When it comes to the job interview process, starting the conversation can be tricky. Who talks first? Do you just sit in silence until the interviewer starts giving you a verbal quiz about your education and experience? And what if you get lost in your answers - how can you get the interview back on track?
Most candidates view the job interview as an inquisition. In other words, you might feel as if you are on trial. Your resumé provides details of the scene of the crime. It’s easy to get defensive, or feel like you’re playing a game of 20 Questions. But what if you discovered a way to change the game? What if the interview wasn’t an inquisition, but a conversation? A conversation where you share unexpected capabilities, building rapport and creating distinction for your skills. Here are three key ideas that top performers use to create connection and clarity. Isn’t it time to turn your next job interview into a dialogue, where your story stands out with confidence and differentiation? Here’s how to interview with impact:
When the time is right, after you’ve exchanged pleasantries and gotten settled in, what happens if you start by sharing something that’s not on your resumé or CV (curriculum vitae)? By saying something as simple as, “Let me share with you something that you won’t read on my CV, or LinkedIn profile,” you are opening with the following key characteristics:
- Distinction - after all, the interviewer can read your profile just like anyone else. What can you share that they haven’t seen before? How can you share a story of your unique perspective, perhaps an experience from when you were growing up, or something that happened to you at your last job that helped you to see integrity or contribution in a new way?
- Enthusiasm - the story you share needs to reflect your excitement about the opportunity. Sometimes, an experience from the past can point you towards what you want in your next job. Remember, always keep it positive: “My last boss was a complete jerk, so I can’t wait to work with someone who’s a decent human being - do you have any of those around here?” is not a strategy for success! (That previous sentence was written with sarcastic font). Don’t sling mud on your last employer or you’re going to get dirty. Find a way to express your desire for the next opportunity in a way that doesn’t trash your last one.
- Engagement - I had a coaching client outline how she was going to explain her resumé, in chronological order, from birth up till yesterday. Not only was that monologue an absolute grind to hear, it was redundant for anyone who knew her background. Why not highlight what matters to you, and see if it matters to your interviewer? Practice keeping your answers under 3 minutes, like an elevator pitch. Don’t dive deep into the details, when you are starting the conversation. Here’s why: in a conversation, you want to pause and see what details matter most to your interviewer! Your skills may be impressive, your background immense...but don’t lose sight of your ability to create rapport. After all, your skills may be stunning, but relationships really matter. Leave room for a dialogue - because short answers create conversations.
- Innovation - instead of saying, “I’m an innovator” or “I’m an out-of-the-box thinker”, why not demonstrate it? Why talk about your initiative, when you can show it, by simply having the courage to say, “Let me share with you something that’s not on the resumé.” Follow that statement with a brief but important story of something you’ve learned - an experience that reflects your values. The story you share demonstrates your enthusiasm, your ability to connect and create conversation. You demonstrate your desire to engage in a dialogue - not just answer a series of questions about what you were doing in 2014.
Then, remember to ask the one question that most candidates forget. I call it the “Conversation Question”, because it keeps the conversation going - and gets your interviewer speaking. Here it is:
Step 2: The Best Question to Ask in the Job Interview. You want to know if your values are valuable. If your past has passed inspection. If your conversation has provided a solution. Right? So, how can you know if they are picking up what you are laying down? One of the most frustrating things is to come back from a job interview, and your partner or boyfriend or mom or best friend says, “So, how did it go?” and you fumble for a solid answer. “I...I think it went well...I guess...I answered all their questions...uh....wow, I’m not sure how it went really.”Because you don’t know where you stand. You share, you explore, you expound on your background...but what did you do to build rapport? To get the interviewer talking? To show that you are sincerely curious about what they want, and need?
It’s an easy trap to fall into: the idea that your resume speaks for itself. That your experience tells its own story. But of course it never does. If you say something but they don’t hear it, it doesn’t exist! Character counts, in large amounts. Did you demonstrate who you are and what you value - and get the interviewer talking as well? In the interview, are you demonstrating and describing stories about your personal integrity, your understanding of words like “commitment”, “teamwork” and “collaboration”?
The only way to find out where you stand is to ask your interviewer for input. I’m not saying you should ask, “So, do you like me better than the others? Am I your favorite?” That’s tactless and will not serve you. But what about sincerely wondering how your background and the stories you are sharing are landing? Don’t you care about how you might be a fit, don’t you wonder about where you stand in the interviewer’s eyes? Stories that demonstrate concepts in action are the stories you need to share. Don’t wait to read the review on Yelp. Get the deets in realtime, or you might get to deal with disappointment instead.
Hav the courage to share experiences where your values were demonstrated - or tested. How did you overcome an obstacle in your career - and how can that experience be valuable to your next employer? Curiosity can be a valuable skill to bring into the interview.
Step 3: Consider the One Word Story in the Job Interview - and Access greater Confidence
In my career workshops and leadership seminars, I talk about the idea of the “One Word Story”. On the surface, you may think that a one-word story doesn’t exist. After all, a story has to have a beginning, a middle and an end, right? Wrong. The one-word story can be a simple way to never lose sight of your message and your personal values. Maybe that word, for you, is creativity. Or leadership. Service. Innovation. What comes to mind? What’s one word that has described your experience, from a very high level? Does that single word reflect your values, and your contribution?
The Power of Focus in the Job Interview Process
Whatever the case may be, having a one-word story can help you to interview with confidence. Because the one-word story reminds you who you are. The one-word story represents your values. And your contribution.
A great interview comes from focus. Knowing where to look, and knowing what to ignore. If you have a one-word story in mind, you always have a conversation starter at your fingertips. Because the one-word story is the story of you. A story of who you are. A story of what you value. A story of what you can contribute in your next opportunity. That one-word story is like the North Star. When you know who you are, you’re never lost. You always have a connection to share - and that connection creates engagement and distinction for your skills inside of the interview.
Of course, if you want to really know if your experience is a fit, ask. Don’t be afraid to ask how your story fits for the position, and how your interviewer might see your background applying to the new role. Find the courage to turn your story into a conversation, with curiosity as your guide. What would happen if you discovered a one-word story, and opened with something that’s not on your resumé? You just might create a conversation where you are as curious about the company as they are about you.