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The Art of Conversation and Finding Your Next Job

I have a confession to make. Years ago, 34 to be exact, at the start of my professional career I was an employment representative for a local university. Today, the position title would more likely be Recruiter or Talent Acquisition Specialist. The job title may have evolved and the technology employed is now far more advanced. But the fundamental responsibilities of the position remain unchanged even today. Find candidates. Screen candidates. Interview candidates.

When I say interview candidates, I mean a lot of interviews. Six to 8 interviews a day. Five days a week. Two years. That is more than 3,000 interviews if my math is correct. Now the confession. Not every single one of those interviews was gripping, edge of your seat theatre! Some of the interviews were mind numbing boring. At least once a day, in an interview, I would ask a question and then immediately “zone out”. By zone out, I mean my brain went to another place and time. It would return a few minutes later when the candidate had finished the answer to the question. I, of course, had no idea what they had said or what valuable information they may have shared about themselves and their value to our organization. You can relate if you have ever been driving a car and several minutes go by when you find yourself at the next stoplight with no idea how you got there.

I would like to tell you that my problem was unique, a symptom of life in the 1980’s and that the probability of “recruiter zone out” in today’s day and age is non-existent. But I would be lying. It’s just human nature. We are not built with an infinite attention span. We need mental stimulation and active participation to stay mentally engaged in any activity. Specific to job search and interviews, Monster's research (1) indicates that:

The average interviewer's attention span looks something like this:

  • As you begin speaking, the interviewer is listening with nearly full attention.

  • After about 10 seconds, he begins listening with less intensity.

  • After 60 seconds, his mind begins to wander and he's devoting less than half his attention to you.

  • After you've been speaking for 90 seconds without interruption, the interviewer is barely listening at all.

Sounds a lot like a certain old professional recruiter I knew quite well!

So, if maximizing engagement and attention span with your interviewer is a critical element of a successful job search, what’s the secret to being interesting in an interview? The answer is conversation. More specifically, you need to turn your interview into an actual conversation. We define a conversation as: “the informal exchange of ideas by spoken words”. That definition might run counter to your view of an interview as a series of formal questions and answers. If you don’t learn how to master the art of the conversational interview, then you run the risk that your interviews will always be a series of formal, dry, zone out inducing questions and answers.

In today’s world of electronic communication, e mail and text messaging, it is possible that we are a little out of practice when it comes to informal conversation. That is not an indictment of any specific age group. We all, regardless of age, now have our heads buried in our smart phones. The good news is that conversation is like muscle memory and riding a bike. You never forget how to maintain a conversation. It’s human nature. You just need a few tips and techniques to adapt conversation to a job interview. Here are a few essential tips.

  • Above all else, be interested in and inquisitive about your interviewer, the company and the position. Interest is best fueled through preparation. Research your interviewer on LinkedIn to identify areas of common interest and career experiences about which you would like to explore in greater detail. Research the company beyond the standard tour of the company website. Read articles from industry trade publications, postings from industry specific groups on LinkedIn and the standard Google topic search.

  • Take the time, before the interview begins, to build some rapport with your interviewer. Small talk and informal questions as you are getting settled will both ease your nerves and put your positive personality on display. Your pre-interview research gives you the building blocks for the small talk. For example: “I saw in your LinkedIn profile that you are fluent in three languages. That is a fascinating skill. How did you become so proficient in each language?”

  • Be a story teller. Every question you are asked is an opportunity to tell an engaging story that highlights your personality and value proposition. Work to formulate your answers to most of the behavioral interview questions using the standard STAR technique. What was the Situation? What was the Task that you performed? What was the Action that you completed to resolve the situation? And what was the quantifiable Result of your action?

  • Keep the conversation going. End every one of your answers with a related question designed to amplify your research and your value proposition. For example, after answering a question about how you facilitated a successful team project, you might ask: “I see that you use an open concept office design here. How do you use the open office space to leverage greater team collaboration?”

  • And finally, have big ears and laser sharp eyes. By that I mean listen, really listen to what your interviewer is saying in response to your questions. And maintain eye contact. Don’t fake it. Stay engaged, have fun and view the interview as an opportunity to learn. Your best will shine through in an engaged conversation.

The art of conversation just takes a little practice. And it makes life more interesting.

I love to watch penguins. They all look the same, sound the same and pretty much do the same things every time I see them. I just don’t want to be one in an interview.

Dan Troup is the founder of the AdvantEdge Careers coaching service. If you are interested in learning more about how a certified career coach can assist you in your job search, please contact AdvantEdge Careers at:

1 = Don't Talk Too Much, Michael Neece, Monster Contributing Writer


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