You know how sometimes during an initial interview you just hit it off? Maybe the person is just particularly warm, or maybe you quickly discovered you had something in common as they read through your job history. The feeling you get when you sense that connection brings an immediate peace and you can almost feel your whole body relaxing. Then the interview becomes less an interrogation and more an enjoyable conversation.
Even if you don't have a tie that creates that immediate bond there are ways to connect with your interviewers to make the event seem more natural and less stressful.
1) Have small talk ready. The walk from the reception area to their office can seem like it is taking forever, and can set the stage for an awkward interaction if you aren't prepared. A better strategy is to have a few conversation topics ready to allow you to start strong. Avoid the weather, of course, but have a tidbit on someone in the industry or other news that is not controversial to mention. Look around your surroundings -- maybe there's an interesting piece of artwork you can comment on, or a magazine in the waiting area that piqued your interest.
2) Answer questions completely. Sometimes when you're nervous it can be easy to answer questions with a one- or two-word answer, but that doesn't give the conversation anywhere to go. Adding in some details can allow your interviewer to find a piece of common ground that they might be able to use as well. At the least, keeping the conversation flowing demonstrates your mastery of a difficult situation and makes your interviewer feel confident that you will be an asset in client and other professional situations.
3) Ask questions. We've done an entire post on what sorts of questions you should consider asking your interviewer as the interview winds down. But to help establish rapport, consider asking something about them early in the interview. You could find out their career path and what brought them there, a typical day in their life in the office, or what they like best about the company. Any of these questions can elicit an answer that will make it easier for you to pursue a line of commentary that will help you connect.
4) Do some background research. You don't want to come off as stalker-ish if you bust out a few facts about them that you wouldn’t readily know, but it's smart to peruse their biography on the company website, their LinkedIn profile and any other potential source of information that can give you something you can use, but doesn't seem overly familiar. If you want to comment on something about their schooling or career that you found on a widely used site like LinkedIn, that is perfectly appropriate. You can mention that you had looked them up and came across the information during your background research so they don't think you've been invading their privacy. For that reason you might want to avoid mentioning information you learn on Facebook or Twitter, as those can be more personal platforms that many people don't use for work-related situations.
5) Look around their office. An office can be a highly accurate tableau of what's interesting to someone and provide opportunities to build out the conversation. If they have photos of children, ask about them. Don't assume they are a parent; perhaps they are an aunt or an uncle and you don't want to be presumptuous. If they have a degree on the wall, mention something about their alma mater if you knew someone who went there. If they have vacation photos around, ask about their favorite vacation. If they have special artwork up, ask them about their interest in that particular artist. Almost anything in someone’s office can provide clues to what they are like which can open the door to much more interesting conversation.
6) Tell an anecdote. Everyone loves to hear a story, and an anecdote about you can help make you seem easier to get along with and more relatable. If the interviewer asks about a time that you went the extra mile, don’t just give a bland, evergreen version. Answer with as many details as you can, discussing an important proposal the team was working on that you stayed two hours late to help with. You could mention a typo you found that had eluded everyone else's eyes, or talk about the camaraderie the team shares when they work late -- ordering in and getting the job done. If they ask for a failure, don't tell something heavy , but instead mention a small snafu that ended up being a minor problem, if at all, afterwards. If you can get the interviewer to laugh or empathize with you, you are going a long way toward success.
7) Understand that not everyone will like you. It's important not to try TOO hard or else you will look clueless and possibly pushy. If you get an interviewer who seems reticent to warm up, remember that it could just be their personality or how their day is going and nothing about you. But if you try too hard, or go out on a limb remarking on something too personal, that can harm your chances. Keep it professional, and warm from your side, but don't fret if it's not the camaraderie you were hoping for.
8) Maintain the connection in the follow-up. The follow-up email or thank you note is a continuation of the interview process, so what you write has to flow and connect with the meeting you had with the interviewer. Adding a personal touch can make your email or note seem more genuine and will leave a better impression than sending out something generic. Remember, the interview is not over when you walk out the door.
Building rapport with your interviewer is crucial for nabbing the job. Everyone prefers to work with people whom they enjoy being around and whom they understand and can relate to. Trying to find and build on those commonalities can be a huge help in acing your next interview.