Communication is key to a successful job interview

Simple conversation, even conversation before and after the interview matters.

A key step to acing any job interview is understanding how to best communicate one’s suitability for the job, and it may be one of the greatest weaknesses for young people just entering the job market.

Michigan State University Extension reminds that it’s important to know that even casual conversation before, during or after an interview is meaningful. It’s a chance for the job searcher to project themselves as interesting and engaging people to be around. More importantly, it’s an opportunity for potential employer to discover more about applicants than the formal interview might reveal.

During those conversations, sometimes an applicant will unknowingly reveal information that cannot legally be used as a basis for hiring or not hiring a person. For example, it’s a violation of federal law to refuse to hire someone because they have children, are disabled or are perceived to be too old or too young for the job, as long as they can legally work.

Savvy employers won’t directly ask questions that could expose them to a lawsuit; some will, however, attempt to get such information through casual pre-interview talk. For example, they might ask how the applicant is enjoying the summer, which could lead to a discussion about a vacation the applicant took. The interviewer might ask the seemingly polite question, “Was that a family trip?” A smart applicant might answer, “I went with a small group of people I travel with each summer,” and leave it at that. One who doesn’t understand hidden agendas might respond with “yes” and then go on to list who went with them. Employers are ordinary people and as such they can believe common stereotypes; they might believe single people are irresponsible or parents will be absent too often and so on. Answering leading questions vaguely, briefly and politely decreases the chance that they will use the answer to form a negative view.

Every question means something, even when (especially when?) it’s a very strange question such as, “If you were a dog, what kind of dog would you be and why?” An applicant’s response to these strange questions can actually be a deciding factor in the hiring process. To some employers, the answer does really matter; to others, it is simply a way to see how fast thinking the candidate is under pressure. This is true even though such questions are generally not a strong indicator of job suitability.

It’s critical to have one or two good questions to ask at the end of the interview; it shows that the candidate really is interested. Those questions should not include anything about pay or benefits; such questions really only matter after a job offer has been made and they can let employers know that money is a factor, rather than just the job fit. Also avoid any question that can be easily found on an internet search; after all, isn’t it typical to Google anything and everything that matters to us? In short, the only thing that might be worse than asking no question would be asking a bad question.

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