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Career Resources

How to Turn an Interview into a Conversation

Grace E Albinson


  • Research demonstrates that people who smile regularly appear to be more confident and that people assume those who smile more have positive personality traits.
  • Bring three stories highlighting your strengths.
  • Don’t be afraid to ask questions throughout the interview, especially if your interviewer raises a topic related to a question you plan to ask.
How to Turn an Interview into a Conversation
Xavier Lorenzo via Getty Images

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Are you stalling your job search because you’re dreading those stressful interviews? No need. Start framing your interviews as conversations; you’ll feel more confident and perform much better. Here’s how.

Be Present and Listen

There’s no substitute for genuine presence and listening. People can tell when you’re truly present, and they appreciate it. Being present just means paying attention to your interviewer. Rather than mentally drafting something to say while they’re talking, try to understand what they’re saying by asking questions and offering relevant comments. The more you listen, the better your answers will be, and the more conversation will flow.


I’m talking about a real, genuine smile that engages the muscles around your eyes. Cognitive science studies prove that smiling helps decrease stress and boost your mood and the mood of those around you. Good moods generally lead to good conversations.

Research also demonstrates that people who smile regularly appear to be more confident and that people assume those who smile more have positive personality traits.

Appropriate smiling times include when you first meet the interviewer after you mention something that excites you about the job, and after you talk about a past accomplishment.

Clean Up Your Mind

Your thoughts dictate how you show up. For instance, if you walk into an interview thinking, “I’m not good at interviews,” or “It’s difficult for me to hold conversations,” then you will create that result.

Instead, find thoughts that are more positive and that you can believe. For example, “My only job is to be present and show genuine interest in the interviewer and the job.” You’ll be amazed at how differently you perform while thinking such empowering thoughts.

Be Positive

Interviewers (just like everyone else) enjoy talking to people who are positive, optimistic, and excited. This energy will bolster conversation, and it can also influence hiring decisions.

Convey positivity by highlighting what excites you about the position or the firm, referencing valuable skills you’ve learned in previous roles, or talking enthusiastically about things you’re passionate about.

Do a Micro-Meditation Beforehand

A micro-meditation is simply a five-minute meditation where you close your eyes, try to let go of your thoughts, and concentrate solely on your breath.

This will help you access the more positive region of your brain (the prefrontal cortex) and decrease activation of your amygdala (the “survival brain”). Your survival brain is responsible for fight-or-flight responses. When activated, it’s difficult to think clearly or creatively or even recall facts. Meditation activates the prefrontal cortex—the part of your brain responsible for clear thinking, recalling details, and paying attention.

Express Yourself

Showing your personality will help you connect with your interviewer and avoid appearing reserved or rehearsed (which doesn’t inspire conversation or a confident demeanor).

A good way to express your personality is by sharing something personal about yourself (within limits, of course) or by making a joke. Humor not only showcases your personality but will also help set your interviewer at ease.

Bring Three Stories Highlighting Your Strengths

Stories are a wonderful way to engage your interviewer while also conveying your strengths. As part of your preparation, think of three stories from your career that highlight your strengths. You can use these stories to answer a variety of common interview questions like, “Tell me about a time when you showed perseverance” or “What has been the most challenging thing for you during your career?”

Ask Thoughtful Questions

Here, I’m not talking about asking good questions about the job and the firm (though that’s important). I’m talking about asking questions about your interviewer, their background, accomplishments, and even personal interests.

Do your research. Do an internet search of your interviewer and look at their LinkedIn profile, firm bio, and other relevant information. Then, form your questions based on what you find.

People like to talk about themselves, and interviewers are no different. They’ll open up and continue the conversation if you ask them good questions about themselves. Make sure your questions are open-ended (not questions that evoke solely a yes or no answer) to facilitate conversation better.

Don’t Wait Until the End

Don’t be afraid to ask questions throughout the interview, especially if your interviewer raises a topic related to a question you plan to ask. That way, your questions arise naturally and continue the flow of the conversation. This will also give your interviewer a break from asking all the questions, which they’ll appreciate.

Measure Your Answers

Answers that are either too short or overly long can stymie conversation. One sentence isn’t enough. Alternatively, dragging your response on for two minutes or more risks redundancy. You need to give your interviewer enough information so that they have a good idea of your strengths and skills and enough space to ask follow-up questions and shift gears when they’d like.

Have Questions to Spare

Don’t overlook the fact that some interviewers don’t come prepared with questions or just aren’t big talkers. To avoid a bland interview or one that ends too early, be prepared with your own set of 10 to 15 questions so that you can carry the conversation.

If you can succeed in turning your next interview into a conversation, you may not only get the job but also have fun in the process.