[09.08.10]
27 great comments!

How To Promote A Conversational Job Interview

conversation, tips, job interview, ideasToday I get to share and answer a reader question. I have a number of these questions in my queue, but this one seemed to fit my needs today.  And I hope it fits yours.

It comes from Jeff.  A new member of the LinkedIn group and a reader of the blog.

Jeff’s question:

Can you share with me your thoughts on techniques that are useful in promoting more of a discussion format/style during an interview as opposed to a more traditional q&a format?

This is a great question.  And for me the conversational interview is almost always preferred over a style in which you (the candidate) are being hit with wave after wave of questions.

I say almost always because there are scenarios when the interview becomes too conversational.  You don’t learn anything.  And they have nothing to share with the interview team at the end of the day except “I liked her”.

Not very convincing, right?

I addressed this issue somewhat in a post during “interview week” last year called talking to the social and the serious.  Give that a read and let me know what you think.

But in many cases, there is real value in shifting the nature of the interview away from pre-defined questions and toward a conversation between two professionals.  Identifying issues, brainstorming, and allowing each party to show their true self.  Not someone who is posturing or playing a required part (“powerful hiring manager” or “hopeful candidate”).

To get back to Jeff’s question though . . .

1.  Try an early question. With some interviewers, you’ll know from the start that they are highly social, very serious or somewhere in between.  But early on (on the way to the interview room or prior to sitting down) you can learn a lot by asking a few early questions.  To test the water.  Something like: “how long have you worked here?”  “always in this department?”  “how’s your commute into the office?”  A simple question like this will tell you a lot.  If you get short and stern answers, you may have some work to do.

2.  Be ready to shift your strategy.  Especially if you get “serious” or “social”.  If you get “social”, you will need to be the one providing the structure.  To ask questions about the role and what that person feels the company is looking for.  And then following up with specifics about how you are a great fit.  Of course you’ll need to be social at the same time.  If you get “serious”, you may need to prove yourself early in the interview.  Answering questions with strong, short answers and following up with detailed back-up, examples and evidence of superior fit.

3.  Don’t give up. Of course you need to continue trying to connect with your more serious or traditional interviewer.  And you may find that after 15-20 minutes, the opportunity to ask a more conversational question will be there.  To ask “about the company’s biggest challenge” or “the company’s three biggest growth opportunities”.  Questions like these allow managers to talk about things that they know well or enjoy discussing.  And once that happens, it is more likely that they will get you involved or ask you a related question.  One that begins more of a true and relaxed back and forth.  You as consultant vs. candidate under a hot lamp.

And, in the end, if you get a lot of those serious interviewers you’ll have to ask yourself an important question.  Is this a good fit for me?  Will I be happy working here?

OK, now it is your turn.

What are your thoughts on the pros and cons of conversational interviews?  And how does a candidate turn a traditional interview into one that allows the candidate and interviewer to relax, exchange information and determine (for both parties) whether a good match is forming?

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Tim Tyrell-Smith is the creator of Tim’s Strategy. As a blogger, Tim has been a regular contributor to U.S. News and World Report, interviewed twice on NPR and is the author of two career books (“30 Ideas” and “HeadStrong”). Become a fan at http://facebook.com/TimsStrategy and follow on Twitter (@TimsStrategy). He lives with his wife and three kids in Mission Viejo, California.

Tim Tyrell-Smith – who has written posts on Tim's Strategy®.



Written by: Tim Tyrell-Smith
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  • http://jookwang.typepad.com/ Joo kwang CHAN

    This is an interesting question. To be at either extreme end is no good though I would say between the 2, the serious approach might serve a better functional role of determining whether you are technically suitable for the position. Of course, once that is proven (you are technically capable!), the next question is whether you want to stick around in an environment that is so “serious”. The social discussion is fun, engaging but it is also highly possible to end up with no concrete conclusion unless both sides are skilled in uncovering details while being highly engaged. What you want to do is to be sociable yet at the same time, sell your strengths in a clear manner.

    • http://timsstrategy.com/ TimsStrategy

      A agree that a leaning to the “serious” is best if you have to make a choice. Socializing in an interview is not productive if it lasts too long. A risk also with inexperienced interviewers. Well said.

  • Anonymous

    If there is a downside to this, I’d say it was the danger of being too casual or relaxed that you forget the time or forget to ask very important questions about the candidate (or it may be the other way around…the candidate may forget to ask the interviewer questions). Otherwise, I am all for interviews that are relaxed and open, as long as mutual respect for each other is there and all the information exchanged truly contributes to the decision of whether or not the candidate is a good fit for the position.

    Karen, The Resume Chick (on Google or Twitter for questions, comments or violent reactions)

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  • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_PUA44ZMIH6Z2CBOTS2CEL6UYE4 Yuri Hitomi

    In our company, they would prefer that you greet the person first to see if the interviewer is a friendly type or if that person is more of a strict, serious person. Also, it would help to release some tension in yourself and to lighten up the mood a little bit. I think it should be a balance between the serious and conversational type of interview. Too much conversation especially if all the talks you both have are not related to the job would jeopardize both your chances and that of the interviewers credibility. Too serious and the tensions will boil over you. It would be much better, for me, to ask questions as the interview is in progress. The questions would be more of a clarification on certain questions or maybe asking about the certain key aspects of the company and the position you are applying for.Along the way, you can add some experiences on former jobs that you have that may start a simple conversation about the interviewers experiences in relation to the position that you are vying for. You can add a little joke to it to lighten the mood in a positive way. This is also one of the great time to release some tension and to get to know a little bit more about the person you are talking to.

    • http://timsstrategy.com/ TimsStrategy

      Hi Yuri and thanks for your thoughts on this subject. Agree that this is situational. If you are too chatty with the wrong people, you may not have success you were looking for! There’s pressure on both sides of the desk during an interview so a little light conversation allows people to relax and more of the true personality of the other.

      You are also right that “too social” can lead to a friendly interview with little to know real value for either party. As in life, it is about balance. :-)

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  • Alex

    “I have a number of these questions in my cue, but this one seemed to fit my needs today.” Did you really just say cue when you meant queue? Who in their right mind hired you?

    • http://timsstrategy.com/ TimsStrategy

      Hey Alex – thanks for the correction.  I fixed it above.  Sometimes the fingers move faster than the brain.  :-)


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