For many people, job interviews can be stressful and unsettling. According to recent research, 93% of interview candidates suffer interview anxiety at some point in their working lives. So, if, for you, a job interview is a peculiar combination of fever dream and blind date, you may not be presenting yourself in the best light.
Fear of rejection is understandable but consider this: in a highly competitive employment market, reaching the interview stage is a strong indicator that your qualifications, experience, and knowledge have ticked the right boxes. The research I mentioned also found that just 2% of candidates applying for jobs are selected for interviews, and for each vacancy, employers will interview an average of 6 candidates (go ahead, do the sums – I’ll wait).
So, you could focus on potential failure, but is it not better to appreciate that the employer sees you as being among the elite?
Now while a job interview is about verifying your capabilities, it’s also about giving the interviewer a chance to get to know you, to lift you from the pages of your cover letter and CV, and to work out if you’re a good fit for their team. They want to get to know you.
And how do people get to know each other? They have conversations. At its core, a job interview is a conversation. Having conversations is something you do. Every day. You regularly build rapport with people, and in a job interview, that is your goal.
To help you nail this potential life-changing moment of rapport-building, here are four key things to bear in mind:
Your interviewer is human
Remember that your interviewer is also someone with worries, concerns and joys, and who probably wants to be liked as much as you do. They may even be nervous themselves – remember that they will be aware that the interview is also your opportunity to assess if they are a good fit for you. No one likes rejection, even employers.
And everyone likes to feel validated, respected and appreciated. So do your pre-interview homework. Check out the organisation’s website and social media platforms. Know where any satellite offices are located and take note of any awards they have been given or any charities they support. Google them. Read their press coverage. Perhaps there won’t be an opportunity to use all of this information (resist crowbarring), but this knowledge in your back pocket will, at the very least, boost your confidence and potentially allow you to impress and leave the interviewer with warm, fuzzy feelings. Remember, you want them to like you.
You must be authentic
By their very nature, interviews are a little unnatural – mostly affable but with a gladiatorial subtext (you need to slay the other interviewees). You’re there to win. But remember that it’s you that is sold at the job interview that it’s you the employer will expect to turn up for work.
Inevitably there is an element of performance but be wary of straying too far from the version of you that inhabits 99.9(repeating)% of your life. People are sensitive to façades. They will recognise if you’re putting on an act, and it won’t endear you to them. Being honest and authentic does not require a script (or for you to adopt a character).
Confidence is great (essential even), but don’t overpromise or exaggerate; declaring that you are brilliant at X almost certainly means you will need to back up your claim with an example (perhaps more). Give genuine evidence of where you’ve modelled the behaviours they want to see, and if you don’t have an example, think about how you would apply the given behaviour in an imagined scenario.
Listening is as important as talking
It’s easy to think job interviews are all about what is said, but listening is just as important. Open body language, eye contact and responsiveness are behaviours that you exhibit when you’re talking to a friend or a loved one because you’re genuinely engaged with what they have to say. Apply these behaviours in interview situations, whether you’re listening or replying to a question.
Let your interviewer see that you’re engaging with them by maintaining eye contact, allowing them time to speak, and giving visual clues like nods. Actions speak louder than words, and any brilliance you display when speaking is undermined if you’re staring at your feet when someone else is talking.
Be as interested as you are interesting
Asking questions of the interviewer is a classic piece of interview technique. This doesn’t necessarily mean that you need to walk in with a prepared list, although that can be helpful. A better strategy is to cultivate curiosity – be genuinely inquisitive.
At the end of the interview, your interviewer may ask if you have any questions, but this isn’t a given. So, where appropriate, weave in questions throughout the interview to encourage conversation – showing interest is endearing. Perhaps there is a project that you’re really excited about that you know the company is working on. If you’re attending in person (rather than on video), take note of anything you see that interests you as you walk into the building, and form questions that would be appropriate for the interview setting.
But things such as hours, wage, and other contractual details can be clarified once you’ve got the job. Focus on making the best impression possible.
It’s important to remember that interviews are highly subjective. Even if you’re the most charismatic, charming, and personable candidate, there is always a chance that you and your interviewers might not click. By framing the interview as an authentic, engaging conversation with another human being, rather than some sort of interrogational ordeal, you will build rapport and establish a solid relationship that stands you in good stead for what hopefully becomes your future role.
Laura Autumn Cox is a member of Toastmasters International, a not-for-profit organisation that has provided communication and leadership skills since 1924 through a worldwide network of clubs.