In Your Next Interview: Focus On This

As a Recruiter, I spend a lot of time doing initial phone screenings. They are like a phone interview, but more casual since I am not a hiring manager.

However, it’s reasonable to assume that how someone acts in the initial phone screening with me is how they are also going to act with a hiring manager.

I was reminded this week of a classic interviewing mistake. I have seen this over and over.

The candidate is so focused on doing a great job and impressing people, that they go into “performance mode”.

What do I mean by “performance mode”?

The candidate gets in their own head about crafting the perfect answer, looking polished, highlighting experiences, and nailing all the other job interview “hacks” you see all over the internet.

On the surface, these are not bad things. The problem is, even if they pull off all of these things perfectly, they still miss what’s truly important in a job interview:

Making a connection.

With few exceptions, an interviewer does not want you to put on a “dog and pony show” for them. They want to have a conversation. They want you to help them bridge the gap from your experiences to solving their problems.

Think about that: “bridging the gap” is another way of saying “make a connection”.

In order for you to help them bridge the gap you need to ask questions, listen, and process clues as to where the employer is coming from.

I don’t mean to try to get the interviewer to “tee you up” in order to sell them on how great they are. I mean to ask questions empathetically in order to truly understand the interviewers problems and show them you feel their pain.

As I’ve said in previous posts, if you can articulate their problems better than they can, they will automatically assume you have the answers they seek.

But it’s all about making a connection. Sure, you still have to act professionally, fully answer their questions, and show that you are confident and capable. But if you miss the part where you truly make a real connection with the interviewer, your chances of success are slim.

Here are some practical tips for making a connection with a hiring manager during an interviewer:

  • Research the company, and (if possible) the interviewer ahead of time. Linkedin and Twitter are my two favorite platforms for this. Make sure not to get too stalkerish, but some background could be very helpful.
  • Have questions prepared in advance. In an effort to make sure they are not generic (“where will the company be in X years?”), think about if this was your first day on the job. What would would you want to know? Examples: “What would you expect me to accomplish in the first year?” or “Who would I report to?” or “What customers would you most like for me to pursue?”
  • Be ok with brief periods of silence. Too often nervous interviewees try to fill silence with talking just because it’s uncomfortable. I promise, it’s not as awkward as you think it is. Give the interviewer time to think. If it gets to be way too long, ask a question.
  • Make an effort to really understand the problem or pain point this position is solving. Ask about past successes and failures. Ask about what it would look like if you really knock this out of the park. This last point has other implications of you prompting them to visualize you excelling in the position. Which can’t be all bad.

If you are too the interview stage, chances are they are already sold on your basic qualifications. What an interviewer is wondering is about FIT.


Don’t try to dazzle. Try to connect.

Let me know how it goes.

Tim Hammerich

Tim is a strategic communications consultant, founder of AgGrad, and the host of the "Future of Agriculture" podcast. Originally from California, he is now based out of Boise, Idaho.