A young woman with dyed blue smiling in a job interview while a man looks through her CV.
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How to make a job interview feel less like an interrogation

8 Jun 2022

If you find job interviews daunting, Hays’ Chris Dottie is here to help make it feel a little less nerve-wracking and more like a casual conversation.

You are going to have job interviews. Maybe that won’t be for a while, maybe you are preparing for one right now. Your next interview might be for an external job, about a promotion, with a recruiter or in a new country. Whenever and however that interview happens, it’s unlikely that you are looking forward to it.

That feeling of being bombarded with questions, of being the suspect in a ruthless interrogation, can feel like a nightmare in waiting. So I decided to put together a few simple tips to make sure you don’t dread the experience or become unstuck during the interview – hopefully you may even start to look forward to it.

When it comes down to it, both sides – you and the interviewer – will get the most out of a job interview when it feels more like a conversation, and less like an interrogation. As the one being interviewed, you may feel that this is out of your hands, but that simply isn’t true.

Here are some ways you can ensure the interview flows well, that you’re able to build a good rapport with the interviewer, and that they remember you for all of the right reasons.

Research the interviewer before the interview

If there’s one thing that’ll definitely help to make your interview feel less like a stiff interrogation, it’s ensuring you’re as familiar as possible in advance with who the interviewer is. This will help you to feel more relaxed before the interview as you’ll at least know a little bit about the person or people you will meet on the day.

As a minimum, find out their name and address them by this at the beginning and throughout the interview. Complement this background knowledge by also researching the company in general, including its culture, values and mission.

With so many online resources that can be so easily done these days – including the company website, social media pages and the LinkedIn profiles of their existing employees, among other things.

The more research you do and the more prepared you are, the more relaxed and confident you’ll feel – allowing you to more easily build rapport with your interviewer.

Relax and calm your interview nerves

Leading on from my point around the importance of feeling relaxed, before the interview, take active steps to reduce any lingering pre-interview anxiety in readiness for the big day.

You might do this by picking up the phone and talking to your recruiter about anything specific about the job or interview that is playing on your mind. Practising likely interview questions, picturing positive outcomes and simply remembering that your interviewer is just another human being can also all help you to lessen your fears.

It’s easy for many of us to picture the interviewer as a mysterious, all-powerful decision-maker – but in truth, they were once in the same position as you will be in the interview room, sat nervously waiting to be questioned.

Keeping things in perspective and doing everything you can to ease any pre-interview nerves will help you ensure the interview feels like a relatively natural conversation throughout.

Be mindful of your non-verbal communication

According to one well-known study, our facial expressions and body language account for as much as 55pc of our communication, so you can bet your interviewer will consciously or unconsciously make conclusions from yours.

This statistic suggests that more than half of the conversation you have with the interviewer will actually be non-verbal, so remember that the way you act is at least as important as the way you speak, particularly when building rapport and that initial connection with your interviewer.

Even the seemingly simplest things, like sitting up properly in your chair and concluding the interview with a smile, can make a big difference to both your own mindset and how the interviewer perceives you.

Research has also suggested that mimicking or ‘mirroring’ another person’s posture and gestures can help you to build a rapport with people. So when it comes to the interview, be aware of how the interviewer presents themselves at all times.

Start the conversation by giving a strong introduction

Make a conscious effort to smile from the moment you are first introduced. Being ready and able to confidently talk the interviewer through your CV can also make a huge difference in setting the tone and flow for the rest of the interview.

So, make sure you have a positive and coherent story to tell about your career development and how the skills and experience you have acquired through your past roles have helped to make you the perfect candidate for the role for which you’re being interviewed.

This combination of confident posture and positive, articulate storytelling is the perfect blend of verbal and non-verbal communication to make the interview feel more like a conversation than an interrogation.

Don’t interrupt the interviewer

This is one of the very biggest interview no-nos. Not only does it come across as rude, but, as with any situation, constantly interrupting can make a conversation feel jilted and even awkward.

So, if there’s anything you want to say, even if it’s just that you don’t fully understand the question and to ask them to clarify it for you, wait for the interviewer to finish speaking first.

Don’t butt in just because a brilliant answer has suddenly popped into your head, either. If you do blurt something out while the interviewer is speaking, apologise and wait for them to conclude whatever they’re saying. Remember, any good conversation is a two-way process, and needs to flow seamlessly.

Ask follow-up questions after you’ve answered

Even if it’s simply the occasional clarifying comment like ‘I hope I’ve answered your question?’ – if there’s something else that it turns out the interviewer wishes you to explain to them, this will provide an obvious prompt to them to say so and an opportunity for you to improve your answers.

Throughout your answers, try to demonstrate and re-enforce the fact that you relate to the interviewer and what they’re looking for in their new hire.

Click here to check out more on the Hays Viewpoint blog.

Answer interview questions with more than one line

Answering each of the interviewer’s questions in full, and not just with one-line answers might seem obvious. But proactively answering each question with thought and detail, helps to make the conversation feel less forced and jolted, avoiding those awkward ‘tumbleweed’ moments when the interviewer is waiting for you to further flesh out an answer that you’ve already finished giving.

Of course, you’ll need to have more than one line ready to give to each question, which is where genuine confidence and thorough interview preparation – including a good knowledge of the company and what drew you to apply to this position – will prove their worth.

Your answers also need to demonstrate that you have actively listened to the question – another key conversational skill that will help you on the day of the interview.

Also, by observing the interviewer’s body language, you’ll be able to assess whether you’ve adequately answered the question – meaning you’re less likely to ramble on unnecessarily.

Use the STAR technique to help tell a story

One way you can ensure you give full, relevant and interesting answers is to ensure you incorporate a degree of storytelling into them.

Storytelling isn’t just something for kids – it’s what the most engaging communicators in the world do. It can help you to give a more compelling interview performance too.

A great way to ensure you do this, is to follow the STAR technique, which involves setting a situation (S), describing your task and involvement (T), detailing your action (A) and explaining the results (R).

This is a great method for answering those questions that are based around how you handled a past work situation, such as how you dealt with key people being unavailable for a particular project or collaborated with other departments to complete an assignment.

This also gives you a great chance to show that you can lead a conversation by engaging people with a fully-formed story – giving them the opportunity to comment and enquire further on what you’ve said.

Be genuine when answering questions

Show humility and that you have a high EQ (emotional intelligence). Don’t just read off a script or recite previously prepared interview answers word-for-word – it’s obvious to an experienced interviewer when you’re answering according to a template or just trying too hard.

If you’re able to be yourself in an interview, it’s easier for the interviewer to warm to you, and thus easier for you to build a natural rapport with them.

Ask your own questions

Don’t feel that you have to wait until the end of the interview to ask your own questions. To help the interview feel more like a conversation, you should ask them throughout, but only when relevant and without interrupting the flow of the interviewer.

Research conducted by Harvard University has identified that people who ask questions – and follow-up questions in particular – are better-liked by the person they are having a conversation with. If anything, this is your chance to keep the conversation going, and to get a more detailed idea of what the company has to offer you.

Obviously experience also helps – the more times you try out these techniques, the more natural they will become.

By Chris Dottie

Chris Dottie is the managing director for Hays Spain. A version of this article previously appeared on the Hays Viewpoint blog.

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