confident you’ll sound. “If you’ve done enough practice and really have a good sense of what your best professional qualifications are, then the interview should proceed on a more natural basis, because you’re not nervous at that point,” says Chandra Prasad, author of Outwitting the Job Market.
Josh Mangum, Director of Strategy at headhunting agency Search Solution Group, offers a number of useful strategies (8 Strategies for Turning Interviews Into Conversations) to help transform a Q&A session into a comfortable and productive conversation, including:
Break the Ice
Small talk is an essential stage when building rapport with an interviewer. Taking time at the beginning of your interview to ask a couple of questions (see suggestions for questions below) and share something personal about yourself allows the interviewer to learn something about your personality and hopefully relate to you more easily.
People generally enjoy conversation with those who are optimistic. Being positive and enthusiastic will help the interviewer enjoy the conversation and potentially want to work together in the future.
Let the interviewer talk
As a general rule, the more the interviewer speaks the better, so use the time they are talking to pick up on subtle points they may be intentionally or even unintentionally making. This will almost always be useful later in the conversation. Being a good listener can give you an edge over the competition.
Be personal as well as professional
While it is important to be as professional as possible, being too formal may ultimately prevent the interviewer from relating to you as a person. Try to personalize your answers and give real examples. If the interviewer can picture you in the role, you are more likely to get the position.
Asking questions throughout the interview will engage the interviewer in a conversation and curb the tendency for the interview to turn into an interrogation. Great conversations and ideas can come from the art of asking good questions.
Jake Kurtz, writing on the MediaBistro job search site, recommends coming to your interviews prepared with questions that can help move the conversation along naturally (10 Questions That Transform Interviews Into Productive Conversations), including:
Ask about the interviewer
- How long have you been with the company?
- What did you do before you came here?
The interviewer will usually ask you about your current role, where you’re from and start going down your resume. Taking the opportunity to break up the conversation by asking the interviewer about themselves can help create more of a give-and-take conversation between two people and less of a one-sided dialog.
Ask about the “meat” of the role
- What are the 2-3 skills that are absolutely essential to succeeding in this role? Are there any deal-breakers (“if you don’t have this, you definitely can’t succeed in this role”)?
- What are the key success metrics and how are they measured? How will the person in this role be responsible for making sure success is met?
- What are some of the day-to-day pain points associated with this role? What other pain points exist that this role could help fix?
Asking these types of questions is the key to finding out if you can realistically achieve the needs of the company for that particular role. You will likely be asked to go in depth about your past experience so that the interviewer can get a feel for your skills and strengths. Asking the above questions will bring even further depth and clarity into the conversation.
Ask about the longer term big picture
- What are some of the big things you’re trying to improve on right now? How will this role help add to those improvements?
- How would I work in this role with others on the team?
- What is your vision for the department and for this role in the next few years?
The above questions will convey your initiative by demonstrating your ability to think big picture to the interviewer, and also showing that you’re genuinely interested in the details of the role.
It’s helpful to think of an interview as an exploration of a potential partnership rather than a scripted list of questions asked by an interviewer and answered by you. Asking the right questions at the right times can help turn an interview into an interactive conversation and increase your chances of having a successful outcome.