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How to create rapport at interview

13th August 2012

After a fantastic fortnight when the nation has run out of superlatives to describe how we all feel, it's time to clear up after the party and focus on the future. Even the grumpiest of commentators is admitting that London 2012 was a success and if you were watching last night, you heard the biggest cheer of the night went to the volunteers. Whether you were lucky enough to get a ticket or simply watched television news, you will have got the message: a friendly smile and a positive response to questions has stamped the mark of a British welcome all over this huge international party. A smile really does make an impact.

What on earth have those great Olympic volunteers got to do with you managing your nerves enough to create a rapport at your next interview? Well, as the volunteers have just proved, a smile, eye contact  and a welcoming handshake are a sound start to a productive conversation. In Chapter 4 of  'Nail That Job, the complete guide for the less-experienced job seeker' (click here to buy one) you will find some fantastic exercises on how to generate the right impression and maintain that focus throughout your interview. 

The key to connecting with your interviewer is to smile. We know that most of our interviewees are nervous and we work hard to put them at their ease, especially in the opening moments of the interview. Consequently, we start with small talk about your journey or the weather. The topic doesn't matter, we just want to get you speaking on the way to the interview room and that will help you to iron out any nerves.  Rarely, I have met job applicants who allow nerves to get the better of them- mumble, don't want to make eye contact or are very slow to respond to the offer of a handshake. As I am always an objective recruiter, I assume that nerves have got the better of them, but as I escort that applicant to the interview, I am already disappointed by their apparent lack of communication skills. Such people will have to really sparkle in interview to impress me now.

We've all seen parents nagging small children to " Say please, and thank you". We have a natural urge to connect with others graciously and consider this an important message for small children. One theory about road rage is that drivers can't see each other's faces in enough detail to make that natural connection, which explains why drivers somehow feel disconnected from the human being approaching them through a speed chicane, which allows them to jump their turn. If we were walking towards that person on a narrow pavement, we wouldn't think of barging into them.

Your purpose at interview is to establsh quickly a positive connection with your interviewer. You can do this by remembering to use our natural preferences for communicating; lots of eye contact, the welcoming smile and offer of a handshake. If nerves make you frightened that you won't hear and remember the name of your interviewer, simply repeat their name as you shake hands; "Pleased to meet you, Helen."

For those who want to know about my coffee date with Neil Stoddart of the Careers Service, we had a great time putting the world of job search to rights in a Leamington coffee shop recently. It was fun to meet a complete stanger and we established a rapport instantly with smiles and a handshake. We discovered that although we came from different backgrounds, we had received very similar messages as children about the importance of a warm welcome. If you live in the Coventry, Solihull or Warwickshire area, then take a look at Neil's team on  By the way, Neil rates  'Nail that Job, the complete guide for the less experienced jobseeker', too.

Nearly 20 years ago, I was a regular London train commuter making that mad dash across Victoria station on a daily basis, avoiding the leaflet distributors who lurked at the bottom of escalators. One young man stood out and became a  character to look for on the daily grind. He smiled, shouted little greetings, such as " Welcome to London, good to see you again, how are you doing?"  Some mornings he would sing; commuters took his leaflets and smiled back. The days when he wasn't on duty seemed a little greyer. One day, one of my fellow commuters stopped and offered him a job, saying; " I want that energy and that smile greeting my customer".  Now that was a powerful connection to make with a smile.

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