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How to get in the mindset of your interviewer

Getting a sense of your interviewer’s mindset is critical, but it can be tricky when you’re doing a virtual interview.

How to get in the mindset of your interviewer
[Photo: nsta_photos/iStock]
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When you head into any job interview, you want to make a good impression. In the past, you could pick up on a lot of information in the physical environment where the interview was taking place, as well as the body language of the interviewer. But during the pandemic, social distancing has made it harder to use this information, and so it becomes even more valuable to have a sense of your interviewer’s mindset before you get to the interview. Here are four things to focus on:

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Know they’re looking for your strengths

By the time that you reach the interview, your application has survived several phases of the application process. Initially, there was probably a large number of applicants. At that point, hiring managers are in a mindset of rejection. They are looking for reasons to remove your application from the set so that they can get it down to a manageable number. In that mindset of rejection, the flaws and limitations of your portfolio loom particularly large.

Once the pool has been winnowed to a short list, hiring managers flip to looking for applicants they want to interview. As a result, at this phase there is more emphasis on your strengths rather than your weaknesses.

This focus on strengths continues into the interview process. That means that you need to be prepared to help your interviewer to make the argument for why you should be the person who is hired. Prepare for the interview by creating a story about how your strengths make you an ideal candidate for the job. That way, you can find ways to tell parts of that story in answer to the questions you are asked.

Ultimately, the hiring manager will have to justify hiring you over other candidates. So the more that you can help the hiring manager to tell that story, the easier it is for you to get hired into the position.

Demonstrate engagement

Job interviews give the interviewer a chance to determine what it would be like to work with you. Chances are, there is a lot of information about your experience and skills in your résumé, and letters of recommendation (if applicable). What is missing is a sense of what you’re like as a person. Your interview is a chance to provide a glimpse of how well you get along with others.

It might sound obvious, but the trick is to be the most charming version of yourself you can be. Use your interpersonal strengths to connect with the interviewer. Listen carefully to what the interviewer says and respond to it. Allow some opportunity for exchange of ideas in the course of answering interview questions. Show curiosity about the interviewer and the firm. In general, you want to help the interviewer to see that you would be easy to get along with as a colleague.

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Prioritize confidence over knowledge

You’re not going to know everything you need to know to do the job you’re applying for. You are going to have to learn on the job. The willingness to learn on the job requires some vulnerability. You are going to have to be able to admit the things you don’t know.

In a job interview, you are quite likely to be asked a question you can’t answer. Those questions are a perfect opportunity to demonstrate your willingness to reveal the limits of your knowledge. Doing that requires some confidence. Many people try to hide what they don’t know during the interview, assuming that a lack of knowledge implies weakness.

Remember that you have been brought in for an interview, because the hiring manager believes that you have many of the qualities that are important for the job. Revealing that there is something you don’t know is not going to make the hiring manager think they have made a mistake in calling you for an interview. In fact, it will probably give them confidence that you are willing to be taught new things.

When you are asked a question you can’t answer, start a discussion with the interviewer. A general strategy in interviews is to demonstrate the skills you want the interviewer to remember about you. Rather than just saying you want to learn on the job, give the interviewer a chance to teach you something.

Show openness

When you start working at a new place, you’ll inevitably encounter many new things. They will do things differently at the new job than at any place you have worked before. The philosophy of the company is likely to be different, too.

When you are first introduced to a new way of doing things, you are often prone to resist it. Most people gravitate toward things that are familiar, because the familiar is predictable, and it is easy to determine how to apply your knowledge in familiar settings.

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It is important to show interest in the ways that the new firm differs from what you have encountered before. Ask questions about the way things are done. Find out how new employees are trained. The interviewer wants to get a sense that you will be willing to learn the culture of the firm. Help the interviewer envision how you will become part of the team.