The 3 Keys To Building Immediate Rapport In A Job Interview

03/27/2016 08:11 am ET Updated Mar 28, 2017

You've got an important interview coming up. You know you have the skills for the job ... but do you have the personality and style they are looking for? Are your values and work ethic a match with those of the organization? Will you fit with the rest of the team?

Many hiring managers put greater weight on attributes such as attitude and personality than they do on skills and education. In fact, Sir Richard Branson was quoted in a recent article in Inc. magazine as saying: "In my eyes, personality always wins over book smarts. Company knowledge and job-specific skills can be learned, but you can't train a personality." This belief is widely held -- especially if the job entails any type of public interaction.

First impressions are critical to a manager's take on your suitability as a candidate. Moreover, according to social research, these initial insights are formed within a very brief amount of time. Therefore, you need to make the most of the first few minutes of your interview.

The following are three steps you can take to help build an immediate rapport with your interviewer. After all, you want your first impression to be positive, powerful and memorable.

Look the part

A large part of your initial impression will be based upon your appearance. The way you dress is a nonverbal message that your style fits with others in the workplace. So make certain that your clothing is appropriate:
  • Dress for the job you are going for, but take it up a notch or two. Even if your position is very casual and you will be wearing jeans for the most part, wear a pair of cotton or wool slacks. If the position requires business attire, be sure your outfit reflects this and is both well tailored and flattering.
  • Whether or not you are dressing somewhat casually for the interview, a jacket is generally a smart choice. It shows a certain amount of professionalism and the cut of a jacket helps to project an aura of confidence.
  • Wear conservative jewelry and accessorize accordingly -- same with makeup.
  • Make certain your outfit is clean and pressed and that your shoes are polished. (It is a good idea to have two interview outfits hanging in your closet that are ready to wear at a moment's notice. If you are called in for a last minute interview, this extra step is well worth the effort.)
Ensure your additional nonverbal messages reflect your strength as a candidate:
  • Project energy and confidence through your posture, handshake, open body language (no crossed arms) and eye contact.
  • Don't forget to wear your best asset -- a warm, friendly smile!

Be aware that small talk isn't small at all

The initial back and forth that takes place when you first walk through the door is far more important than it seems. Although your interaction is chatty, these first few moments are critical to making a positive first impression. Be sure to show -- through your conversation and your style--that you are confident, courteous, friendly, and at ease with yourself and the situation.

Nail the background probe

Most interviewers will begin the formal part of the interview with an open-ended question to get you talking about yourself and your background. Most commonly, they will say something like, "Tell me about yourself," or "Give me a little about your background," or ask, "What brings you here today?"

Be aware that your initial statement and supporting examples need to be targeted to the position for which you are applying. In general, your response should include your level of experience, key skills relating to the job, any required education and a couple of key accomplishments.

You can preface your accomplishments with phrases such as, "I'm particularly proud of the time when I..." or "My manager went out of her way to compliment me on..." or "I was able to decrease time to market by 20 percent through my..." Although you want to incorporate a number of key skills and examples (relevant to the job description) into your response, your initial reply should only last a minute or two. Your goal is to pique the interviewer's interest so that she will want to find out more.

You also want to frame the first few minutes in such a way as to keep her asking about your work experience that ties directly to the requirements of the job. You can do that by ending your statement with something like, "the experience I bring is the reason why I'm particularly interested in finding out more about this position." After that, the conversation should flow in a way that will highlight your match with the requirements of the job.

By following these three key steps, you will be able to quickly build rapport and make a great first impression. You'll let the interviewer know that you are not only a strong and qualified candidate, but that you also possess the personality and demeanor that will be a good fit with the others on their team. And, throughout the conversation, be sure to stress your can-do attitude, enthusiasm and interest for the position. In other words, heed Sir Richard Branson's sage advice and win them over with your personality!

Mary Eileen Williams is a Nationally Board Certified Career Counselor with a Master's Degree in Career Development and twenty plus years of experience assisting midlife jobseekers to achieve satisfying careers. Her book, Land the Job You Love: 10 Surefire Strategies for Jobseekers Over 50, is a step-by-step guide that shows you how you can turn your age into an advantage and brand yourself for success. Updated in 2014, it's packed with critical information aimed at providing mature applicants with the tools they need to gain the edge over the competition and successfully navigate the modern job market. Visit her website at Feisty Side of Fifty.com and celebrate your sassy side!

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