“Rapport: a close and harmonious relationship in which the people or groups concerned understand each other’s feelings or ideas and communicate well”
If you Google ‘rapport definition’, this is the first answer it comes up with. Put more simply, ‘rapport’ means being able to get on with someone comfortably. And ‘building rapport’ simply means the process of getting to that comfortable relationship stage.
“What’s this got to do with interviewing?” you may wonder. “Surely interviewing is about showing that my skills match the job requirements?”.
Well, at a very basic level that is right. But since skills come wrapped up in this package called a human being, interviewing is really all about presenting yourself effectively as a person, not just a set of useful skills.
Since you need to present yourself well as a person, you need to be able to communicate effectively. And that starts with building rapport.
Going back to the Google definition, how are you actually meant to build a ‘harmonious relationship’ with an interviewer? Bear in mind this person is probably a total stranger, you are meeting under unusual circumstances, and time is very limited. This is not a friendly chat over a drink at the local bar.
It’s not an easy task, but nor is it impossible. There are many techniques to build quick rapport, and if you can master them, you interview has a much better chance of going well.
This is not just my opinion or experience (though it is), but is supported by research.
According to this recent study by the Georgia Institute of Technology in Atlanta, candidates who successfully built initial rapport with their interviewer scored better overall than those who didn’t – even if performance was equally strong on 12 job-related questions.
Quite simply, interviewers find it hard to resist being drawn to people who naturally come across as easy to get on with. This is a normal human trait (we are a social species, after all), and one which interviewers naturally find it difficult to switch off in an interview setting. That’s the irresistible power of 2.5 million years of evolution for you.
So, having seen that rapport is incredibly useful in an interview, how to go about building that powerful connection, instantly? Here are 5 easy-to-master techniques::
Simply making clear, positive eye contact is a good start. Look at your interviewer as though they are your best friend, and that warmth will show through. This article goes into a lot more detail on great eye contact.
If you want to make a connection, what do you think works better, a friendly smile or a poker face? Which one says “I’m open and trustworthy” and which one says “I’m a closed book and hard to read”?. I’ve interviewed countless candidates who saw no need (or were too nervous) to smile and it is not a good strategy. Read this article to understand the science at work here.
Mirroring body language
Over half of our communication is non-verbal. For body language to be an effective rapport builder, mirror your interviewer’s body position. Done subtly (rather than blatantly) it helps you create a connection with your interviewer’s unconscious mind – i.e. they will feel more at ease without consciously knowing why. In a potentially taut interview setting this is invaluable. For more on understanding the power of mirroring, read this excellent article from Forbes magazine.
Much as you will be concerned with saying plenty of smart things to secure you the job, it is a mistake to neglect the opportunity for small talk. I have even heard of someone getting hired JUST through small talk – in this case a passionate discussion around football which had absolutely nothing to do with job! By being able to chat comfortably with strangers, you are actually demonstrating a key talent, valuable for selling to customers and connecting to new team members, for example.
This may sound weird, but it’s an critical rapport-building skill. Slow down, or speed up, your speed of talking (words per minute) and change your pitch to match your interviewer. I habitually did this when building client relationships. Just as the speaking in the same language is crucial for understanding each other, speaking at the same rhythm builds even more commonality. The FBI even go as far as to suggest here that this may be most powerful technique to build rapport.
You will have the opportunity within the first minute of an interview to deploy all of these techniques.
Do them effectively and you will already be encouraging your interviewer to choose you ahead of the rest of the candidates.
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