Interviewing people: The overlooked importance of building and maintaining rapport.

Strike-up a conversation with Human Resource professionals and Psychologists about best practices related to interviewing and you’ll quickly hear discussion about using behaviorally based interview techniques, asking questions about what people did do in business situations rather than what they would do, listening for behavioral anchors that align with company competency models, etc.

However, in contrast, I never hear people mention the importance of building and maintaining rapport with the person being interviewed, and that’s unfortunate because it provides the foundation for whatever interview technique you chose to use.

If you think about it, the person being interviewed has obviously been with themselves their entire life and is most likely to have deep knowledge of their strengths, weaknesses, personality characteristics, likes and dislikes, etc.  With that in mind, a sizable part of being an adept interviewer or assessor is simply making people feel comfortable about speaking about themselves.  While I have nearly a decade of experience working with high-level managers and executives, I am often described as a soft-spoken, introverted, “nice guy”.  While some have suggested that I work on being more assertive, outspoken, or “edgy”, I reserve that kind of approach for instances that truly call for it (e.g., when advocating for adherence to ethical practices).  Otherwise, my gentle and soft-spoken approach makes it easy for people to feel comfortable speaking with me.  Similarly, I act on opportunities to show I’m listening intently and understanding what they are saying (e.g., by paraphrasing, empathizing, and utilizing other active-listening techniques).  Moreover, I continually monitor my interaction with interviewees and adjust in real-time to maintain good rapport (e.g., by asking a person to elaborate about positive things such as their strengths if they begin to show signs of anxiety during the interview).

Bottom line: as an interviewer, it’s important to keep in mind that people tend to share the most useful information when they feel comfortable, and are more likely to become closed-off when they don’t.    

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