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A Job Interview Is A Conversation, NOT An Interrogation

job interview interrogationThis past week, I had a client ask me what books or websites I recommended to help her prepare for an interview. I gave her a few suggestions, but none of them seemed to satisfy her. She seemed to be after one of those “1,001 Interview Questions” type tutorials. She kept saying she wanted to find a resource that would help her answer all the interview questions in the “right” way.

This is a mistaken approach to interviewing that I see job-seekers make all the time. There simply are no “right” answers to interview questions, even if the interviewer resorts to cliche questions like: what is your biggest strength/weakness?

An interview is a conversation. It’s not a test. It’s not an interrogation. There are no right or wrong answers. There are only answers that are honest and right for you and the interviewer.

If you’ve ever conducted an interview in your life, then you know the questions asked are not cut and dry. They’re more like a fishing expedition. The interviewer is fishing for responses from the interviewee. The questions are NOT designed to elicit correct or incorrect answers. More often than not, they’re designed to try to get the interviewee to start talking.

The interview is a chance for the hiring manager to learn more about you. It’s a chance for you to explain yourself and reveal yourself.

If you treat everything as a yes/no, right/wrong, correct/incorrect situation, then you’re not having a conversation, you’re having more of an interrogation.

And in an interrogation, no one learns anything. In fact, interrogation interviews can be frustrating for hiring managers because they feel like the police trying to get some information out of a suspect.

INTERVIEWER:  Have you worked with Ruby on Rails before?
CANDIDATE:  Yes, I have.
INTERVIEWER:  Could you elaborate on that a little bit?
CANDIDATE:  Yes, I could.

If you’ve never actually conducted an interview yourself, allow me to suggest this analogy:

You’re on a first date. You ask your date, “So, what do you do for a living?”

Your date answers: “I’m a lawyer.”

And then you wait for more.

Am I right? You didn’t ask the question as a right answer/wrong answer question. Unless, of course, you ONLY want to date lawyers, the question you asked didn’t have a correct answer. It was more of a prompting. You hope that you can learn more about that person by them answering. Maybe they’ll tell you they like being a lawyer. Or hate it. Or how they became one. Or what kind of lawyer they are. Or their favorite cases. Or their hopes and long-term goals for their career.

In short, you were expecting that question to be a jumping off point for a conversation that would allow you to learn more about the other person. You weren’t looking for a correct answer, you were opening a door to a dialog that would allow you to make judgements about the other person.

A job interview is the same way.

So, just like on a date, don’t focus so much on the right answers in an interview. Sure, those 1,001 Interview Question tutorials can be helpful… as an exercise. To help you prepare. To get you limber.

But an interview is not about wrong or right answers. It’s a conversation, not an interrogation.

This article was written by: Brian McCullough

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