May 19, 2021

Tips to create a conversation-style interview (for job seekers)

6 min read

Job interviews are, at their core, just a conversation between people. The aim of this conversation is for both sides to learn more about the other and explore the potential of working together. Sometimes job seekers can forget this and instead feel the need almost ‘choreograph’ the interview. Depending on the role, there may be parts that can be rehearsed – such as interviews where you need to give a presentation. But for many job interviews across NZ each day, both parties would prefer a friendly, professional conversation.

In this article we’ll provide some hints on how job seekers can help to frame their interviews in more of an open, conversational style.

Start the interaction on something non-work related

You can put both yourself and the hiring manager at ease by letting the guard down from the first moments you meet them. A great way to do this is asking a question or sharing a reasonably surface level thought (we know it’s cliche, but Kiwis love talking about weather, sport, and slow commutes). This conversation will likely happen as you walk from the reception area into the meeting room the interview is booked in. Therefore, you don’t need to have anything complex to say. This is about creating an initial ‘friendly’ first impression. Trust us, it’s better than silence!

Know when to give a direct, no-fluff answer

Before we go any further, it’s important to remember that the job interview is about fact finding. So when you are asked a question, it’s important to give the clearest answer possible. Some questions will be quick to answer and that’s okay. In fact a combination of longer, extra context answers and facts makes for a well balanced discussion anyway. Don’t put the hiring manager through extra unnecessary work to seek out the answer to their question amongst your long, meandering answer. Sometimes less is more.

Here’s an example of question types that might not need the life story:

  • What was your role at X?
  • Where/What did you study?
  • What date would you be available to start?

When an interviewer asks things like “tell me about a time when…” or “what do you think…” they know to expect a longer answer.

Reflect on past experiences openly

Creating a more comfortable atmosphere is helped along by open, honest reflection on your previous work experiences. Here you can talk about particular projects or challenges you went through, how you learned, the success you had and how you’ve applied that since.

There’s nothing wrong with showing personal growth through your answers, although use your judgement here. Employers know no one is perfect, and most will find past experiences that have been learned from an attractive trait in a candidate.

Talk openly about your motivation for applying

Employers really appreciate candidates who are honest around why they’ve applied for the job. If you are transparent as to what motivated you to send your CV in and come to the job interview, you’ll find the conversation will loosen up generally as well. Obviously there are motivators that are probably more pleasing to hear – such as the business’ values and mission, but there’s no one right answer here.

Hiring managers will be used to hearing all sorts of reasoning behind the application, so you’d be hard-pressed to surprise or upset them. Money is a totally valid motivator, but you may want to combine this with some other reasons for applying, too. An employer needs to come away from the interview knowing what you’ll bring to their business, not simply what the job will do for you.

Find out about the team’s current work

Asking about existing projects or challenges in the business is a tried and true method of moving from ‘interview’ mode to conversation mode. It can be a welcome break in the meeting that up until this point will have largely been focused on you and your experience.

As the panel or hiring manager shares about the ongoing work, you’ll find opportunities to share thoughts, relate to the challenges, and even in some cases, provide some high level suggestions.

Now it’s unlikely that you’ll be given any detailed business information as a candidate, for confidentiality reasons. But most businesses will be happy to share broadly the work they’re doing. They’ll also be happy you’re showing interest in their day to day workload.

Ask about the company as a whole

Beyond the team you’re interviewing for a job in, show interest in the broader business, it’s goals and anything you may have heard. Maybe that business is known for having a great culture, or has worked on some high profile projects. There’s no one right answer here, but asking about the business will move the interview off it’s set line of questioning into more of a conversational format.

Find a way to share your thoughts on latest tech industry news

An employer will be interested to hear about your broader view of IT and tech in general. What’s your view on emerging, incoming disruptive technologies? Where do you see the industry going? The good news here is that it’s your opinion – and that means no wrong answers. We find that pretty much all IT professionals have a passion for tech outside of their job – the two overlap for many of us!

Talking about technology on the whole allows you to detach from your CV, cover letter, prepared scenarios and answers and simply speak from the heart. It’s in these moments where potential employers can get a better sense of who you are – and how you think.

Don’t be afraid to show your sense of humour!

Mixing serious business with good natured humour is simply part of working culture in New Zealand. So there’s no need to leave that part of your behind in the interview. And let’s be honest, we’ve all got some entertaining work stories. You might find these opportunities when the employer asks a behavioural style question.

Take care not to overstep the mark into overly familiar territory, and remember to remain respectful to everyone there.

Use professional and friendly language

Corporate friendly conversations aren’t the same as those you might have with your friends and family. Stay self aware about how you communicate and avoid using any profanity. We’d suggest erring on the side of professional, then taking the hiring manager’s lead. It’s much easier to loosen up in an interview than recover from a faux pas!

Think about what you’d expect from a good candidate if it were your business. What would leave a lasting positive impression on you? This is a good place to start.

Don’t confuse ‘natural’ with too ‘casual’

We all want an interview to feel natural. Just don’t get this mixed with being too casual. What does this mean?

A natural job interview is one that’s free flowing, positive discussion where you feel comfortable. Treating an interview casually gives the impression that you don’t care. Being casual can mean not dressing smartly, not maintaining eye contact, poor body language and not preparing for the questions. Someone who approaches a job interview in a casual way, rarely gets the position in our experience.

The best way to create an atmosphere that is both natural and professional is to be prepared beforehand. That way, with your facts straight, you’re able to simply focus on having a good conversation. Wouldn’t a job interview feel far less daunting if we knew it was as easy as having a friendly chat? We think so!

Need help preparing for job interviews so they become natural?

If you’re looking to get some help with your job interview skills and connect with some of the best tech jobs available in New Zealand, chat with the Absolute IT team.

Further reading

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