How you answer interview questions is just as important as what you say

Author: Jane McNeill, Director, Hays Australia

When preparing for an all-important job interview, you might think that the most important thing to equip yourself with is what you’re going to say when answering specific types of interview questions.

Something that you may not appreciate, though, is that the interviewer won’t necessarily only be paying attention to what you say – they’ll also be actively looking at how you approach answering their questions.

So, if you’ve got a job interview coming up, be mindful of the fact that the way you act and the manner in which you answer questions and build rapport is just as important as the words you use when answering the interviewer’s questions.

Six steps to improve how you answer interview questions

Below, I’ve plotted out some advice which should help you to become more mindful and aware of how the way you act in a job interview (not just what you say) can impact your chances of success:

1. Research and feel as prepared as possible beforehand:

It sounds obvious, but the more prepared you feel for the interview, the calmer and more collected you will appear in the eyes of the interviewer. Here are a few things you can do to ensure you’re as prepared as you possibly can be:

  • Review the company’s website and careers section
  • Google the name of the company to find out about any recent developments that you could weave into your answers
  • Prepare answers to the three types of interview questions you’re likely to be asked
  • Think about questions you might want to ask the interviewer
  • Research the interviewer and their background – LinkedIn is a great tool for this
  • Review your CV, and remind yourself of your key career successes and unique selling points
  • Prepare how you might explain any career gaps if asked
  • Plan your commute and what you’re going to wear
  • Get a good night’s sleep and eat a healthy meal beforehand

 

Preparing thoroughly for your upcoming interview will boost your confidence and keep your nerves at bay, meaning you’ll appear calmer and more collected. You’ll also be in a far better frame of mind to both answer the interviewer’s questions well and feel relaxed enough to build a rapport with them.

2. Think about how you are going to introduce yourself:

Are you aware of what an ‘elevator pitch’ is? It’s so-called because it’s basically what you would say if you found yourself in an elevator or lift with someone you wished to introduce yourself to, and you only had about 15 to 30 seconds – the amount of time it might take an elevator to complete its journey – in which to do it.

Your own elevator pitch should effectively sum up your background, skills, experience and – crucially – what you can offer to the employer. However, whereas in an elevator you might be more chatty and convivial, at the interview you need to be focused, articulate and confident in how you introduce yourself.

Practise this, maybe time it, and ensure that you speak clearly and direct the conversation at the interviewer with eye contact and positive body language – not at your feet, the ceiling or elsewhere in the room.

3. Give full and detailed answers using the STAR technique:

When answering the interviewer’s questions, don’t just respond with one or two blunt lines or closed answers, as this will make the interview feel stunted and awkward. It’ll also make it harder for the interviewer to both get the information they’re looking for and build a connection with you. Short, closed answers can cause you to appear unqualified, unconfident and dismissive, and no amount of eye contact and body language can change this.

The last thing you want is for the interview to feel like hard work, for either party. However, the STAR technique is a great way of adding detail and a storyline to your interview answers, and is especially suitable for competency-based questions, which tend to start with phrases like “Tell me about a time when…” or “Describe a situation in which…”

It is based on the idea of setting out a situation you previously faced, followed by the task you wished to accomplish, the approach you took and finally, the results you gained. As you talk the interviewer through your answers, subtle nods, purposeful eye contact and descriptive hand gestures can also emphasise, in a non-verbal way, the most crucial elements of your answer – demonstrating your understanding of what happened and what you did.

4. Keep things in perspective:

Sometimes, it’s important to take a deep breath and remember that the interview is just as much about you assessing the interviewer and the organisation they work for, as it is about them assessing you. Also, remember that the interviewer is just another human being, and that the interview is just another experience – something you will learn from whatever the outcome. Sometimes it’s easy for our minds to take over and start to lose perspective in stressful scenarios like interviews, so try to keep yours in check.

If you do feel anxious, try to avoid showing it with your body language; scratching your chin and ‘searching’ for answers indicates that you are unsure about something. Similarly, holding onto the chair and playing with your hands can put your anxiety on show for all to see.

5. Be mindful of your non-verbal body language throughout:

Along with such things as eye contact, hand gestures and confident nodding to emphasise your key points, you should be aware of your other non-verbal forms of communication. Smiling is absolutely crucial, at the right times. It shows that you are listening to what’s being said, and don’t appear to be fazed by it (even if you do feel a tad anxious on the inside).

Maintaining the right posture in your chair also shows that you are comfortable, so you should avoid slouching and crossing your arms, which can appear dismissive and as if you are trying to put a barrier between you and the interviewer.

6. Get into a positive frame of mind before the interview

We’re all human, and sometimes life can get in the way – we can therefore, through no fault of our own, find ourselves in a bad or dejected mood in the run-up to an interview. However, doing everything you can to approach the interview with a positive and confident frame of mind is crucially important – the mind is a powerful thing and can have a huge impact on how we communicate in any given situation, not least in an interview.

So, if you feel like you need a boost before your upcoming interview, give yourself a ‘pep talk’, reminding yourself of your worth and what you can bring to the business. Visualise success in your own mind, and picture yourself receiving a phone call offering you the job.

If you make a point of making yourself feel good in this way, your positivity will shine through in your interview performance and any subsequent dialogue with the prospective employer.

It’s easy to be dismissive of measures like the above when the time comes to prepare for an interview. After all, you might think the interviewer will be squarely and only interested in what you have to say, and that it’ll scarcely register with them that you smiled a bit more or were calmer than other interviewees.

In what can be an extremely competitive job market, though, even some of the seemingly smallest details can make a major difference to the impression that you make on potential employers – and as a consequence, the results and feedback you gain from your interviews.

Thank you for reading. For more useful advice and insights about the world of work, visit our dedicated blog page here or click on one of the links below.

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