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Sound Bites: Interview Communication Skills

By Carolyn Heinze, Contributing Editor

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Article Sponsored by: USAA

Ever watched someone being interviewed on television and wondered how that person got to be so smooth-talking? Even when these types of people pause, they cover all of the important points without breaking a sweat.

It's true that the most media-friendly people get that way because they either went through some kind of training or they're simply accustomed to dealing with the press. While not all of us are graced with these opportunities, we can certainly utilize some basic techniques that can be easily applied to job interviews.

Judy Kaplan Baron, PhD, a San Diego, Calif.-based master career counselor, notes that one of the main goals during a job interview is to develop a rapport with the interviewer. "If you're not developing rapport with your interviewers, it doesn't matter how qualified you are," she said. "They are less likely to hire somebody that they don't like."

This means that the focus of the interview is not only on the content of what you are saying - which should be tailored to persuade the interviewer that you have the skills and experience for the position - but it also is designed to determine whether or not you are a fit for the organization in terms of its culture, the people you will be managing, and those who will be managing you.

In structuring your responses to an interviewer's questions, Kaplan Baron suggests that candidates start by naming at least four, but no more than six, skills that apply. For example: 'I develop a good rapport with people. I follow through on the goals I set. I'm highly organized. I take initiative.' Then you move on to illustrating past examples of how you put these skills to use.

"You need to either proceed or follow those goals with an example - some accomplishment, something that you've done that proves that, in fact, you have those skills," she said. "You can do that in a very short period of time, and you can do that so that it doesn't sound overly rehearsed." Before you go into an interview, however, you need to know what skills the organization is looking for so you are focusing on the right ones.

If you're well-prepared, not only will you hit on all of the necessary points, but you will do so succinctly. "You can talk for a maximum of 60 seconds before you need to get the interviewer involved," Kaplan Baron advised. How do you do this? By simply asking the interviewer a question.

Let's say you're asked how you fit the qualifications for the position. Your response: "I set high goals, I follow through, I'm very persistent and I'm strong physically. Let me give you an example: I made a decision that I wanted to bicycle from Los Angeles to San Diego. I did not know how to ride a 10-speed, but I gave myself three months to get into shape and do the ride. And you know what? I did the ride." Then you follow up with: "Would you like another example?"

By adding that question onto the end of your response, you give the interviewer the opportunity to request another example, perhaps one that is more work-related. "If they say no, then the likelihood is that you've got all the points that you can probably get for that question," Kaplan Baron said. "If they say, 'Sure, go ahead,' or 'whatever you like,' I'd give them another example, because there may be some room there for you to gain more points."

Linda Matias, certified interview coach at Career Strides in Smithtown, N.Y., and author of '201 Knockout Answers to Tough Interview Questions: The Ultimate Guide to Handling the New Competency-Based Interview Style,' notes that job candidates are afraid of silence, which can lead them to make a tactical interview error. "If the interviewer does not respond verbally after the candidate feels that they have finished saying all that they have to say, the candidate may continue talking," she illustrated. She cautions against feeling pressured to fill in that pause or, if you really are uncomfortable, turn the situation around by asking a question.

The reality is, however, that sometimes job candidates do get tripped up, and when this happens, it's important not to get defensive. In some cases, the interviewer may be acting hostile as a test. "If someone finds that during an interview, the interviewer is pushy and rude, chances are it's part of the interview process - they're doing that for a reason," Matias explained. "It could be because the job is very stressful and they're trying to see how the candidate reacts in stressful situations. A big mistake is that people have a defensive tone when they are being put on the spot."

As Kaplan Baron points out, job candidates should bear in mind that most interviewers are not well-trained in the art of interviewing. Therefore, there may be pauses when it's incumbent on the interviewee to determine whether, at that moment, it's appropriate to ask a question: 'Tell me a little bit about what you would want me to accomplish in my first three to six months here. Who would I be reporting to directly? What are some of the issues that the person in this position might be facing?' The goal, she says, is to put the interviewer at ease. "If the interviewer is more at ease, the interviewer is going to feel more comfortable with you. If the interviewer is more comfortable with you, they like you more. If they like you more, you tend to get higher scores on the interview," she said.

While your skills, qualifications, experience and attitude are key factors in determining whether or not you get the job, Kaplan Baron underlines that a significant variable in the final decision is your personality. "People don't want to hire robots; they want to hire people that they're going to feel comfortable working with," she said. If you don't allow some of your personality to come through, they won't know what you're really like. "Be natural and allow part of your personality to come out so that they can see you." And, if you don't get the offer, it's probably a good thing. "You could get hired if you didn't allow your personality to come out, and it might be a terrible fit. Wouldn't you rather know that beforehand?"

Carolyn Heinze is a freelance writer/editor.


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