When you’re prepping for an interview, it’s easy to get caught up in how you’ll respond to tough questions, how you’ll come across to your potential employer, and how you’ll put your best foot forward. In other words, it’s all about you.
But the thing is, there’s another person in the room, too—a person who will ultimately make the decision of whether to hire you or not. And whether you’re paired with a friendly conversationalist or a stone-faced interrogator, you have to make a connection with the interviewer you’re given. Once you do that, you can avoid spitting out rehearsed answers and focus on having a genuine conversation with an actual person (and eventually landing the job!).
So how you can you build a rapport with your interviewer, regardless of his or her demeanor? After being on both sides of the interview table, I’ve learned a few ways to make forging that connection a little easier.
1. Observe, Then Imitate
You’ve undoubtedly heard that imitation is the sincerest form of flattery. Well, when you want to get on someone’s good side—and quickly—use this to your advantage.
Imitating certain behaviors and attitudes of your interviewer can help make a fast connection between you and the stranger on the other side of the table (it’s called mirroring, and it works).
So, take note of his or her initial demeanor from the get-go—then, match it. For example, if your interviewer has high energy and gestures while he or she talks, strive to express that high level of liveliness. And vice versa: If your questioner is calm and serious, tame your energy down a bit.
Of course, your interview should be a tool to figure out if you’re a good fit for the organization and if it will be a good fit for you. So what I don’t mean by this is to completely override your own personality for the sake of getting the job. But, adjusting to your interviewer’s demeanor can help both of you feel a little more comfortable with each other—and once that connection is built, you’ll have an easier time letting the conversation flow and being able to truly determine if this is the company for you.
2. Don’t Save Your Questions for the End
When you’re nervously trying to get on your interviewer’s good side, it’s easy to fall into a question-answer-question-answer routine. The interviewer asks you a question, you answer, and then you sit back and anxiously wait for the next, like a “please hold all questions until the end” announcement was made before you sat down.
But to make a more genuine connection with your interviewer, I’ve found that it’s helpful to interject relevant questions throughout the conversation, instead of saving them all for the wrap-up.
For example, say the interviewer asks you to talk about your most significant accomplishment at your last job. After you speak to the time you snagged your previous company’s largest client to date, continue with a question that moves the conversation along, like “I’d be excited to start making significant contributions here, as well—what are some of your company’s current goals or projects?”
You’ll spark a little back-and-forth conversation, which will not only help you learn more about the company, but will also prove to the interviewer that you’re truly interested in the position. Overall, you’ll bring a little life into what can often be a very formal, on-your-best-behavior kind of interaction.
3. Pay Attention to the Interviewer’s Answers
Once you start asking questions, you’ll have another powerful tool in your hands—because when you start listening to your interviewer’s responses, you can determine what kind of of answers he or she is looking for.
So, pay close attention: In response to your questions, does your interviewer go into a lot of elaboration? Does he or she tell personal stories or use data sources (like a chart or spreadsheet) as examples?
Then, model your responses the same way: If your interviewer consistently mentions percentages and numbers, make sure to weave those into your answers as well, clearly indicating that you decreased your department’s case backlog by 65%, or that you exceeded your fundraising goal by $1,500 last quarter.
Noticing these tendencies can help you determine what techniques to use as you answer questions yourself—because you’ll gain some insight into how he or she communicates best. And if you’re able to communicate in the same way, you’ll have a much better chance of making a real connection.
Sparking an instant connection with a complete stranger may never be easy—but when you learn to observe and adapt, you and your interviewer will feel more comfortable, and you’ll have an easier time opening up. And that can mean the difference between a suffering through a less-than-stellar interview and landing your dream job.
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