Open interviews with a conversation that focuses on the interviewer to become a memorable job candidate
A true (short) story about a diverse professional’s interview ...
After the standard interview greetings (“Hello,” “How are you?” “Thank you for taking the time to meet with me,”), the job seeker opened the interview with a simple statement, “I’ve been reading a lot about the company. Very impressive. How did you get involved with the business?”
The job seeker gave the interviewer the occasional nudge or warm question to show interest in the interviewer as a person, not as an obstacle to overcome to realize an objective. Over the next 10 minutes of the conversation, the company employee effectively told the interviewee his (professional) life story.
All the while, the job seeker concentrated his attention fully on the employee, made eye contact, and relaxed so the employee would feel at ease. Occasionally during the conversation, the job seeker would inject responses like, “Amazing!” or “That’s wonderful!” and would show genuine interest in the interviewer’s tales.
The job seeker stopped a moment in the conversation, and said, “I hope you don’t mind my asking questions about yourself. I’m just really impressed with what you’re doing here and want to find out more about what it took for you to get to this point.”
The interviewer replied, “Oh no! I like it [that you want to know]”.
After all, if job seekers are not fully comfortable with the people they will potentially spend upwards of a third of their lives with, then they have consigned themselves to a personal Hell. Of course, the paycheck is very important in everyone’s lives, but so, increasingly, is our well-being.
Job seekers, then, can investigate this thing organizations like to call “chemistry” even more deeply than interviewers themselves. Let’s face it, a battery of questions does not indicate whether another person is simpatico; that is, whether they can be together, communicate, and even laugh under the stress of the modern work environment.
Chemistry is a very important element in a diverse professional’s work. They know their personal experience is different from that of mainstream employees. They may also feel their perspective is different from that of others, as well. So they’ll need to make sure they have a “safe” feeling with the people with whom they may work one day. They’ll need to ensure their input and their questions meet with respect and regard, instead of with derision and marginalization.
Diverse professionals, however, perhaps because they’ve bought into a socially ingrained sense of power imbalance (that is, the mainstream has all the power, while minorities have little), tend to sit down at the beginning of an interview and shut up. They answer questions mechanically, without following up with their own. The format does a disservice to both the job seeker and the organization.
Diverse professionals, then, need to “lean into” the conversation. Set the tone if they feel the engagement will be little more than a robotic exercise in irritation (on the interviewer side) and frustration (on the job seeker’s end).
By taking the initiative to set the tone of the conversation, the job seeker achieves several outcomes:
They will be able to determine if the people with whom they may be working are simpatico with them
They will gain a deeper perspective into the inner workings of the organization
The interviewer will be able to genuinely feel if they and the job seeker have chemistry
Sometimes, you’ll meet with resistance from employees as you attempt to take a conversational approach to interviews. Conversely, you may not feel comfortable during the encounters. Take your impressions, then, as an indicator of the shape of how you’ll feel during your time at the organization. Perhaps it’s not the right place for you to work and grow as a professional.
For every job opening, there are hundreds of professionally qualified applicants. If you are one of the dozen or so candidates who get to have a face-to-face interview, take the initiative to make the meeting into a conversation, not an interrogation.
That’s how you become memorable, not forgettable.
Check out our article, Gotcha! How to Ask Open-ended Questions During Interviews, for more tips on becoming a memorable job applicant.