Most people think that the goal at a job interview is to explain or defend your qualifications. But nobody would waste time talking to you if they didn’t already think you could do the job.
So even though you may be queried about your background, work experience or performance, the most important questions won’t get asked out loud: Do I like you? Will with you? Would you fit in well with the people on my team?
A dry recital of your resume won’t answer these questions. A lively conversation will.
So how do you create that conversation?
It Starts with an Attitude Adjustment
Notice what you’re feeling and thinking about the interview process. Fear and perfectionism are probably in the mix because (A) we’re all afraid of being scrutinized, judged, and found wanting, and (B) it’s easy to feel that if we just do a perfect interview, we’ll get the job.
The truth is that no matter how well you acquit yourself, the outcome of a job interview is beyond your control. Once you face that fact, there’s much less to be afraid of. So I would suggest trying to let go of being perfect, and setting the more achievable goal of having a good conversation.
See also: The Essential Element of Every Job Interview
Pick Your Interview Approach
You can practice in order to feel a certain way at your interview. (This is one of those places where “faking it 'til you make it” really works!)
You may want to feel calmer, more passionate, less defensive, or any of a number of things.
Whatever else you want to add, you should minimally aim to feel relaxed, confident, competent and friendly. So as you’re reading, thinking about, writing down, and practicing the suggestions that follow, try to feel relaxed, confident, competent, friendly, and however else you’d like to feel during the interview.
Prepare Q&As for Your Interview
Make a list of the questions you expect to be asked, and the ones that you really, really don’t want to answer. Formulate your answers, and run them by a trusted friend, colleague, mentor or coach.
Don’t lose sight of what they really want to know. For example:
“Tell us a little about yourself” really means, “Tell us what you would bring to this company.”
“What is a challenge you overcame at work?” means, “Are you pro-active? Do you take responsibility to solve problems?”
Do this preparation for every interview. Your answers should always be true; but they should also showcase the qualities or experience that meets a specific job’s requirements: organizational skills, or people skills, or persistence or creativity.
Answer at least some of an interviewer’s questions with stories. Stories allow you to show your good qualities rather than describing them.
Stories have a beginning, middle and end; which, in business terms, means they have each of these elements:
Problem (beginning): You identified, or were suddenly confronted with, a challenge, a crisis, or a previously unmet need.
Action (middle): After appropriate thought, research, consultation, and/or experimentation, you decided on a course of action that you thought would work.
Result (end): Thanks to your courage, foresight, wisdom and initiative, the challenge, crisis, or previously unmet need was successfully resolved. (You don’t have to talk about your courage, foresight, wisdom or initiative, but your story should make those qualities clear.)
See also: The Smartest Interview Questions To Ask
Good stories can illustrate a wide range of qualities and capabilities. So find two or three good stories, and practice telling them. (Don’t memorize them--just get comfortable with what you’re going to put in and leave out.)
Then, during the interview, keep an ear cocked for places where your stories fit, and tell them in a conversational way.
Most of All, Practice Focusing on the Interviewer
Practice looking your interviewer in the eye. His or her reaction (which you can only observe if you’re watching) will tell you whether to cut an answer short or expand it; whether to be more passionate or more calm; whether to ask lots of questions or stick to answering; and a host of other things.
And speaking of questions: Prepare several things to ask about the company (things you couldn’t have learned on the Internet), and don’t be afraid to ask your interviewer’s opinion (“What’s your favorite part of working here?”).
Above all, remember that you’re talking to a person. The more you can focus your thoughts on them, the more confident you’ll feel about conversing. The more you converse, the more you’ll relax. The more you relax, the more your best and most appealing sides will come out.
Remember: You don’t control the outcome of a job interview. Even if you perform perfectly, you might not get the job, for reasons that have nothing to do with you, or the person you’re talking to. So you might as well try to kick back a little, look at that person, and talk to them. It can’t hurt, and it just might help!
Former Fortune 500 speechwriter and speaking coach Jezra Kay is the founder of Speak Up for Success. She is the author of a new book, Speak Like Yourself...No, Really! Follow Your Strengths and Skills to Great Public Speaking, from which this article is adapted.