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BY Joel Junker

The Number One Factor for a Successful Interview

For 17 years I have mentored and taught JMOs on how to interview successfully.  When I first started back in 1999, most recruiters conducted a structured interview working from a list of prepared questions and candidates responded with 2- to 3-minute accomplishments.  The number one factor to being successful back then was proving ability (competencies or behaviors) through delivering specific detailed answers.  That has changed.  Now, most recruiters conduct a conversational interview.  As a result, while, delivering specific answers and demonstrating ability is still critical, it seems that rapport has become a more important factor.  By rapport, I mean enthusiasm, energy, and making a connection with the recruiter, which some call “chemistry.”

To support this idea that rapport building has increasingly become the predominant factor in interviewing, I recently read in  59 Seconds: Change Your Life in Under a Minute (Wiseman) about a study that Chad Higgins from the University of Washington and Timothy Judge from the University of Florida was conducted to analyze why companies favored some college student candidates over others.  While the companies told Higgins and Judge before interviews that education and experience were most important, surveying the companies and candidates after hundreds of interviews found that “Those who had managed to ingratiate themselves were very likely to be offered a position, and they charmed their way to success in several different ways.”  (page 45, 59 Seconds by Wiseman)


What did those successful candidates do in the Higgins and Judge study and how can you apply it to your interviews? (My suggestions for implementation are in italics.)

  1.  Researched the company and position, and found things they liked about each.  Then during the interview, they proactively brought up why they were interested.  So, do not wait for a recruiter to ask you why you are interested; proactively bring up reasons during the interview.  
  2. Complimented the interviewer.  Go to the recruiter’s LinkedIn profile before the interview, learn about his/her background, and make a compliment during the interview.  If you cannot do that, then compliment them on something about their company.  
  3. They chatted about some topic that was unrelated to the interview.  Let them choose the topic and take you there.  Don’t let it throw you off.  I know of one recruiter who loves to talk about his favorite hamburger restaurant in each city.  Just go with it, engage. 

I have my own observations and experiences that support this study.

  1. A hiring manager from an industry-leading consulting firm emailed me after a recent Career Conference, “I think it would be interesting to ask candidates how they would pick someone after they did a speed date – I’ll bet they say, ‘Hit it off, some kind of chemistry.’  A recruiter is looking for that same kind of spark, chemistry.  It might help get them to think a bit differently about how to approach an interview.  I’d say 11 of the 17 interviews all fell flat, left me with no real reason to hire them as nothing stood out.  When I did my C-B interviews 16 years ago as a candidate, I remember one interview where we spent 35 minutes talking about pretty much nothing related to work (potty training my 2-year-old), and at the end of the conversation, he said, ‘I guess I need to ask a business question.’  It ended up being a really good interview.
  2. The most frequent constructive feedback recruiters gave candidates at the January 2016 Conference: “Low key,” “Too quiet, and “Laid back.”
  3. The most frequent constructive feedback recruiters gave candidates at the November 2015 Conference: “Nervous,” “Timid,” “Quiet,” and “No energy.”

Rapport building or creating chemistry is not natural in the military, but you can practice  and get better before you start interviewing. There are opportunities to give compliments, talk about a wide range of topics and demonstrate interest in another person at church, the grocery store, your neighborhood and more.  If you can’t get outside of your comfort zone in those settings, it’s going to be even harder in an interview.

Proving ability through specific accomplishments and demonstrating interest with insightful questions are still critical.  You just need to do it with energy, enthusiasm and while creating some “chemistry.”

Joel Junker