You have a great resume, you passed the phone screening, and now have an interview with the decision maker.
But there are five equally qualified people interviewing for the same job you want.
How do you distinguish yourself from the competition? Simple: people hire people they like.
So, your job in an interview is to get them to like you.
Of course, you need to demonstrate that you have the skills and experience to get the job done.
But, it is very important to show that you fit into the corporate culture and would be a welcome member to the team.
How? You do this by building rapport with the interviewer.
How to Build Rapport
1. Know the Company and Your Interviewer
When I was interviewing people the first question I would ask is “What do you know about us?”
Their response to this question would often either immediately eliminate them or increase their ranking as a candidate.
Those who obviously did not know much got low marks. Those who followed us on Twitter and LinkedIn, checked out our recent press releases, and scanned the company’s website got high marks.
And for sales people, if a candidate “mystery shopped” us, then I was extremely impressed!
Also, look up your interviewer on LinkedIn so you can see their background including how long they have been there, where they were before, and so on.
Look for commonalities, like having a same (or very similar) previous employer, same college and/or degree, same professional association membership, and so on.
Commonalities can generate instant connections! I know one fellow who was offered a job that same day because he noticed that the interviewer had a military background, and he stressed his own positive military experience.
Pay them a compliment, if genuine and appropriate, like —
I have been a user and a fan of your smart phones for over 5 years. It’s a great product, well-designed, and intuitive to use.
Sincere compliments can very quickly build rapport. Be sure that the compliment is genuine, not manufactured for the occasion, because fake compliments can quickly kill rapport.
2. Listen Carefully and Create a Conversation
Did you know that the words you use account for only 10% of the effectiveness of our communications?
Your listening skills, intonation, and body language are the other 90%. They are the key to establishing rapport and getting your point across.
Regarding listening, pay careful attention to what the interviewer says.
You want to be sure to answer the question being asked (unless you are dodging it on purpose), and you want to otherwise demonstrate that you have been paying attention to what they have said.
- Use the interviewer’s name, as in — “That’s an interesting question, Julie. My job was to…”
- Reference information they have shared — “So, since this job is located in your Cambridge office, how often do you travel…”
Regarding intonation, your goal in establishing rapport is to move from an interview into a two-way conversation. That means that your answers should be casual, conversational, and demonstrate some enthusiasm.
For example, when asked “Tell me about your position at IBM?” here are two ways to respond:
At IBM I was responsible for selling enterprise-level SaaS and cloud-based marketing solutions to Fortune 500 accounts.
Now that was a challenging job! IBM launched some new SaaS and cloud-based marketing solutions, and it was my job to penetrate Fortune 500 accounts and get them to select us over already entrenched competition.
That meant that I had to get the notice of key executives and decision makers and give them a reason to consider us when they were not exactly having problems with their current solution.
This could be challenging, but it was also very interesting, and even fun, to learn more about their long-term goals and the ‘pains’ they were managing. As a result, I learned a great deal about their businesses, the marketing problems they faced, and the best strategies for overcoming those problems.
Which of these do you think is more appealing to the interviewer? Which provides more information about the person’s skills and personality.
3. Ask Rapport Building Questions
To build rapport you need to transition the traditional question and answer interview into a conversation. You do this by asking questions, listening carefully to the answers, and engaging the interviewer.
I coached a fellow at Intel who had lots of interviews, but zero call backs. He had great technical skills, but was as interesting as a memory chip and in our mock interview, I would ask a question, he would answer, and wait patiently for the next question.
After I demonstrated some rapport-building techniques, stressing the importance of engaging the interviewer, he went on to have three offers in the next five weeks.
Look for the employer’s “pain.”
Note that the MOST important question for you to ask is “What is the biggest challenge that someone would face in this job in the first 6 months?”
This is a sales technique to “uncover the pain” so you can figure out how your product helps relieve that pain.
In a job interview, knowing the employer’s pain lets you easily convert the interview into a discussion.
