A lot of job seekers go into interviews expecting to be grilled. They prep for the typical interrogation techniques and practice their answers to all the usual interview questions. They have their talking points tucked away in the back of their minds.
But many job seekers fail to recognize that often the best interviews don't feel as much like interviews as they do compelling conversations. Have you ever noticed that the best actors don't seem like they're acting? Or have you had a great day at work and then had the epiphany that it didn't feel like you were working all day? Interviewing can feel much the same way.
Think about the situation from the employer's perspective: You may be the 10th person the manager is seeing that week, and many people feel just as awkward interviewing as they do being interviewed. A comfortable exchange with someone who has similar professional interests may be a welcome relief from the regimented interviews. If you have the ability to make whomever you're talking to feel like they are simply engaged in an intriguing conversation, you could be setting yourself apart from the pack.
Prepare to Relax
None of this is to imply that you shouldn't prep yourself for an interview. To the contrary, the more versed you are on the job at hand, the more conversational -- and convincing -- you'll sound.
"In a best-case scenario, if you've done enough practice and really have a good sense of what your best professional qualifications are, then the interview should proceed on a more natural basis, because you're not nervous at that point," says Chandra Prasad, author of Outwitting the Job Market.
Your Career Is Like a Garden
Let's imagine you're a gardening fanatic, and you're at your local greenhouse. You're picking out the perfect hydrangea when you strike up a conversation with a fellow green thumb. The two of you hit it off instantly, comparing notes about the best time of year to plant, ideal fertilizing and watering techniques, and other tricks about getting your tomato vines to grow and your petunias to blossom. Before you know it, you're late for dinner at home, but the conversation was so engrossing that the time just got away from you.
Think about that conversation for a minute. You probably didn't think about it in these terms, but you were completely prepped for the conversation; after all, you spent years learning about gardening and could hold your own in the conversation. You were happy to find a friendly person who shared your passion. You imparted some knowledge and picked up a new thing or two. You can do the same thing in interviews.
Know Your Chemistry
"Chemistry is what you are talking about," says Marky Stein, author of "Fearless Interviewing." "Having a natural conversation essentially makes the interviewer feel comfortable, and therefore makes him or her like you. It's the human element. It's all about the chemistry."
Stein cautions job seekers to "never memorize the answer to a question. That's death. It comes out canned, and you've destroyed that chemistry and spontaneity aspect of the interview." She also says that a mental mistake many candidates make is trying to make up answers to questions. "In a normal conversation, you might say something like, 'Gee, that's a good question. I've never really thought about that. I wonder if it could be XYZ.' Why not do the same at an interview?"
Different Approaches for Different Situations
Prasad points out that no single strategy works with all interviewers. While some welcome casual conversations, others look to keep the interview a bit more formal. "I think you need to go into the interview and assess your interviewer -- see what kind of persona they have," she advises. "Judge from their mannerisms and from their initial questions what they're expecting from you and proceed from there."