We hear many job seekers tell stories of interviews that seemed to go really well. They believe they had a great conversation with the interviewer, but then they received a note from the hiring manger saying they decided to go with another candidate. This news understandably makes most job seekers feel surprised and confused when they feel they nailed it. Knowing the difference between a great conversation and a successful conversation is a critical element of preparing for interviews. So, what’s the difference?
A great conversation is about building rapport and getting the hiring manager to like you. While this is an important part of any successful conversation, it won’t land you the job. Beware of interviews with extended periods of rapport building (also called small talk). Sure, there is a definite place for this—like when you’re walking back to the hiring manager’s office with them and you talk about college football, or when you find out that you both share a major hobby. It’s great to find ways to connect with the person interviewing you, but the key is that you want to connect with them quickly and then shift the focus back to the job.
If you spend most of the interview talking about anything other than why you want the job, why you’re a great fit for the job, and how you can add value to their company, you’re running the risk of leaving them thinking, “What a great guy—he was really nice” instead of, “Wow, he really gets what this role is about and would be a real asset to the team.”
A successful conversation has an agenda—and you should have a clear agenda before you go in to an interview. Your ability to quickly communicate your strengths, skills, and experience determines whether your conversation is successful. Sometimes hiring managers don’t even realize that you haven’t talked about the job much if the conversation flows easily and you have great rapport. It’s your job to watch out for situations like this and to expertly shift unrelated chatter back to why you’re a fit for the job. Even if you’ve been pre-screened by HR or a recruiter, it’s important that you demonstrate to the hiring manager that you have a strong understanding of the role and why you’re a fit. Think about what you’d want them to say about you after you leave. “He was so nice and we had a lot in common” or “He was so nice and he’s clearly a fit for this role.”
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