In a job interview, it’s important to adapt to your audience as you converse with them. Whether you’re in a one-on-one meeting or in front of a panel of interviewers, you can’t use the same tactics with each and every person you speak with. Different people respond differently to the things you say. For example, one person may be bored by your volunteer work background while another is enraptured by it.
As you interview, it’s important to judge what is and is not working based on your interviewer’s body language. There are telltale signs you can follow that will give you the information you need on what topics you should focus on, and what topics you should glance over. Here’s how to spot these signs, and how to adjust accordingly.
Signs: avoiding eye contact, fiddling with their pen or their hair, not writing things down, not responding to anything you say
How to respond: You’re facing one of two problems. Either the topic isn’t a hit with your audience, or you’re talking too much and you’ve lost them in the process. Whichever it is, it’s time for you to wrap up what you’re saying. If you want to salvage the topic, or if the whole interview has seemed to bore the interviewer, try asking them a few follow-up questions that continue the conversation and get them engaged. Don’t try to double down on whatever you’re saying because it’s unlikely to get more interesting.
Signs: leaning forward, paying close attention, nodding, asking rapid-fire follow-up questions
How to respond: Keep it up! You’ve got them in a place where you want them, and it’s clear that they’re interested in what you have to say. Avoid letting it get to the point where you’re repeating yourself, and don’t get so excited that you start to embellish the details. Instead, get them involved in the conversation by letting them talk about their own experiences. Use the questions they ask as a lead-off for questions that you can ask them in return. And pay attention when they talk about the topic - share their enthusiasm and you’ll develop rapport with them.
Signs: questioning looks, eyebrows raised, attempts to interrupt you
How to respond: If you see these signs, stop as quickly as is appropriate and end with “Did that answer your question?”. This is a good way to let them re-approach the topic without letting all you’ve said up to now go to waste.
Signs: raised eyebrows, an out-of-place wry smile, rolling eyes
How to respond: It’s best to tackle this attitude politely, but head-on. Note the body language and ask them directly about it. A simple “Anything I can clarify for you?” will put the ball in their court and let them try to re-establish their understanding of you. And you’ll get the opportunity to clarify any misconceptions that you may have accidentally delivered in your language or rushed story-telling.
Signs: mirroring your body language, laughing and smiling, keeping eye contact
How to respond: Keep at it - things are going great! - but don’t let it get you too comfortable. Match their level of enthusiasm, don’t go overboard and start telling risky stories that might change the mood, and moderate your jokes and one-liners so that they’re appropriate for the occasion. You’re not friends with them quite yet. You can be if you close out the interview and land the gig.
Signs: checking their watch, blankly staring at your resume, fidgeting in their seat
How to respond: This is a sign that your interviewer would rather be anywhere else in the world, and often it isn’t your fault. Sometimes people just aren’t good interviewers. Avoid speeding up because you want to get out of the room. You can still salvage the interview if you just switch to a more direct approach by asking more questions and getting them to talk about their own job and role in the company.
Signs: frowning, arms crossed, leaning back
How to respond: You’ve said something wrong, obviously, or the interviewer is in a nasty mood. Either way, it’s time to tread carefully. If you can recall what you might have said that ticked them off, try walking it back with a few statements about “What I said earlier, I wanted to clarify…” If you don’t think the negative attitude is your fault, the best thing you can do is continue to tell the best story you can and hope that they remember it later when it’s time to evaluate you.
Signs: overt and excessive nodding, looking startled when you ask a question, blank stare
How to respond: It’s clear that the person you’re speaking to has something else on their mind, and it’s important to recapture their attention. Do this by changing up your tone of voice and the things you’re saying. Go for an engaging story or anecdote that exemplifies the piece of experience you want to talk about rather than just focusing on your accomplishments. Engage them by getting them involved in the conversation and ask them to tell you about their own career or current position.
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