Interview Like a Trusted Advisor

Recently I had coffee with a group of newly unemployed professionals in my community. Most of them haven’t had to interview for a few years, and they were looking for an edge.

I thought about it and realized – many interviews are conducted on both sides by people who really don’t know how to interview. The interviewer asks questions, presumably to assess fit, and the job hunter tries to impress. That can be seen as over-confident or desparate, in either case, without regard to whether the job hunter is truly right for the job.

I suggested another approach: The real goal of both parties ought to be to determine whether there is a fit on all levels. Change the dynamic of the interview itself to a collaborative discovery. It may not be easy. Interviewers may not be skilled and veering off the prepared questions and format may be difficult. Job hunters want to show that they have what interviewers want, and may be afraid to acknowledge where they fall short.

Changing this dynamic requires both of you to take the risk of thinking unconventionally. If you can move the conversation to what’s really at stake for both parties you can truly distinguish yourself.

How can you collaborate wth the interviewer? Here’s what I suggest:

  1. Explore the job requirements together. Understand what is needed and why. Discuss the specifics of what needs to be done, how it’s been done in the past, and why there’s a need to fill this job now. Don’t be afraid to discuss whether it makes sense. Better to address the job now, than for the employer to discover two months from now that the need was different than originally thought.
  2. Discuss the ideal candidate. Ask what type if person would be perfect for the job and why. You may agree or have input. Find out what got you in the door – what intrigued someone enough to interview you. Ask what qualifications the interviewer thinks you have, and those he or she thinks you lack. Discuss those qualifications openly.
  3. Sell by doing, not by telling. Make it easy for the interviewer to see how you might approach a situation in the job. Your exploration of the job requirements might uncover something that your role might address. You might have enough information by now to talk about how you would address the situation.
  4. Understand the decision-making process. Ask the questions that will help you understand how a hiring decision will be made. And it’s not a bad idea to ask about the other talent they are interviewing. If you bring up the subject in a collaborative rather than competitive way, it will be heard with the genuiness you intend.
  5. Be open and clear about whether you believe you are right for the job. Express whether you think you are and note your concerns. Don’t be afraid to refer to what got you the interview in the first place.

Notice there is absolutely nothing in these steps that says you should try to dazzle the interviewer with your credentials and your brilliant ideas. Nothing that talks about you selling yourself in the traditional way. Being transparent and collaborative in an interview requires that you are not arrogant (usually a sign of weakness), and certainly does not give the impression that you are desperate for a job.

Not to say you shouldn’t put your best foot forward. Or help the interviewer see what you can do – and how that might benefit the company. But do so only after you learn as much as you can about the job, and only as part of a mutual exploration into whether you might be the right fit. If you are, after a single interview you’re well on your way to earning their confidence and their trust. Then you will both understand that the interest and enthusiasm you’re expressing by the end of the interview are genuine. With the beginnings of trust established you’re bound to find your odds of landing the job substantially improved.

Do you have other tips for interviewing that build trust? Please share them as comments here!

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