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The One Job Interview Tip Experts Forget to Give

09/16/2015 12:31 EDT | Updated 09/16/2016 05:12 EDT
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Two businessmen shaking hands

As most Canadians know, nailing a job interview can be tricky stuff. Sure, there's a whole lot of advice out there, some of it good, some of it, well, not so good.

The majority of experts (rightfully) focus on the practical stuff: study the company, be prepared for common interview questions, ask questions of your own, be very well groomed, dress appropriately -- the list goes on. Rest assured, ignoring these essentials will relegate your resume to the bottom of the pile, if not the garbage. (Or the recycle bin, for those slightly more progressive companies.)

That said, here's a next-level tip geared at setting you apart from anyone who's already heeded the above advice. And it's only four words:

Create some g-darn rapport.

Admittedly I could have trimmed that down to two words, but I felt a little razzle dazzle was in order.

Rapport isn't just about being friendly; anyone with a rudimentary amount of brain cells and socialization knows not to be a jerk while seated in the interviewee chair. Rapport is about being friendly and memorable. If you're one of ten folks applying for any given position, you have zero control over whether you're more or less qualified or experienced. You do, however, have 100 per cent control over how you'll be remembered. Did the person on the other side of the desk enjoy their time with you the most? Did you stand out in a way that engaged them? The power is in your hands to make it so, and it's pretty darn easy, I promise you. Here are two times rapport saved my bacon in this exact scenario.

Example one: A 1996 job interview with IBM. I was 24 years old and desperately in need of work. My interview was with a woman named Judy. I was friendly, courteous, and said all the right things. But I could tell she wasn't fully getting a 'read' on me. She excused herself, left the room, and returned shortly with Don, an associate. It was clear he was the 'second opinion' of sorts. Julie left Don and I to it, and some casual chit-chat ensued. Don mentioned he lived in a small town north of Toronto. Eager to drum up some common ground, I noted that my girlfriend (at the time) also lived there. He perked up. "Oh, very nice. Where about?"

Then things got weird. Mostly due to my response, which was a cagey, "Uh... I'm not suuuuure." Don was puzzled. "How long have you been dating this girl for?" A fair question. "About a year," I replied.

Don took this in, now full-on skeptical. "So the two of you have been together a year and you've never been to her house?"

I could feel the interview slipping away. Obviously, my answer sounded strange, but context is everything, and I clearly hadn't provided enough of it. "Okay, this should straighten things out," I thought to myself. I then offered up my reply in one rather memorable run-on sentence: "Ah, well my girlfriend's a student so she lives downtown during the year but it's summer now so she's staying up north with her parents and I'm not allowed out there because they hate my guts."

The instant this spilled out of my mouth, I knew I was a goner. Character goes a long way in a job interview, and I just assassinated mine in one fell swoop. Silence hung in the air until I broke it with a sigh of defeat.

Don finally replied. "You know something?" he said, now smiling. "My mother-in-law can't stand the sight of me. So I feel you, brother."

Rapport! A moment later, Judy popped in, asking how things were going. Don nodded, giving her a subtle thumbs-up from under the table. Two days later, I was a bona fide IBM employee.

Admittedly, I Forrest Gumped my way through that one, and felt grateful the interview gods were smiling down on me. But for example two, which occurred several years later, I actively took matters of rapport into my own hands. (Admittedly, this happened only after I did something really stupid once again.)

My headhunter set me up on an interview with Jim, the president of a small tech company. His most important piece of advice: "Whatever you do, be sure to wear a tie with Jim -- he'll be offended if you don't." Okay, easy peasy. Two days later, I was seated in the front lobby, waiting for Jim to come greet me. Around my neck was not just a tie, but the mother of all ties. Stylish, yet sophisticated and professional. It's gonna knock Jim's socks off and -- wait, what's this? Crap, there's a loose thread. I'll just pull it and everything will be back on track.

No such luck. To coin a term, this was a 'load-bearing thread' I pulled. And in an instant, the garment transformed from tie shaped to handkerchief shaped. Having now violated Jim's cardinal rule, I had sabotaged my interview before it even began. Needless to say, I was kinda mortified.

Sure enough, Jim entered the lobby 30 seconds later. He was a stern-looking man in his sixties with intimidation to spare. I stood up and shook his hand. "How are you today, Steven?" he asked. Unlike the IBM interview, I was primed and ready with my response. "Not doing great, Jim," I answered, with slight annoyance in my voice. Most folks don't say such a thing at a job interview, and he was more than a bit taken aback. "Oh? Why's that?"

I opened my hand to reveal a large strip of fabric. "You see this? Up until 30 seconds ago, it was my favourite tie. Then I decided it would be the pinnacle of intelligence to pull at a loose string right before my interview." I then added, smirking, "Because apparently, Jim, that's just where my brain is at today."

Jim laughed heartily, both at the ridiculous situation and my self-deprecating candor. I broke the ice in a memorable way, turning a big disadvantage into an even bigger advantage. This set the tone for the actual interview, which rode the slipstream of the rapport I'd created straight out of the gate. The job was mine, with that dear, sweet necktie serving as my trusty wingman. (May it rest in peace.)

So yep, it's important, if not downright vital, to be prepared for that big job interview. But for those really wanting to break away from the pack, find a way -- any way -- to shift the encounter from a Q&A session to a breezy conversation between two people enjoying each other's company. Adore the rapport!

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