Reading the “Tells” of an Interviewer

An edited version of this article was recently published in the October 2011 issue of NTUC Lifestyle – “Singapore’s Largest Circulating Magazine”. Here’s the original article in full.

Leaving a memorable impression should be your #1 goal in an interview. If an interviewer can’t remember you after 24hrs of meeting you, you have no chance. Of course, memorability works both ways. You either remember someone for something great or for something horrible. Knowing where you fall is the key. It would be simple if you could just ask the interviewer, but there are some unspoken signs you can pick up – clues from the body language of the interviewer to see if you’re on the right track. Even the best trained interviewers will give you certain “tells” as to how you are doing.

First Impressions Matter

Interviewers tend to know within the first five minutes whether the candidate has potential or is simply a waste of time. The answers to the two most common opening questions are all the information they need. “Can you tell me a little bit about yourself? Why do you want to work for us?” As you give your prepared answers, how is the interviewer reacting? Are they simply rushing to the next question and giving you a slight brush off, perhaps because they’ve heard this answer a hundred times, or does the interviewer seem genuinely interested in your responses?

Follow-up questions from the interviewer during the introduction are a very good sign. It shows that you’ve piqued some interest. To do that, you must go beyond simply repeating what’s already on your resume. Share your motivations about your current career path, and be very specific about why you’re interested in the role. Keep your answers to a maximum of two minutes per question, so as not to bore the interviewer.

People Buy People First

You’ve all heard this phrase before – people buy people first. In an interview context, this means that interviewers are looking beyond your experiences and skills. They want to know who you are as a person, your philosophy, your values. And the more you have in common with the interviewer, the better.

As you think about what stories and experiences you will share in the interview, ask yourself whether the person sitting across from you will relate to them the same way you do. Will they think your biggest accomplishment is really a big deal? Can they even appreciate the difficult situations you’ve overcome? Have they experienced something similar?

Cracking of a small (or big!) smile, or a consistent nodding of the head from the interviewer are two strong signs that you’re making a connection with them. Try to use their same lingo and industry terms in your stories. The more you can sound like them, the better connection you can make. Remember to talk about more than just what happened. Share your thought process and your plans. Interviewers want to know not just what you’ve done, but how you think, and whether or not you’ll fit into their team.

Closing Strong

When it comes time for you to ask your questions, don’t forget that you’re still being evaluated. This is not the time for you to ask selfish “me, me, me” questions. It’s not about you; it’s still about them. Think of questions about the company’s direction, or challenges the interviewer may be facing. You’ll know if you’ve asked a good question by the answer you receive. If the response is short and curt, you’ve missed the mark. If the interviewer takes the time to elaborate on their answer and is enthusiastic, you’ve made another good impression.

The biggest sign you can get near the end of the interview is when the interviewer stops asking questions, and starts to tell you more about the company’s direction, the team, or the role. The interviewer has now switched to “sell mode”. Now that they’ve determined you’re a possible strong fit, they want to try and get you excited about them.

Good interviewers are trained to be neutral during an interview, and to be consistent and fair with all of their candidates. However, if you watch carefully and do the proper preparation, you will be able to leave a positive memorable impression that will help you secure the job.

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