How to Interview Successfully with Anyone

Want to know how to interview successfully with anyone? You may be thinking, "That's simple, by having all the right answers, right?" Actually, it's about both having the best answers (since there is typically no "right" answer, unless it is a closed-ended technical question) as well as how you present the information--your personal approach. It requires both.

First of all, let's review the approach. There is a simple key to success in interviewing that very few people utilize. It's the process of mirroring the personality of the person to whom you are speaking, a process that I refer to as "Personality Matching." It is based upon the proven fact that we like people who are like us. It is the halo effect in action--anyone who is like me must be a good person. Result? Instant rapport.

Any good salesperson is aware of this simple technique. Want evidence? The next time you get a call from a telemarketer, don't hang up. Instead, stick with the person for a few minutes just to hear their pitch. You'll probably know pretty quickly if you are dealing with a "rookie" who is just reading from a script or a seasoned professional. If it's a rookie, give a polite "no thank you" and hang up. But stick with the pro through the entire call. Why? Because now we are going to have some fun.

In the beginning of the call, talk in a very quick and upbeat voice, possibly somewhat higher in pitch. If he/she is good, he/she will follow right along with you, matching your tempo and pitch. If not, he/she is still a rookie, operating in his/her own little world--end the call. But if he/she follows along, here comes the fun. Gradually slow down your rate of speaking and lower your voice in both volume and pitch. Guess what? The true pro will follow you all the way down. Surprised? Don't be. Just as a telemarketing pro is trained to do this (and at this point may not even be conscious of what they are doing), any good marketing person does the exact same thing. Whatever the industry, the most successful salespeople are the ones who meet you (the customer) at your level.

In the same way, the best interviewees are the ones who have the ability to meet the interviewers at their level. "Wait a minute, shouldn't that be the job of the interviewer?" Nope. Even some of the best interviewers are totally unaware of this technique or are unwilling to apply it. It's up to you to meet the interviewer at his/her level. And it gives you a distinct competitive advantage.

So how does one do this "personality matching thing?" First match the voice and then the physical characteristics of the interviewer. In matching the voice, the most important aspect is to match the rate of speaking (tempo), then match the pitch. In matching the physical characteristics, it is most important to match (or at least reflect) the facial expressions, then the posture (sitting back or forward, etc.). Although you should not be trying to "mimic" (like a mime in action), you should attempt to closely match him/her.

To be effective with this technique, you need to first understand your own personality range. For some of us, it is quite wide and variant. For others, it may be more narrow. As an example, I consider myself to have a very wide personality range--I am very comfortable in matching both the very flamboyant and the very subdued. Each type is at an extreme end of my personality range. Most people, however, operate in a somewhat narrower personality range. The key is to be able to identify your personal bounds of comfort in your own personality range.

So what do we do if the person we meet with is talking a mile a minute? Should we try to artificially match that person, if it is outside of our personality range? Quite simply, no. To attempt to act like someone we are not would be faking it, being someone you are not. But you should be aware of your personality range and be willing to move fluidly within that range to best accommodate the personality of the individual with whom you are meeting.

Personality matching does not mean perfect matching—it never is. It does mean that we should do our best to come as close as possible to matching the other person's personality within the bounds of our own personality range. Keep in mind that there is no "perfect personality" since what is perfect to one will always be lacking in some way to another. Perfection is relative to the recipient.

As a side note, think about someone you truly dislike. In most cases, it's because the person is outside your personality range, usually in the upper extreme (too loud, too pushy, too cocky, too egotistical, too stuffy, etc.)—they are "too much" of something that you do not embrace in your own personality.

If you put into practice this one technique, you will likely increase your chances of success dramatically, and not just in interviewing. Personality matching is a technique that you can use in virtually all areas of human communication.