With your qualifications and perhaps the help of a friend, you have secured your opportunity to sell yourself. Your ability to connect with the interviewer can cinch the job. Making a good impression on your interviewer requires more than dressing sharply, polishing your shoes and being polite. From the moment you come in sight of the interviewer, you begin the elusive process of connecting.
Studies show that people tend to remember events better when they are linked with an emotional impression. Whether the feelings associated with an event are positive or negative, emotional connections make the event salient, helping us remember things more clearly. Making a memorable impression on the interviewer depends on your ability to connect with the interviewer.
It helps if your personalities click and you both love to rock climb, or if you discover you both share the same alma mater and deeply admire Alan Greenspan. It helps if you have something in common. With some practice, you need not rely on external or circumstantial points of mutual reference in order to establish a good rapport with the interviewer. At a minimum, you can expect that the interviewer wants you to understand and appreciate what she is saying-her goals and concerns, position, expectations and needs.
You can generate good vibes and emotions when you actively listen to the interviewer. This does not mean that you need to ask her about her childhood or her greatest fears. Your interviewer does not need you as a confidant. She just needs to feel like you are an attentive and engaged interviewee. So, when you find yourself facing your interviewer across a table (after you have made certain no stray particles blemish your otherwise radiant smile), you can be certain she wants to be listened to and respected.
The active listening skills you can employ to connect with your interviewer are not unique, but are seldom used. (Think of the last time someone gave you his undivided, empathetic attention for an hour!) In some ways these skills are an art – but don’t worry, you can develop the ability with some practice.
Use empathetic body language.
Both your words and your behavior will affect whether you establish a connection with the interviewer. When you meet the potential employer or human resources officer, you will want to show that you are confident, trusting, open, attentive, and eager, but restrained.
All of this can be communicated in a handshake. Make sure that your hand is about perpendicular to the floor. If you extend your hand with your palm facing down, you indicate that you need to be in control-something that can be off-putting in an interview scenario. If you extend your hand with your palm facing up, you can appear overly docile. Try extending your hand with your palm relatively flat, so that you offer to make full contact with the other person’s hand. If you cup your hand, you indicate that you mistrust the other person.
Likewise, your posture throughout the interview indicates whether you are open and attentive, or somehow withdrawn from the interviewer. Leaning back shows boredom or sometimes insolence. It is better to sit up straight and lean forward just slightly, facing the interviewer directly. Crossing your arms in front of you may indicate that you are somehow defensive, whether from insecurity or mistrust. Try to keep your arms open, even if your legs are crossed.
Eye contact is crucial. Look the person in the eye when you are speaking and listening. To avoid giving the interviewer the impression that you are boring through him with your transfixed gaze, take breaks and look away to the right or left.
Mirror the interviewer.
People feel comfortable when you do the same things that they do, provided your imitations are not obvious. If the interviewer is smiling, smile. If the interviewer furrows her brow at a certain point, do the same. But if the interviewer smokes, don’t light up. Mirroring works not only for behaviors, but also verbal statements. If you briefly say what you hear when someone else says it, you show that you are connected. Again, this engaged listening tool should be used with discretion. Too much can be awkward.
Example: The interviewer says: Our company has doubled in personnel and tripled in revenue over the last five years. The interviewee: Tripled in revenue. The interviewer: In order to meet the constraints of the current economy, we are refocusing our business practices. We have had to reduce the workforce in some departments without reducing our client load. While this means that we expect our employees to work more efficiently, we also intend to equip them for this efficiency by providing more thorough training and clearer direction. The interviewee: Employee efficiency is important.
Ask well-placed, clarifying questions.
If you do not fully understand something that the interviewer asks or says, it is best to clarify. Doing so signals to the interviewer that you are invested in what he or she is saying. These questions can be tricky, however. If you ask questions that seek clarification on issues that are tangential to the thrust of the interviewer’s communication, they derail the person’s train of thought and cause people to become defensive or withdrawn. The interviewer will be convinced that you are not paying attention if you seek information that has just been given to you. Before interrupting the interviewer to clarify a point, make sure that you are listening attentively. Follow the train of thought of the speaker. Then pose a question.
Example: I’m sorry, I don’t think that I fully understand the reporting structure for this position. Would I have one or two supervisors?
Ask open-ended questions.
Open-ended questions allow the interviewer to respond as he or she desires and also demonstrate that you are open to what the interviewer says. The responses might challenge your assumptions, so they mitigate miscommunication. They also allow you subtly to steer the interview in a way that allows you to learn the things you wish about the company and job. The information you gather from these questions will assist you in evaluating the company.
Example: What are the greatest challenges that the person filling this position will likely encounter?