Pay close attention to the interviewer’s answer as it will tell you exactly what they are looking for. Then simply focus your responses on the skills and achievements you have produced that would give them the confidence that you can meet this challenge.
Asking this important pain-discovery question is crucial to distinguishing yourself.
Demonstrate your listening skills and intelligence by following your answers with related
For example, when asked “What is one of the biggest challenges you faced in your current role?” a good way to respond is something like this:
“When I joined the organization I discovered that there was a loss of confidence with customers in our services and a fair number of tarnished relationships. So I went out of my way to meet them personally, listen to their concerns and show them a clear plan with dates for any outstanding items.”
Good answer, but now you have to use this opportunity to engage the interviewer and do this by simply asking:
“How would you rate your relationships with customers here?”
4. Leverage Positive Body Language
It goes without saying that we all react to body language so you need to make this work for you in the interview.
Your body language generally includes your eye contact, posture, hand gestures and facial expressions.
- Handshake — Start by making sure you have a good handshake as this is a crucial first impression. Everyone knows that a limp handshake is a turnoff. Women tend to overcompensate and shake hands too firmly. So, practice your handshake on your family members.
- Eye contact — Eye contact is crucial to building a connection with the interviewer. It is especially important at the time of the handshake and when the interviewer is speaking or asking a question. By giving eye contact, it communicates that you are listening and engaged. Don’t stare at someone, but do “connect” with eye contact often to reinforce that you are paying attention to what they are saying and are speaking to them when you respond.
- Be confidently present — Don’t be afraid to take up some space, unless you are being interviewed in a very limited space. Sit back comfortably in the chair, rather than perching on the front edge of the seat, and don’t fold your arms into your lap. Lean in to the conversation, literally, without moving to the front of the chair, to show your interest in the conversation. Demonstrating a reasonable amount of confidence is appealing.
- Avoid negative body language — Fidgeting (tapping your fingers, feet, pen, or another item or repeatedly touching your face, hair, clothing, or other items) is both distracting an annoying, so best avoided. Slouching, avoiding direct eye contact, and other similar actions are also very negative.
We are not normally aware of our own body language, but the impact is enormous and strongly influences rapport.
Read How to Leverage Body Language in Interviews for many more very helpful details.
5. Smile When Introduced
This is a very powerful extension of the use of body language. So, give a sincere (whole-face) smile when you are introduced and, hopefully, shaking hands.
Feel-good neurotransmitters are released inside your body when you smile. Usually, people smile back (releasing the same neurotransmitters in their bodies), which makes YOU more likeable.
In addition, studies have shown that smiling will reduce your level of stress (and your heart rate) making you less nervous. So, smile when you are introduced and shake hands. Then, smile, as appropriate, during the rest of the interview.
This is very likely not an audition for a job as a comedian, so don’t try to make them laugh. Avoid being overly friendly — these people are not your best friends (yet), but approach the interview is a friendly vs. a hostile conversation.
If they don’t smile back and you don’t feel comfortable, carefully consider if you really want this job. Those might be indicators of an unfriendly work environment — not fun, and often the reason for a new job search too soon.
The Bottom Line on Building a Rapport in an Interview
Building rapport and being likable is a very big advantage. Using these techniques effectively will give you a definite edge over the other candidates.
More About Successful Job Interviews
- Pre-Interview Preparation
- Smart Answers to Interview Questions
- Smart Strategies to Answer to Behavioral Interview Questions
- 50+ Good Questions to Ask in Interviews
- 45 Questions You Should NOT to Ask in Job Interviews
- 50+ Google Searches to Avoid Layoffs and Bad Employers
- How to Leverage Body Language in Interviews
- Free eBook – Successful Job Interviews (new browser window)
- Guide to Writing Thank You Notes After an Interview – with samples
About the author…
Don Goodman is a triple-certified nationally recognized career professional (Expert Resume Writer, Certified Career Coach, and Job Search Strategist) with over 20 years of experience helping thousands of people quickly land their next job. Don graduated from the Wharton School of Business and Stanford University’s Executive Program.
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