We’ve all heard the notorious legend of the business tycoon who takes out job applicants for dinner and observes their food salting behavior. Sometimes the story claims the tycoon was J.C. Penney, other times the story claims it was Henry Ford or Thomas Edison. Iterations of this have been told throughout history, and it always varies slightly, but the takeaway is the same.
The job applicant who salts his food before tasting it does not get hired. Why? It allegedly shows that the person is stuck in their mindset. They don’t analyze data before making a decision, which isn’t very good for business — or maybe they just like really salty food.
Regardless of the actual validity behind the legend, it’s one of those age-old stories that really highlights the importance of interview techniques. You never know what a hiring manager is thinking, yet you’re expected to nail it or you’ll miss your big shot. Forget salting your fries, there’s bigger fish to fry in the business world. Thankfully, these tried-and-true techniques will help you nail your next employment interview, whether you’re the employer or the potential employee.
The Importance of Setting a Time Limit
Interviews can trail on for a long time, but according to the Harvard Business Review_,_ an indefinite timeline doesn’t actually make for a good interview for the interviewer nor the interviewee. There’s some real psychology behind this: Research has proven that even psychiatrists are more attentive during the last 10 minutes of a therapy session, but you can’t have those last 10 minutes without a definite timescale.
There’s also the very real fact that the hiring manager can cut off an indefinite interview at any time, which leaves a huge chance that the applicant hasn’t gotten to the most valuable information yet. Instead of leaving things up in the air, it might be wise to ask your potential employer how long interviews typically last. This, in the very least, gives you a timeline to plan for. If you’re the interviewer, give your applicant a specific timeline for their presentation or interview. It will help you pay attention and help them better collect their thoughts.
The Importance of Research and Prep
If you want to know more about interview skills, look no further than the planning and preparation stage. According to Harvard Business Review_,_ improper planning and preparation is the greatest fault of most interviewers and applicants (that’s right, it goes both ways).
This should go without saying, but those who have a deep understanding of a company and its culture know how to best fit into that environment — or if they even can fit into that environment. Let’s not pretend job description is the only factor that makes a good employee great. Employees that don’t fit in with a company culture or are not rooting for a company’s long term goals will not be happy or successful in their role, even if they nail the bullet points on the job description. This demonstrates the sheer importance of the interview.
Preparing the List of Questions
Interviewers should do their research on candidates. They should comb through their resumes and craft a bulleted list of questions before the interview session even begins. Providing interviewees with a bulleted list of questions to be covered in advance allows them to understand your expectations before you even meet. No one’s time is wasted on a bad interview.
If you’re an interviewee who has not gotten a bulleted list, use a combination of the job posting and your own research. Be prepared to tell the interviewer how you fit into a company’s culture and how you’re planning to help them achieve both their short-term or long-term initiatives.
The Importance of Style at an Employment Interview
Forget about interview skills — potential employees are judged before they even walk fully through the door. You know the common phrase, “you can tell a lot about someone by their shoes"? This is backed up by actual scientific research.
According to a study_,_ the better the condition of your shoes, the more you’ll be perceived as conscientious. Of course, this is all perception. Scientifically, there’s absolutely no correlation between having perfectly polished kicks and being a meticulous worker. In fact, well-kept shoes are actually a pretty good predictor of attachment anxiety, meaning workers who wear pristine shoes tend to be more dependent and seek praise from coworkers. Those who wear beat-up shoes tend to be more extroverted. Nonetheless, we still perceive people with perfect footwear as hard, detail-oriented workers.
In short: Dress to impress. Even if a workplace is absurdly casual, you don’t want to show up to an employment interview in a crop top. It shows a disregard for the whole thing. Spring for the button down.
The Importance of Building Rapport
The importance of interview techniques lives and dies at building a rapport. There’s no one who wants to hire someone they don’t like. Let’s be honest: There’s a reason people so often get promoted internally, hired through a referral or employed because of straight-up nepotism. Those people already have rapport. They've been vouched for, and people trust those who they know. This is why building rapport when you don’t actually have it yet is so important.
According to the Harvard Business Review_,_ approaching an interview with an air of helpfulness and friendliness is a great way for interviewers to minimize conversational barriers and help applicants open up. One of the most important strategies to foster an open conversation is to eliminate distractions, such as ringing phones or foot traffic. It is also helpful to allow the interviewee to adjust to the interview environment — remember, they’re nervous.
If you happen to be the one interviewing, establishing rapport is key to standing out among the other applicants. Try your best to remain in a level of low-stress. Approach the interview with an open mind and a willingness to learn and always, always send a follow-up email unless specifically told not to.
Should You Take Notes?
Another method you might want to consider, whether you’re the interviewee or the interviewer, is taking notes. Taking notes can help you remember key points to address in a follow-up and make an applicant look like they’re open to learning. In the least of it, it shows the person who’s talking that their words are important enough to commit to paper. Talk about subtle flattery!
The Importance of Allowing Silence
Here's another interview technique: shut up, at least for a second. When we think about interview techniques, we don’t often consider the art of silence, but silence is powerful. Silence is the space we get to think and consider.
Our society has a fear of the awkward pause, but it actually gives you time to think about a thoughtful answer rather than spit out meaningless words to fill the space. In short: allowing for a pause will help the interviewer get a more thoughtful answer and an interviewee time to actually formulate thoughts on the spot. Humans aren’t machines; sometimes we need time to make magic happen.
If you’re an applicant who is having trouble allowing for silence in an interview because it feels awkward, ask for a moment to thoughtfully answer. Collect your thoughts, and give a meaningful answer.
Mariel Loveland is a small business owner, content strategist and writer from New Jersey. Throughout her career, she's worked with numerous startups creating content to help small business owners bridge the gap between technology and sales. Her work has been featured in publications like Business Insider and Vice.