Most job interviews seem to follow a set script. Whether it’s the clothes, staging or dialogue, nothing much changes from one interview to another as everyone plays their part. Recruiters ask questions that they hope will give them the most accurate picture of a candidate, while it’s the candidate’s job to answer. But sticking too closely to the script can blind recruiters to a candidate’s potential and lead to missed opportunities on both sides. So how can you keep your options open and stop your job interviews from turning into nothing more than an interrogation? Mila Elhamdi, a career management coach and consultant in France, shares her advice on how to put the odds in your favor.
Why interrogation doesn’t work
When it comes to job interviews, simply answering the questions your recruiter asks you is normal. But this approach isn’t good for either party, according to Elhamdi. “When candidates simply reply without going into detail or asking follow-up questions, hiring managers may find it hard to get a sense of who they are and how interested they are in the company,” she says. Whether it’s a strategy, a response to stress or the inherent power imbalance, there are many reasons why a candidate may take this approach when being interviewed. But it does more harm than good as it makes candidates feel inferior from the outset. For instance, recruiters might interpret your attitude as a lack of interest, which may cause them to pass you over for the position. “To highlight your added value as a candidate, you need to interact with the recruiter,” says Elhamdi. It’s also important to project confidence during an interview so that the hiring manager or recruiter can envision you in the role. “This is even more so if the role carries responsibility,” says Elhamdi. Even the most capable candidates may fail to get noticed in job interviews if they are too passive.
Having a discussion can help to level the playing field. In other words, you can turn an interrogation into a conversation. “This last point is a crucial one to make because the best candidate is someone who can collaborate with others,” she says. A more natural exchange between equals can empower the candidate and make them stand out as someone who is worthy and valuable. So how can you take back control of an interview if it feels like it is descending into question-and-answer mode?
Five ways to escape an interrogation
Asking follow-up questions isn’t enough to keep your interview from becoming an interrogation. It’s also important to transform your attitude towards the recruiter. Elhamdi offers five tips on how to achieve this.
1. Change your mindset
To stop yourself from taking a passive role, you have to change the way you see job interviews. “Interviews often create a negative mindset that takes over as soon as the big day approaches,” says Elhamdi. “More often than not, this distorted view of interviews makes it impossible to have a proper conversation.” For most candidates, job interviews suggest that you’re under scrutiny and being judged. It’s time to see things differently. Although there’s a lot at stake, it’s still an opportunity to have a conversation. What’s more, meeting new people and expanding your professional network is good for your personal growth too.
2. Be prepared, but be ready to improvise
A common mistake many interviewees make is to over-prepare for the big day. This is particularly true when they try to predict which questions will be asked, in the hopes of having a quick response to hand. “This approach stifles spontaneity and keeps you stuck in your head,” says Elhamdi. While being prepared allows you to show interest in the job, remember to be your authentic self and to be ready to improvise when necessary. Instead of simply repeating what you have prepared, do your homework beforehand and find out about the company and its culture. “Today, with social media, and LinkedIn in particular, you can access information that will be useful in conversation and thus more likely to engage your interviewer,” says Elhamdi. This works because it gives you a better understanding of the position, the company and its challenges.
3. Don’t be complacent
If you want to avoid being subjected to an interrogation, it’s important to take control of your interview. “Since an interview is a discussion more than anything, you’re also free to ask any questions you may have about the company, the role or the way the team is organized,” says Elhamdi. Not only does this put you on an equal footing, but it’s also vital to your thinking process. “Just because you applied for the job, doesn’t mean you’ll end up accepting any offer. The decision is yours too,” the coach says. So before you do anything else, take time to gather information that will help you better understand what kind of situation you may be walking into.
4. Ask questions to keep recruiters engaged
Many recruiters have to interview a steady stream of candidates, repeating the same questions again and again about the role they are trying to fill. Put yourself in their shoes. Imagine how boring it could become and how difficult to tell candidates apart after a while. “Turning the interview into a conversation not only makes things more enjoyable but also sets you apart from the crowd,” said Elhamdi. Instead of simply delivering a monolog, take an interest in the recruiter’s role. This will make the recruiter feel valued, but also will help you to get more information about how the company is organized. For instance, you could ask questions about the company’s strategy. What have they already put in place? What worked? What didn’t? What are their expectations for your role? Do they match your skills?
5. Stay focused
This is not to say that you should treat the interview as if it were a casual meeting. “At the same time, don’t let yourself get too comfortable. Have a conversation but take it seriously too,” says Elhamdi. Instead of getting overly familiar during the interview, keep focused on your goal until you’re out the door. “Sometimes recruiters will compliment your profile or resume, but that doesn’t mean you’ve got the job,” she says. In other words, avoid becoming complacent or overly confident in where you stand with the recruiter. It’s all about balance.
At the end of the day, the best way to avoid your interview turning into an interrogation is to be your authentic self. Making sure that your interview is more of a discussion is a great way to awaken the interest of any recruiter and to make sure that they remember you.
Translated by Andrea Schwam
Photo: Welcome to the Jungle
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