Many people misinterpret the importance of rapport building. This is your opportunity to introduce yourself in a comfortable yet professional manner and begin the bonding process with the interviewer.
Establishing rapport with the interviewer is critical for you. During the first moments of the interview, initial impressions are established. As much as interviewers are trained not to make snap judgments, suspending an opinion is difficult. How you dress, your physical appearance, the way you greet them, whether you smile and make eye contact, the firmness of your handshake, and your walk all meld into that initial composite.
Once in the office, you and the interviewer will spend time getting to know one another. This also gives you a chance to become accustomed to the new environment. Candidates who are geared to the content part of the interview comment that this part of the interview is difficult because they want to get right to the “meat” of the interview. You must remind yourself that rapport building is critical. Forget content for now. If you establish a bond, then content becomes important. If you don’t, you are mentally eliminated before you ever mention your skills. The chances are that everyone who has been invited for an interview has the skills to do the job and is probably in the same ability range. But are they all alike in terms of personal characteristics, attitudes, values, and style?
They are not. Most of the outstanding interviewers we have met say that, if they meet one candidate who is a pleasant person and is head and shoulders above the rest of the candidates in terms of skills and abilities, it is no contest. They hire that individual. They are also quick to point out that in most instances it doesn’t happen like that. With candidates in the same general range, it comes down to the personal factors. And they will all tell you that “fit” is more important than skills at that point. The best technical candidate is often not the one to whom the offer is extended, because another candidate is deemed a better fit in the organization.
The key to effectiveness in this stage of the interview is to take your cues from the interviewer. If the interviewer seems to be relaxed, open, and comfortable with meeting someone new, then your job is easier. You become comfortable fairly fast, and it is easy for you to volunteer information about your past and present interests and activities. It becomes easy to keep an interesting and stimulating conversation going even if you don’t feel that you are naturally outgoing.
If, however, the interviewer is neither comfortable with himself or the interviewing process, then your job is much tougher, but certainly not impossible. It may fall to you to keep the conversation going. Whether or not you have reached a comfort level is irrelevant because this is your one, and perhaps only, shot to meet with the interviewer.
This is not as difficult as it sounds. Starting with a smile is tremendously disarming. Be prepared to converse in such a way that you are willing to give a little more detail to your answers (within 60 seconds). Volunteer some personal information such as where you grew up, your family background, or personal interests and activities. If you help the interviewer to accomplish his task easily and effectively, you’ll reap rewards.
If you can learn something about the interviewer’s background prior to the interview, it can be a huge help. Clint never interviews without doing all the homework possible on personal background. Somewhere in the history Clint is sometimes able to find some common educational bond, mutual friends, and/or interest. This information often helps Clint to cut through numerous layers of surface rapport to reach a deeper personal level. This can help the interviewer both in rapport building and to reach a faster comfort level through association. The thought process is, “If Clint is Peter’s friend [someone the interviewer knows], then he must be okay.” If Peter also happens to be bright, successful, hard-working, and easy to get along with, then so much the better. A quick reminder: Speak only positively about everyone you know.
In terms of fit, this may translate to, “Peter is our kind of guy. So you may be our kind of person as well.” You can see that even at this early stage of the interview, fit is important. And, as we have discussed, it remains extremely important throughout the interview.
In some situations, however, you are not able to ascertain any information about the interviewer or other key individuals in the organization. This doesn’t mean that you will not be successful. It means that you are probably in the same position as the other candidates, and you have to develop rapport during the initial conversation.
In summary, the candidate should go into this segment of an interview with one cardinal rule: Do not cut the rapport building short. You cannot control what the interviewer does, but you can control what you do. The key is to follow the interviewer’s lead, while keeping in mind your own agenda, building rapport. This introductory phase of the interview helps to create an easy conversational exchange. How do you know that the other person isn’t a jogger, coach, or traveler just like you? If the two of you share the same interests, it makes for an interesting dialog rather than a one way monolog. So relax, smile, go with the flow.
But, be aware, that part of the interviewer’s agenda, especially during this part of the interview, is to conduct what we call the “Normalcy Test”.