conversational interviewing: the best way to conduct job interviews

As unemployment drops and the job market becomes increasingly tight, we need to change the way we think about jobs. The days of employees jumping through hoops during interviews and bending backwards to appeal to choosy hiring managers are quickly becoming a thing of the past. Of course, interviewees still want to make a good impression, but they aren’t sacrificing their personality and giving up everything they want in a job, just to find work.

Today’s workers want more from their employers. (This is where really strong employer branding comes into play!) Employers can create a strong impression with job seekers as soon as they enter the candidate funnel by simply tweaking outdated interviewing policies. Instead of making job interviews feel like an interrogation where candidates must ‘prove’ themselves, think of job interviews as a two-way conversation where both interviewers and candidates contribute. Enter a conversational interviewing style.

conversational interviewing job interviews

the value of conversational interviewing

The old way of conducting interviews involved asking a lot of boring and overused questions about skills, experience, and how the interviewee has reacted in [insert situation] in the past. For instance, the dreaded ‘tell me your biggest weakness’ or ‘provide an example of how you handled conflict in past job’ are prime examples of outdated interview questions that still get asked regularly. Though some of these questions are well-intentioned, they fall flat in today’s multi-faceted workplaces. Job seekers have heard these questions so many times, they’ve prepared rote answers for all of them that tell you very little about the person you’re interviewing.

honest answers

The most obvious benefit to having a conversation rather than a straight question and answer style interview is that you’ll get more truthful answers. Every job seeker has prepared and rehearsed answers for a few dozen common interview questions. They’ve probably read advice on what employers want to hear and structured their answers around that. When you ask standard interview questions, you’ll get carefully crafted answers that candidates think you want to hear rather than the truth. Asking an unexpected question, or even phrasing questions in a slightly unusual way can lead to more insightful answers.

more flexibility

If you have a list of typical interview questions to get through, your interview starts to feel like a checklist. Did you ask about weaknesses? Check. How about past experience? Check. Was managerial style mentioned? Check. This gets really tedious and boring. Allowing yourself and the candidate some wiggle room to follow where the interview leads ensures that you’re really listening to the answers the candidate gives, and asking thoughtful follow-ups rather than focused on asking all the questions on your list. Yes, you should absolutely have some key points you need to touch on, but that doesn’t mean you have to read off a list of questions.

less stress for everyone

Ask the average person and they’ll probably tell you that having a conversation isn’t stressful. However if you ask about job interviews, most people have no qualms admitting they get stressed out. So why not bring some of that low-stress ‘we’re just talking’ vibe to job interviews? Interviewees who don’t feel like they’re on trial are naturally going to feel less stressed. You will, too. When the conversation feels organic, it’s easier for everyone to relax.

make an impression

Conversational interviews are some of the most memorable. A really great conversation – even one about work – can be inspiring. It’s most certainly going to be more memorable to the candidate than an interview that’s just a remix of the same 15 questions they heard at their last handful of interviews. A great conversational interview will leave the candidate pumped about the job and full of ideas. They’ll be excited about the job, the company and joining the team.

transforming the way you approach interviews

What can you do to bring a more conversational tone to your job interviews? It starts with changing the way you ask questions. You can get stronger insights into the candidate’s experience, goals and fit for the job by slightly tweaking the way you frame questions. Need some ideas? Here are some alternatives to routine interview questions that can be used as conversation starters.

the old way: what are your biggest strengths?
what to try instead: tell me something about you that’s not on your resume.

The goal is to learn more about the candidate. Instead of asking what their strengths are – which will likely net you a tidy pre-prepared answer, ask them to tell you something that’s not on their resume. This leaves the door open for them to tell you something you don’t already know. If you’ve prepared for the interview, you’ve probably already read their resume, so this offers a chance to get new information.

the old way: what is your biggest weakness?
what to try instead: if you could learn anything in this job, what would it be?

Asking about weaknesses is an outdated, and frankly, pointless concept. Who says all workers have a glaring weakness to share? Even if they do, what’s the likelihood they’ll honestly share it with you? They want to be hired for this job, not put themselves out of the running! If the candidate is qualified for the job you’re filling and has all the required skills, that’s what’s important. Instead of framing the conversation in terms of ‘weaknesses,’ ask about what they want to learn next and where they foresee opportunities to grow. This will tell you where the candidate has room to learn without being insulting. 

the old way: tell me about a conflict you handled in the past.
what to try instead: what traits do you look for in a teammate?

Asking about an old conflict that’s dead and buried doesn’t really have anything to do with the current opportunity. Most people aren’t going to admit to getting into a screaming match with a coworker. Chances are you’ll get a dull story about a disagreement with a manager that ended in compromise. If you’re asking to get an idea of whether or not the candidate will gel with the rest of the team, frame your question around teamwork and what’s important to them in a collaborative setting.

the old way: where do you see yourself in 5 years?
what to try instead: what goals are you working toward right now?

Instead of framing questions as hypotheticals set years in the future, ask about current goals and ambitions. After all, you’ll be hiring the present-day version of this person, not their future self. Who can really say where they’ll be in a year, much less five? Asking about a candidate’s current goals and ambitions will give you much more insight into what’s important to them on their current path. 

the old way: why do you want to work for us?
what to try instead: what are a few things you found interesting about this job?

Asking point blank why someone wants to work for you is presumptive. Job interviews are exploratory on both sides. Who says the candidate is 100% sold on your company at this stage? Why should they have to praise you as an employer, when you’re not going to do the same and rave about their qualifications? Instead of making candidates answer questions about how great you are, ask them what struck them as noteworthy about the job or your company. 

the old way: tell me about your work history.
what to try instead: tell me about the journey that’s brought you to this point.

A question about work history will probably lead to a recap of the candidate’s resume. If you’ve prepped for this interview, you’ve already read their resume. Asking a slightly more open-ended question is not only more conversational, it allows the candidate to frame their story however they choose. You’re more likely to see the candidate’s personality shine when you ask for their story rather than a rundown of their work history.

the old way: list three things you’re looking for in a job.
what to try instead: if you could design your perfect job, what would it entail?

Conversational interviewing means getting rid of asking for lists. People don’t think in tidy numbers. Maybe there’s only one thing that’s really, really important to them. Or maybe they have a list of 10 things that are all equally important. Allow the candidate frame their answer however they want. 

the old way: tell me about the style of management you like.
what to try instead: who is someone you admire and why?

Asking what style of management someone likes can lead to some blank looks. Who really knows what kind of management style they like? Is there a list of management styles employees can choose from? Of course not. Many people thrive under all kinds of managers. So this question can be really pointless. Focus on learning what values and traits are important to the candidate. When you know what’s important to them, it’s easier to build a management style around that.

 

Remember, one of the most important tenets of conversational interviewing is asking questions in a friendly, human way. Jot down some ideas for questions, but don’t feel like you need to read them off word for word. Ask follow up questions and engage when an interesting story is told. There’s no reason why interviewers should have to sit silent and stony-faced for the duration of an interview. Be human and approachable and candidates are more likely to open up and let their personality shine. This will lead to a job interview the flows more like a conversation and provides better insights into whether or not the candidate is truly a good fit for the job at hand.

about the author

Kristen Smalley - Content Manager

As someone who firmly believes that variety is the spice of life, content marketing has been a natural career path for me. Every day brings a chance to think creatively and learn about exciting new topics. Whether it's tackling content on employment trends, how to handle tough interview questions, or keeping safe in the workplace, there are always interesting topics waiting to be explored in the world of work!

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