This is not an uncommon problem, and depending on how you handle it, can work to your advantage or disadvantage. In order to make sure they know you're the right person for the job, you may need to subtly take control of the interview yourself.
The first thing to do? Give them some grace!
If you're meeting with a hiring manager, particularly at a small or mid-size company, that may only hire one or two people a year, interviewing and evaluating candidates is not their area of expertise and they may never have had any kind of training. Often, they either ask questions that they may have been asked before, which may not be very appropriate to the position you're interviewing for, or they are more comfortable with talking about 'extra-curricular' topics rather than the position at hand.
Perhaps they are not a very talkative or conversational kind of person themselves. Or they may take up the entire time telling you about the company and position without asking many questions. It may be a very friendly interview, however, you must always remember:
If they don't know enough about you to know if you fit the role, you will not get hired!
A while ago, as I was working with a client company to fill a position, I had a candidate go in for an interview. Afterward, she called me to debrief and said:
"I think the interview went great! He asked me about any vacation plans and I told him I was looking forward to going to a Country Music Festival in Nashville. It turned out he was going to the same festival and that's all we talked about for an hour and a half! We got along really terrific, I'd be shocked if I don't get an offer."
I asked if they talked about the job or her qualifications at all, and she said only a couple of short questions. I knew she wouldn't get the job, and sure enough, the hiring manager said:
"We had a great conversation, but to be honest, I don't know enough about her to know if she's a fit and I interviewed someone else this afternoon that seems to fit the bill well."
My candidate didn't get the job.
If you take control, however, and they do learn about your fit for the role, you may be the only candidate they see that they did get to know. You can be the winner simply because you're the only one that took the initiative to show they can do the job!
So how do you take control? Here are a five points that may help:
1. Chemistry is good, but they have to see the fit! If the discussion at the interview is dominated by things other than your suitability for the position, you must turn it around. One good way to do that is to say something like:
"I'm really enjoying this conversation, but I'm very interested in this role and before we run out of time I'd like to discuss my fit and interest in this position. If I understand correctly, the job requires significant experience with _____, can I tell you some of my background in that area?"
2. If they are not asking questions that expose your strengths for the role, tell them anyway! Sometimes they may ask a number of generic questions, but none that really get to your unique fit. If that's the case, be sure to interject it yourself. Say something like:
"If I may, can I tell you about my experience with ______ that I believe is important to this role?"
3. If you don't know, and they're not saying what their most pressing requirement is, ask them! Ask something simple and direct like:
"What is the most important requirement you're looking for in a candidate for this position?"
Listen carefully, then be sure to tell them your relevant experience in that area.
4. Ask questions! If they are not telling you much about the position, ask questions to lead them. Questions like:
"What is a typical day like in this role?"
"What can you tell me about the team?"
"What are some of the biggest challenges in this position?"
and "What can I tell you about me that would help you in your hiring decision?"
5. When the time comes... make sure they know you want the job! Tell them:
"What you described seems to fit me well and I believe I can be an asset to you, what would be the next steps in the process?"
And ask them directly: "Do you see me as a likely candidate for this role?"
Not everyone you meet will be a great interviewer. If you want the job, you must make sure they learn what they need to in order to make an intelligent decision about you. Sometimes you need to take things into your own hands to make it happen!
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