The Interview – A Conversation, Not an Interrogation

By Denise Kalm, BCC, Career Coach

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The Interview - A Conversation, Not an InterrogationMost interview preparation is focused on answering the tough questions you know you will hear.  Questions like ‘why did you leave (or want to leave) your last job?’ and ‘what’s your biggest weakness?’ do require some advance thought.  But if you’re only focusing on how to answer questions, you’re missing half the work you need to do.  Too many view an interview as an interrogation and prepare to calmly and clearly answer the questions posed by the interviewer.  But if you only do that, you transfer all your power to the interviewer.  You’re not a supplicant; you’re an equal in the meeting, offering value for value. 


The interviewer has a job to offer and you have your skills and hard work to match it.  Start off understanding that you are equal parties to a negotiation and retain your power.


Remember the basic rule of interview success – people hire people they like.  It’s hard to develop any kind of relationship when you are simply responding to questions.  It’s your job to transform the Q&A into a conversation where you have the chance to not only learn more about the position and the company, but also to demonstrate how well you would fit into the company and its culture.  At least half of your interview preparation must include planning for this.  You need to:

Know about the company , its challenges, its competition and how it makes money
Know as much as you can about the job itself, not just the HR description of it.  Talk to people in your LinkedIn network to get this information
Plan questions of your own to interject in the interview process, but not about salary and other benefits. 
Learn as much as you can about those who may be interviewing you. Identify common non-work interests if possible.


Questions that can differentiate you from other candidates could be:

What is the biggest challenge your team/division/area faces?   Be prepared to talk about how you could contribute to a solution
What matters most to you in selecting a candidate?  This gives you to opportunity to tailor yourself to the needs
What skills are missing or in short supply in the company?
What’s the next major step your team/division/area plans to talk?  What do you need to make that a reality?


There are many more you could pose, based on what you learn about the company, the job itself and the interviewer(s).  Don’t wait until they ask for your questions at the end.  Skillfully interject them as the interview goes on so that it becomes conversational.  An example might be:


Manager:   Tell me about a challenge you faced at a previous job and how you overcame it.

You:  (describe the challenge and your success).  Is this something you have seen at company X?  What is the biggest challenge your team has faced this past year?


Getting personal, you may know something about the person or observe it in the office.


You:  I noticed that you love scuba diving – you talked about it on your Facebook profile (or have great pictures on Instagram).  I love diving too.  Where’s your favorite dive spot?  What’s on your bucket list?


No matter how great your skills are, if the person doesn’t see you as a person who could fit easily on the team and someone they believe they can like, someone else will scoop up that job.  By making the interview interactive and conversational, you have the chance to develop that relationship and show not just your skills, but your likability.


Less skilled interviewers often have a set of questions they are pushing through, which can make this difficult. But give it a try.  Another way to transform the interview is to get more information about the question. A typical, bad-interviewer question is ‘Tell me about yourself.’  They don’t want or need a life history but you don’t know what they want.  Ask ‘what would be most valuable to you to learn about me? ‘  Offer some ideas – most recent challenges at work, variety of work experience, etc.  Never offer up resume details; they already have that.  Make sure you understand a question before answering and by asking for more information, you are showing respect for the interview process and the interviewer.


One way to know that the interview went well is by how relaxed you are and how much you enjoy the experience.  When it is truly conversational, you should find that you liked getting to know the person a little better.  If you leave with that feeling, the interviewer will too.  They will remember how pleasant the experience was, which means they will remember you.

Have a conversation; get the job.


Read more about career management in my book, Career Savvy - Keeping & Transforming Your Job.




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