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How to make a powerful impression at your next job interview

3 MIN READ | 2021-03-20

As a professional you understand that the success of a job interview depends for the majority on how well you prepare for it in advance.

Thinking carefully about how best to describe your unique skill set, anticipating possible questions in advance and reviewing the key talking points you want to bring across during the interview are a great way to distinguish yourself from the competition.

Unfortunately there is always one unknown you can't prepare for: your counterpart.

You want to make a great impression, but every interviewer is different and you won't always know which questions come up until they do. The fact that you're unable to fully control the course of the conversation might worry you up front: will you be able to show the best version of you and what you have to say?

Fortunately there's a great way to mitigate this risk. All you need to do is walk in to the interview room, engage in some small talk and then before anyone else has the opportunity, you seize the moment to initiate the official part of the interview with these words:

“I can imagine you have a lot of questions prepared for me, but why don’t I start off by telling you a little bit about myself first and then we can take it from there. How does that sound?”

Taking the lead

How does that sound? It sounds great is what it does and I'll tell you why.

1. Most people are busy making decisions all day long and there is nothing more pleasant than hearing somebody suggest that they can sit back and relax because 'this first part is covered'.

2. It exudes confidence. The kind of confidence that your potential employer will start to realise you could be using on their behalf in the future, should they choose to work with you.

3. You're in control of the conversation and just created an opportunity for yourself to start off with your story.

It's that third point that can really offer value.

Instead of being at the mercy of whatever opening dialogue or question your meeting partner puts forward, you can start off on your own terms.

Consider how controlling the opening narrative gives you the strategic ability to:

  • highlight the previous jobs most relevant to the new position when talking about your previous work experience, and neglect those that aren't.
  • rehearse sharing one or two career highlights or anecdotes that illustrate how you developed the skill set and character traits you know are relevant to this job
  • design a subtle narrative that makes the position you're applying for the only logical next step in your career

Be careful to make sure that this story can be delivered within a maximum of 5-10 minutes, which would be a reasonable amount of time to ‘hijack’ for an introduction in a 60-minute interview. You'll want to align the time you take with the length of the interview to avoid being cut short half-way because your interviewer wants a chance to ask questions.

The advantage of taking the lead and sharing your story first is the opportunity you have to practice that opening narrative at home. You can even practise delivering the narrative in turns with your spouse or a friend, to experience the effect from both sides of the table.

Closing it off

Assuming you've already taken time to fire some relevant questions back at the interviewer, most job interviews end on a version of this conversational exchange:

Interviewer: I think I've asked about everything I wanted to know from you. Do you have any other questions for me/us?

You: Same here, no more questions, thank you.

In reality, this is a wasted opportunity not to execute a similar strategy for owning the closing narrative of your conversation together.

In the art of debate it's common practice to deliver closing arguments, and there's a subtle way you can do the same in a situation like this.

Close off the conversation with a 30-second summary of why you're the right man or woman for the job. You can practice the majority of this part at home, although there's definitely bonus points if you manage to reference anything the interviewer mentioned during the conversation. Finally, don't forget to ask about their timeline and next steps from here.

Interviewer: I think I've asked about everything I wanted to know from you. Do you have any other questions for me/us?

You: No more questions, but I'd like to summarise why I think you should hire me for this position. From our conversation, it's become clear to me that you're looking for someone that has experience doing X, Y and Z, and can bring that expertise to the current team. Between my years at Company A and Company B I have X years under my belt of managing exactly these processes. Our conversation has also reinforced my belief that this is exactly the kind of company I want to work for.

You: Thank you again for this interview. Before we close off, is there any information you can share about the next steps and the timeline within which you'll be making a decision? 

You'll never know how an interview will run and what challenging questions you'll get, but by taking the lead you'll always be able to start and finish it on your own terms.