No matter what your job history looks like, interviews can shake anyone's confidence. Whether you’re up for your dream job or just trying to move up a rung, it’s not always easy to keep your cool under the scrutiny of being so blatantly evaluated, and rattling off a canned answer to “What’s your biggest weakness?” isn't going to blow any minds.
But here’s the thing: there’s no set formula for acing the interview process, despite all the articles we see floating around business publications detailing the surefire questions to ask your potential new boss and answers to stay away from at all costs.
In reality, it’s much more likely that your new boss hires you because they like you, not just because you have a flawless, case-study worthy answer when they ask you to tell them about a time you had to overcome a challenge or work with a team. You've got to be competent for the role, of course, but it's just as important to understand the power behind being personable.
Need proof? A recent study published in the journal Applied Psychology found that the portion of the interview that carries the most weight when it comes to getting you that job offer isn’t even part of the “official” interview – it’s the rapport you build with your potential employer beforehand.
Interviews don’t happen in a vacuum. There are the emails you exchange, the phone interviews, and the seemingly meaningless small talk about your weekend you make on the walk from reception to the “actual” interview. But when researchers looked at the process, they found that those crucial first exchanges of witty banter can hold a lot of weight your overall evaluation. In the study, candidates who made a good first impression during rapport building scored significantly higher on the actual assessment by the interviewer in the formal Q&A.
If you ask us, this actually makes a lot of sense. Career paths are, at least partially, moving away from the traditional 9-to-5 of our parents’ generation, and the lines between our personal lives and professional lives are getting blurry. When you’re regularly grabbing beers with your coworkers after you wrap up the last meeting of the day, or setting up a company softball leagues for actual fun (not just company face time), it pays to be in an office culture where people actually like each other. Imagine that.
This is where those first few minutes of small talk with your potential colleagues comes into play. If you come off as awkward or arrogant, that colors the rest of the actual interview. No one wants to work, let alone hang out, with someone they feel like they can’t communicate with. That goes both ways, too – if you feel like you don't vibe well with anyone you meet throughout the interview process, maybe that's a good indication that the company isn't a good fit for your talents.
So how do you nail it? As much as possible, try to keep from psyching yourself out before heading into that final round, no matter how badly you want the gig. Instead, try to think of your potential boss as just another human – one you’re trying to connect with on a personal level. If you know your interviewer is a basketball fan, ask her if she caught the amazing play from the game last night. Basically, think of your interviewer as someone who's going to be more than a signature on your quarterly evaluation.
The same idea applies to making connections outside the office: it’s really all about building some shared ground. Imagine you were the one making the hiring decision. All else being equal, it's not a stretch to say you’d probably gravitate towards the guy you want to grab lunch with over the candidate who can’t talk about anything that’s not listed on his résumé. If you can show that you'll add to the office environment, instead of just the company's bottom line, you'll be in a much better position.
Apart from that, all you can do is hope. Good luck out there.