• Mark Efinger

Steering The Conversation in an Interview

It is your interview, so you should be steering the conversation.

Too many interviewees yield to the interviewer. This Is A Mistake! After all, the point of this two-way discussion (and it should be a two-way discussion) is to determine how you fit the requirements of the position, right? If you have done your interview homework, you should have a pretty good idea of what criteria the organization will use to make their assessment, and also have an excellent list of evidence from your life that demonstrates you deserve high marks in each of the criteria. If you are struggling to develop this list, get a good coach. This is the type of support I offer to my clients, but any good coach should be able to help you uncover and polish your best anecdotes.

Assuming you are prepared with a mental list of your accomplishments demonstrating your stellar abilities particularly in the soft skills, then all you need do is develop a strategy to steer the conversation such that you can deliver the evidence that shows how well you would satisfy their needs.

How do you, the interviewee, steer? First, take your time with the answers. The direction you choose to take is more up to you than you might believe. Each time the interviewer asks a question or provides a prompt, take a second of silence, or if that silence is too uncomfortable, you can simply say, “Let me think about that for a second.” This phrase generally provides the time necessary, or buys a moment more comfortably while you ponder, “Can I steer this question to discuss one of my anecdotes providing evidence for their criteria?” Next, to comfortably make the shift, if a shift is necessary, you should ask a clarifying question that turns the focus to that important criteria for the position at hand?

Clarifying Questions: for example, if asked, “Who would be your ideal dinner companion?” Pause - and think first about their criteria. Let’s assume you have listed, “Being a team player,” as an important criteria and you have an anecdote about organizing a weekly dinner for co-workers, then you could respond by asking, “Could it be a group?” Generally interviewers go along with these variations on the theme, because they are interested in hearing what motivates you. Now you would easily roll into your story, by saying, “Well I’d probably invite my co-workers then, because I actually started a co-worker club where we are having these incredible dinners, with an international theme. We often find ourselves casually discussing things in a more creative and collaborative manner over a fondue pot or taco night.” Your answer would thus steer the conversation toward an actual hiring criteria, rather than prolonging some trite discussion about Ghandi, Miley Cyrus, or Tom Brady. The key is to know which stories you want to tell. Steering to them is easy, if you know what you want to talk about.

Remember the interviewer wants to get to know you. Your resume has already provided the necessary information matching your expertise to the tasks of the position. Now, it is time to find out if your personality and work habits are a fit for the organization. They want to hear who you are and, therefore, they will generally allow enough flexibility in the conversation for you to steer in this fashion. If you have inventoried and prepared the stories that demonstrate why you are right for the position, then you know what you are trying to steer towards. That is the most important first step. Next, you must be ready, relaxed and confident enough to take responsibility for your interview. You can become quite competent in steering by practicing with a good coach or knowledgeable person. Competence creates confidence. Once you have practiced this a lot, you will enjoy interviewing a lot more, and you will be more successful.