This Is What the Best Candidates I Ever Interviewed Had in Common

Tell me if this sounds familiar: You continually make it to the interview stage, and then—crickets.

You have the skills to get in the door, but for some reason, you stall out when it comes to getting the offer. It’s super frustrating, and you can’t help but wonder why.

As someone who was responsible for recruiting and interviewing applicants for fellowship openings at organizations nationwide, I can tell you it’s true that being qualified isn’t always enough to edge out the competition.

So, how do you become on of those people the hiring manager will fight for when it comes down to just two qualified people?

The answer is simple: Build a real connection with your interviewer. Without a doubt, that was what made me pick one similarly-qualified applicant over another. (I’m only human, after all.)

Doing this is easier than you think—in fact, all the applicants who “connected” with me during the process only had to do the following:

1. They Made it Clear Why They Fit the Organization

It’s fair to think of an interview like a test. After all, someone’s asking you questions and judging you based on your answers.

However, this mindset will backfire.

That’s because you ace a test by studying up and giving the right answers. But the “perfect” answers are almost never the best in an interview situation, because they make you sound like everyone else. If you say you want to work at a company because it’s number one in it’s field—and leave it there—odds are you’re giving the same answer as others.

The trick is to push yourself a step further and make sure you figure into your reply.

For example, I interviewed a candidate, who in discussing her commitment to public interest work talked about efforts to raise awareness about sexual assault on her campus. While it wasn’t directly relevant to the role she was applying for, it showed that she volunteered on causes she cared about—and that’s the sort of civically engaged applicant we were looking for.

So, work stories that show why you’re interested in the company into your answers. Often, when you relay a story you share more about how you think and that helps the other person feel like he or she’s getting to know you. Plus, it feels like a more genuine way to talk about yourself.

2. They Showed They Were Listening

You know that asking questions at the end of your interview is a great way to build a connection. However, posing them is not enough.

The crucial next step is to actually listen to the answer.

I know, it sounds obvious. But you wouldn’t believe how many people asked me something, and then when I finished dove right into an unrelated next question without even taking a breath.

This made me feel like they had no interest in what I had to say, and just wanted to score points.

Conversely, I was always impressed with the applicants who listened close enough to what I said to ask an unrehearsed follow-up question. Too nervous to think on your feet? It can be a simple as saying “Can you tell me more about [something the interviewer just said]?”

When you listen, it becomes a two-way exchange. That makes your interview feels more like a conversation, which boosts the likelihood of feeling connected.