Think back to a time when you nailed an interview. You felt excited, energized and almost certain you would move to the next step. How did you know that you nailed it?

Most likely you liked the interviewer and they liked you in return. There was a connection, a chemistry, and at some point, the formality broke down. You were able to share everything that was essential because you felt comfortable, understood and heard.

One thing is certain, if the decision makers don’t like you or they can’t see themselves working comfortably with you, it doesn’t matter how capable you are. They will not hire you.

How do you move beyond a formal Q&A session? The conversational dynamic can be created by a skilled interviewer or by you. Since you cannot control the interviewer, you must demonstrate the one characteristic that is key to driving this dynamic in an interview: Empathy. Empathy can be cultivated, lets start with basic preparation.

Imagine what is it like to be across the table. The one in control. Interviewers, no matter the level, experience some level of anxiety as they approach an interview. While it is impossible to read your interviewers mind, it is important is to recognize the potential awkwardness and content of the interviewer. Here are one client’s thoughts pre-interview:

“Why aren’t they hiring my referral, this guy doesn’t even have an industry

background, must not make missteps on this one, the chairman referred this guy, wow – his resume looks better

than mine, what was his first name, unbelievable, he makes more than me!”

To position yourself for a positive outcome; get in touch with your empathetic side. If you are not a naturally empathetic person, you may need some coaching. Essentially, you want to do your best to “walk in your interviewer’s shoes” as you prepare your interview plan.

  • The first step is investing time to learn about the interviewer’s point of view: their history, current challenges, and how they work on a day to day basis with the role you are seeking. If you get the job, what will they need from you regarding work product, support and influence to be successful? Did they like the last incumbent? Rely on your other interviews, your consultant, your network and research to know your interviewer before you meet with them.
  • Find any personal data you can find that is publicly available. If you have one of two interests or unique experiences in common, they should be included in your interview plan. Keep in mind that nothing can blow your credibility quicker than misrepresenting your personal interests. Find the connections that are real and bring them up at the appropriate time. This will give the interviewer an opportunity to go off topic, relax, and get to know who you are outside of work.
  • Part of your plan should be to bring up their potential concerns before they do. Make sure you address those concerns in a proactive manner without outright stating them. Having their fears or concerns abated gives them an opportunity to relax, and think to themselves, “this candidate may be the one.” Here is an example of what we mean:

As part of the interviewing process for a CEO position, you are meeting with the incumbent CFO, who is clearly

valued by the board. If she has done any research, she will know that you brought your CFO from your previous

job to your present job. While not making promises you might say something like this,

The board has shared with me how much they value your financial stewardship; my interest

level may be different if I could not rely on our expertise. The specifics of your sector are

unknown to me. I will need to rely on you more than any other CFO that has worked for me.

Are you up for mentoring a new CEO?”

  • Now, formulate your plan. What are the three to five things you want to communicate given your research and analysis? Remember to address both their potential personal and professional concerns, as well as bring up common interests and experiences.
  • When you get to the interview, read their body language and mimic it. This will better inform you on their frame of reference. It will also make your interviewer more comfortable.
  • If you are skilled at humor, use it, and encourage them to do the same by relaxing…and laughing! Learn more about their point of view from their humor. A good laugh bonds people together. It is a connection that will be remembered after all the other interviewees have gone home.

The bottom line is that cultivating relationships with each interviewer is critical. If you show a commitment to understanding them and demonstrate that understanding in an interview setting, even if it feels awkward at first, your efforts will be rewarded.


Founded in 2001, Waterman Hurst is a professional services company that provides strategic job and board search services to leaders. We serve CEOs, C-Suite executives, Next Level Executives, and Advancing Leaders who want to transform their careers. We are the first company to provide B2C high end, high touch comprehensive job and board search services exclusively to leadership clients – we provide expertise in branding, strategy, coaching and serve as agents for top talent.

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