Don’t Be a Robot: 5 Tips for Building Interviewing Rapport
Don’t Be a Robot: 5 Tips for Building Interviewing Rapport

How’s this for an ironic twist taking place in the job market? At a time when many people fear that advances in technology, robotics and artificial intelligence represent a growing threat to their job prospects, many potential applicants are acting a bit too much like robots themselves when they interview—and forgetting to let their humanity shine through!

Sounds strange, I know, but in conducting mock interviews with hundreds of my career coaching clients each year, I’ve noticed that many people overlook this critical element of interviewing success. They’re so focused on acing various skills-based questions that they miss the dynamics of trust, rapport and likeability, which factor heavily into the hiring equation.

After all, hiring is not an exact science. And most managers ultimately are looking to hire people not only with the right qualifications but also whom they genuinely like—and whose company they enjoy.

If you’ve let your interviewing demeanor become a bit cold, robotic and clinical as of late, here are five tips for building interviewing rapport.

1. Don’t Sneer at Small Talk

Many of us (greetings, fellow introverts!) aren’t terribly comfortable in social situations and hate having to “schmooze” in any capacity. However, there’s no question that first impressions are important and small talk is key for building rapport when first meeting someone. Even if you feel these interactions shouldn’t matter in the hiring process, they do. So, you’ll want to go into an interview ready to play the game and chat a little bit.

Try your best to be outgoing and friendly throughout the entire interviewing process, starting from when you first greet the receptionist to the final moment things get wrapped up. Smile a lot. Ask how their day is going. And be ready to initiate (or respond to) whatever casual back-and-forth banter arises related to the weather, sports, current events or other superficial topics.

Sure, it’s silly, but it puts people at ease. And if you get tongue-tied, look for conversational clues around the employer’s office, such as awards, interesting decorations, photos and other items to use as effective conversation starters.

2. Enhance the “Facts” with Emotion and Passion

Once the initial small talk has died down, the odds are pretty good that the interviewer will kick off the conversation with a predictable first question. They’re going to ask you to “tell them about yourself” or “walk them through your resume” or some variant along those lines. When this happens, avoid the mistake of simply reciting your resume details back to the hiring manager, year by year.

Remember, the person across the desk has only limited time to chat and has likely already read your resume thoroughly. Simply restating these details is a sure-fire way to put them to sleep. So, instead, focus on the human element and the information they don’t know about you.

What makes you tick? What are the key milestones you’ve achieved in your career? What do you love about what you do? How have you grown and matured from a professional standpoint? What kind of challenges would you love to tackle for an employer?  

As numerous studies have demonstrated, first impressions are crucial. So, showing some creativity, energy and self-awareness right out of the gate will go a long way in setting you apart from the competition!

3. Spice Up Your STAR Examples

Ah yes, the infamous STAR model of interviewing. While I suspect most of you are aware of this technique already, it represents a structured framework (Situation/Task/Action/Result) for responding to interview questions when asked to give an example of something. And for the most part, it’s a useful approach to follow.

It breaks down in actual practice because it has convinced far too many job hunters to respond to questions in a robotic fashion. Instead, they diligently recite a set of pre-processed thoughts without adding even a lick of spontaneity or humanity.

The next time you get asked to illustrate one of your strengths, don’t rush headlong into your structured STAR response. Take a breath first to acknowledge the question and show the employer you "get" its importance. Perhaps you can even add an interesting comment, insight or humorous remark about the topic at hand.

Conversationally approach the subject instead of treating it like you’re the defendant in a legal deposition. Then, once you’ve finished your example story, circle back around and acknowledge the topic of the question, yet again, to reinforce your point. It’ll also put a nice conversational "bow tie" on your answer.

4. Let Your Curiosity Come Through

Another quality employers prize—but don’t always see demonstrated by interviewees—is curiosity. Most managers would prefer to engage in a back-and-forth dialogue with candidates about the job in question instead of engaging in a stiff, formal ritual where everybody goes through the motions on a superficial level.

The next time you’re interviewing, don’t be afraid to let your curiosity come out. When appropriate, lean forward, show interest and ask smart questions that show you know your stuff and want to learn more about the challenges at hand.

Place your focus on understanding the job rather than getting the job and you’ll add a fresh dynamic to the process. You’ll also likely take a lot of potential pressure off yourself.

What’s more, at the end of the interview, don’t fall back on a list of canned questions you got out of an interviewing book. Prove to the interviewer you listened to them by circling back around to dig deeper into the various topics, needs and pain points they mentioned.

5. Show That You Want It

Finally, while many candidates likely assume their physical presence in an interview is de facto proof that they want the job, employers don’t always see it that way. They can’t always tell who wants to work for them versus candidates just seeking a random paycheck.

When wrapping up the interview, don’t say a cursory thanks and call it a day. End things on a high point by telling the employer you were impressed by what you heard, feel you could excel at the role in question and hope they'll seriously consider you for a spot on their team.

These final magic words, engaging the interviewer personally and clearly stating your desire to work with them, can sometimes tip the scales and separate you from other candidates with qualifications similar—or better—than your own.

There’s no question that certain aspects of life have grown more automated and impersonal in today's digital age. But interviewing still boils down to people hiring people. So, don’t overprepare to the point that you remove all human warmth from the equation!


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Matt Youngquist

Guest writer Matt Youngquist is a recognized career coaching expert and LinkedIn trainer in the greater Seattle area. He’s the founder and president of Career Horizons, where he helps clients across the Pacific Northwest tackle the challenges of job hunting and employment transition.

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