One of the most interesting parts of being employed to write advice is interviewing an expert and realizing — darn, I wish I had heard that advice ages ago! For someone as socially anxious and awkward in professional conversations as I am, this is especially the case when I'm listening to advice on the worst professional conversation of all: The job interview.
I've learned so many interview lessons over the course of the articles I've written, but I know there's always another lesson hidden around the corner. For this article, I decided to ask flat out: What is the interview lesson most people have missed out on?
To my (quite honest) surprise, there was one resounding answer. And it had nothing to do with eye contact or professional outfits or even answering questions perfectly. Instead, it explored what I now deem the most important part of the interview: The balance of the conversation.
Almost every expert I spoke to shared the interview mistake most people learn too late is to stop talking about themselves so much.
Often, we focus in on ourselves because we think the interview's primary function is to size up our qualifications. Tom Winter, co-founder and tech recruitment advisor at DevSkiller.com, says he sees this mistake regularly.
"I think one mistake that can haunt even the most veteran of job seekers is focusing too much on yourself. Many candidates think that memorizing their entire academic and professional career, including every possible achievement will impress a future employer," he said. "It can even happen unconsciously, but it’s easy to get side-tracked with open-ended questions designed to be conversation starters, not 10-minute monologues."
While we often approach interviews believing we are on center stage, it's actually more productive to approach the interview as a chance to push your interviewer into the spotlight.
"As an owner and hiring manager, I rarely interview someone who genuinely takes the time to find out about me, the company, our pain points and how they can help solve our problems," Todd Albertson of Mom Can Stay, a company that assists people with elder care, shared. "Everyone loves to talk about themselves and this is normal. But the job candidate who can honestly focus their time with a hiring manager on the company and its goals will stand out like a breath of fresh air... The next time you interview with the owner of a company, use human nature to your advantage. Get the owner talking about themselves for 30 minutes and they will love you!"
Approaching the interview as a balanced conversation instead of a space to live up to someone else's expectations will increase your odds of making a genuine connection to your interviewer. Giving them space to address their needs and wants will also increase the odds they envision you in the role.
"Here’s the thing: Of course we want to hear about you, of course we’d prefer someone with character and to hear that you’ve achieved great things in your particular path. But we hire because we need someone to do a certain job and help us grow," HR specialist Pete Sosnowski said. "My advice: Make sure you’re not in your own echo chamber and foster a genuine two-way communication. Try to learn more about the job post, the company culture and your future colleagues."
One mistake that's a sign you're fostering a one-sided conversation? Interrupting, according to Founder and Chief Change Officer of Assemble HR Jill Katz.
Instead, lowing down and handing the mic to your interviewer and engaging in active listening can ensure a balanced conversation, improve the quality of your interview and make you come across as a leader.
"One of the world’s most critical leadership skills is listening. Listening allows us to actively tune into others, give them a feeling of acknowledgment, and provide ourselves the opportunity to truly understand what another person is saying or asking," Katz said. " When we speak too soon and cut off another person, we convey that our message is more important than what the other person is communicating. We may even miss the key point of the question! Instead of interrupting, focus on maintaining eye contact and feel free to take notes. This will help you to listen with intent and share your answers at the right time."
According to Paige Arnof-Fenn, Founder and CEO of Mavens & Moguls, narrowing the conversation and focusing on how a job benefits you can also be damaging to your application.
"The focus should be on the employer and their needs, not yours at this stage," she said. "I am surprised when candidates ask about vacations and such before they are offered the job."
While being intentional and making sure the conversation is a two-way street is important, our hiring experts also said it's also important not to dry up.
Often, women are cautious about bragging about themselves in the job application process. That is not what these hiring experts are calling for at all. In fact, being loud about your skills — and how they'll help you achieve success in the role you're interviewing for — is a necessary part of any successful interview. Shying away from your accomplishments or avoiding a strategic brag or two leaves an interview feeling unsuccessful: The interviewer didn't learn about the core of your potential. It's all about balance and business-orientation, according to one of our hiring experts.
"Either the applicant talks too much, losing control of their own narrative, forgetting what exactly they wanted to say, or, they dry up and say too little," Clay Burnett, President of a specialized executive recruitment firm said. "Successful applicants remember who they're talking to and what they want to say about themselves. Your interviewer wants to find out about your skills and experience, but they're also judging your ability to have a business-oriented social interaction."
One way to open the conversation up while demonstrating your business prowess and qualifications: Bring the right research.
"You should also look over the company website, search the internet for information, and set up an alert for any news about the company so you'll be up-to-date at the time of your interview. If you know your interviewer's name, research them as well," Holly Leyva, an ACRW-certified professional resumé writer and cover letter writer at Virtual Vocations, Inc.., shared. "With this information in hand, you'll be able to show that you're a good fit for the job and the company, express your excitement for the role, and build rapport with the interviewer so you stand out among the other candidates."
Speak directly about how you will fit in with the company's mission, the role, the team and whatever else you find out is important by actively listening to your interviewer. Ask meaningful questions, using this research as your bedrock. And maybe most importantly, prioritize the connection over doing any of the above.