Job interview dialogue or interrogation?


When I first applied for a job, I didn’t consider job interviews dialogues. I felt they were like exams. My expectation was that the employer was going to ask questions and I had to give the right answers in order to pass the test and be accepted for the job. After years and years of being tested at school and university, it didn’t occur to me that the job interview would be a conversation to get to know each other.


In the last year I spoke to many young women who just left university and were looking for their first job and most of them felt exactly the same. Even some of my clients who already completed the first steps of their careers had this perception of the job interview. They felt like they were under scrutiny, like they were being interrogated. Yes, some companies include tests in the job interview but the bigger part mainly focuses on getting to know you as a person.


Many of us women have this tendency of wanting to be perfect and being afraid to make mistakes. Many of my clients felt like it would be a personal failure not to pass a job interview. I understand this; when applying for a job, you’re putting yourself out there and it can feel like you’re not good enough if you don’t get the job. But it’s not that you failed the test. Maybe you could have presented yourself in a different way or maybe the job, the company or the manager just wasn’t a good fit.


It’s a date

A job interview is a little like a date - you and the employer need to get to know each other well enough to decide if you want to move to the next phase. It won’t exclusively depend on the answers you give, it’ll also be important if they like you as a person and think you’ll be a good fit for the company. On the other hand you also have the chance to explore if you’ll like them and can picture working there. Sometimes you’ll like what you hear, sometimes you won’t so you’ll decide not go any further. Sometimes they’ll like you, sometimes they won’t and won’t invite you to the next round. That’s just how it is.


So don’t get hung up on the right questions and answers for the job interview dialogue. Just think about what interests you about the job and the company and what you need to know before deciding if you want to join them. As we spend most of our time at work, we need to make sure to take an active role in the job interview and make it truly a dialogue in which you can explore in a natural way if the company is a good fit for you.


Dialogue, not monologue


Usually interviews start with a short introduction of the people on the employer’s side, followed by the question to introduce yourself or why you applied for the job. Grasp this opportunity to introduce yourself and your most relevant experiences for the position. You can kick off with an extended elevator pitch or a few minutes to introduce yourself but make sure that you don’t start off with a monologue. Remember that the job interview should be a dialogue.


If you want to encourage questions, pause at certain points to allow the employer to jump in. Usually you don’t need to think about that because the employer will stop you anyway to ask questions if they are interested in a certain aspect of your experience and the conversation will naturally develop into a dialogue. You don’t need to think about driving the conversation if you actively listen to your counterparts and engage with what they are saying.

Active listening


Pay attention to what the employers want to know from you and focus on answering their questions as precisely and comprehensively as possible. I mention this explicitly because I noticed in many interviews that candidates don’t really answer my questions. Sometimes I feel they are too nervous to really focus on having a conversation with me or they are so worried about giving the wrong answers that they are not really answering my question. I don’t need to tell you that that’s not giving a good impression. An employer doesn’t want employees who don’t listen to or honestly answer questions.


Sometimes there were of course language issues as neither I nor most of the candidates I interviewed were English natives, but these can usually be resolved by paraphrasing the question. But I often experienced that the candidates just didn’t get what I wanted from them if I asked them for a concrete example of their work experience. I often got the answer that they couldn’t think of anything or couldn’t remember a situation I was asking for. This might be happening due to nerves, so if you tend to be very nervous, make sure to check out my article on how to prepare for behavioral based interview questions to understand the background of these questions and how to prepare for them.


If you simply don’t understand what the recruiter wants from you, ask for clarification. There is nothing bad about asking for clarification if you didn’t understand properly. You can also paraphrase the recruiter’s question before answering just to be sure that you’re understood correctly. Make use of these methods and it will improve the quality of your job interview dialogue in a major way.


Express interest and ask questions


You need to find out as much as you can about the job for your own sake. So don’t ask questions solely for the purpose of making conversation. This is the only opportunity for you to find out if you’ll like the job, the tasks and if you can imagine doing it day after day. You should also try to find out if you’ll like the company culture, the boss and the coworkers. So ask, ask, ask! Even if you are desperate for a job, any job, you should still go in with this mindset. You will most likely be perceived as open and interested instead of desperate.


If you prepare yourself a little before the job interview and analyze the job description in detail, you’ll probably have lots of questions anyway, e.g. what a typical day looks like, what the main challenges are, how your performance will be measured, … It’s also a good opportunity to find out more about the work environment of course, so ask about the team, the people you’ll most collaborate with or also about the management style.


Yes, you can ask that too. I was asked once in my many years as a hiring manager how I lead my team and what the team members can expect from me. I was a little taken aback at first but then I thought that this is actually a good and legitimate question. The job interview is the only occasion to find out what your boss will be like and if you’ll like working with this person. A good boss is always an important factor, so don’t be afraid to also interview the employer. If they don’t like it, well, maybe you don’t want to work for them.