Career Center Blog

February 20, 2014

A job interview is simply a conversation


Last week, I covered tips for reducing anxiety while interviewing for a job, one of which was to think of the interview not as an interrogation, but as a conversation.

This thought deserves a closer look, because successful job interviewing is all about relating to your interviewer on a human-to-human level. In fact, job interviewing is just another kind of social interaction -- like meeting people at parties, or dating -- and you can start with the same basic rules for good interpersonal relationships:

Let the other person talk. Ask questions that show you are listening. Ask follow-up questions that show you are non-judgmental, intelligent and mature. Keep your answers brief, and then ask, "Would you like me to expand on that?"

Lean forward a little. Maintain friendly eye contact (without forcing it); avoid knee jiggling and toe tapping; keep your hands open and relaxed in your lap. Smile warmly.

Speak clearly and audibly, and use complete sentences. Take a breath between thoughts, both to relax you and to allow your interviewer to get a word in edgewise. Avoid the use of "upspeak," which makes you sound unsure of yourself.

Use language that is familiar to the other person. Every industry has buzzwords or jargon, and using them shows that you belong -- that you are already a member of the group you want to join. Just don't overdo it.

Keep in mind that he or she may be under pressure, too. Don't get upset if the interviewer needs to take a call or step out of the room. A great way to earn respect is to demonstrate understanding of, and sympathy for, that person's problems. Plus, empathizing with your interviewer might keep you too busy to think about your own.

It all comes down to chemistry, really. Chemistry -- the good kind -- is what allows you to feel you know a person, and vice versa. And even if you're not a born life-of-the-party type, you can still ace the chemistry thing.

Teach yourself to think of an interview not as a test you're terrified you're going to fail, but as a simple conversation with a fellow human being.

Be a good conversationalist. Get the job.

Karen Burns is the author of The Amazing Adventures of Working Girl: Real-Life Career Advice You Can Actually Use. Email her at

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Karen Burns Karen Burns is the author of The Amazing Adventures of Working Girl, a career guide based on her 59 jobs over 40 years in 22 cities.

Lisa Quast Lisa Quast is a certified career coach, mentor, business consultant, former corporate executive and author based in the Seattle area.

Randy Woods Randy Woods writes about job-search tools, networking techniques and other tips to help you land your dream job.

Former contributors

Kristen Fife is a senior recruiter, career mentor, blogger and resume consultant.

Matt Youngquist is the president of Career Horizons, a career counseling firm.

Natalie Singer is a Seattle writer, editor and small-business owner.

Michelle Goodman is the author of "My So-Called Freelance Life" and "The Anti 9-to-5 Guide."


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