Your job interview is about to begin. You’re sitting in a fancy boardroom at the shiny teak table, staring at the high-tech modular business phone planted in the center. Your foot shakes back and forth like your dog’s tail, and your heart pounds wildly. You’ve prepared your STAR stories, and you have your response to “So tell me about yourself!” down cold. So what’s the problem? Well, it’s this: You have been told repeatedly that it’s really important to be likable at these things, but inside, you’re thinking about the bills piling up, how you’ve been out of work for 5 months, and how this time, you really can’t afford to blow it.
Do you relate to that scene? How ARE you supposed to balance your anxiousness with the need to be likable? I am asked this question a lot. Let’s get to the heart of this!
It’s actually simple, and boils down to one idea that you are thoroughly in charge of.
The best interviews I’ve had were conversations, rather than interrogations. Not only does an interviewer want this interview to be her last, she wants to enjoy it. One way to infuse the meeting with spontaneity is to ask unexpected questions. In addition to my pre-planned arsenal of questions, I’m listening deeply to the person interviewing me and gathering new information. I recently interviewed for a consulting position, and observed how passionate my interviewer was. I asked her what specifically about the company fed her excitement, and our conversation dropped to an even deeper level. Why does that matter? Your deeper connection with the interviewer = your better cultural fit with the company.
The point is, by shifting your focus away from YOU and what you want and need, to being fully present with the person to whom you’re speaking, something bigger develops. Your interviewer will see you as likable, present, and curious, and that will set you apart from everyone she’s met.
Here’s another way to invite spontaneity: Allow whatever arises. In her poem Allow, Danna Faulds writes “Allow, and grace will carry you to higher ground.” During the same consulting interview above, in tune with my interviewer’s line of questioning, I mentioned that for certain things, my memory isn’t great. As a result, when working with a client, I write a lot of information down. I told her that writing notes both helps me remember, and helps me see patterns. I experienced no judgment from her about this revelation; in fact, she identified with me, saying her own memory is selective. It also allowed me to nip the “what is your greatest weakness?” question in the bud. By allowing who I am to be expressed—in a professional, self-aware way, the air was lighter and more relaxed.
I also invite spontaneity by remembering the big picture. If this job doesn’t work out today, I still want to connect with the person interviewing me. Who knows? Maybe an opportunity will arise later. I always ask about people’s hobbies and sweet spots near the end of an interview, because I send them articles about their interests, to stay in touch. When I recently asked someone about her hobby, she revealed she liked Ballroom Dancing, in particular the Argentine Tango. As we talked, we learned we were both dancers in high school, and that we each let go of the dream of being professional dancers. That’s when our conversation deepened, and a lovely bond formed.
Now go back to the teak table. Remember why you’re really there. It’s not just about putting food on the table, and money in your pocket. Yes, by all means, do your prep work. But also be filled with openness and curiosity, and allow a real conversation to unfold. As your curiosity for another increases, your anxiety decreases.