How to sound smarter in your interview

Interviews aren’t easy. It’s not enough to just know how to answer questions – you need to understand how to stand out from the rest of the pack. This is especially true if you live in a competitive work environment.

The good news is that if you know how to sound smarter during a job interview, you can place yourself in a much better position. 

How to fine-tune the art of listening

Believe it or not, the most important part of acing an interview isn’t so much what you say, it’s how you listen. Many people have made the mistake of going into an interview with their talking points memorized and rehearsed. This isn’t bad in and of itself.

However, if you’re focused only on what you want to say, you may lose an opportunity to wow the hiring manager. By practicing active listening, you can identify areas in which you can make yourself shine.

There are two ways to do this. First, don’t be afraid to ask the interviewer to repeat a question if you feel you did not fully understand what is being asked. Not only will this ensure that your answer is accurate, it sends a message to the interviewer that you are engaged in the conversation.

Next, summarize what the interviewer said to affirm that you comprehend what they are saying. You don’t need to do this after every single statement they make, but it is a good idea to do this throughout the conversation. Again, it shows the manager that you are paying attention.

Ask smart questions

It goes without saying that you cannot be a decent listener if you don’t know how to ask questions. But if you’re looking to come off as smarter, you must ask intelligent questions. The questions you choose to ask will shape how the interviewer perceives you. Again, you will get extra points if you ask questions that the interviewer has not considered before.

There are a host of different questions you can ask, but here are a few examples:

  • What do you like most about working for this company?
  • Describe how a typical day would progress for someone in this position.
  • How would someone develop a career path at this company?”

Tell stories

Storytelling is one of the most effective ways to ingratiate yourself to other people. The same holds true during job interviews. Sometimes hiring managers might ask you to describe a situation in which you had to solve a problem. Others might just ask you how you would handle a difficult issue.

Either way, you want to be prepared with stories in which a problem arose at work and you donned a red cape and blue tights and saved the day. J.T. O’Donnell, founder and CEO of Work It Daily, provides a framework that you can implement when using stories to answer questions. She calls it the “experience + learn = grow” model. She points out that “the key is to answer with just enough detail, but without going over-the-top.”

Know how to answer the “weakness” question

If you’re like most professionals, you probably dread getting the “what’s your biggest weakness” question. You don’t want to give a non-answer like “I care too much.” But you also don’t want to give an answer that might make the recruiter doubt your qualifications for the job.

Fortunately, this question is not as difficult as it sounds; this is where you will use your newfound storytelling prowess.

First, pick a weakness that has little to nothing to do with the position for which you are applying. For instance, if you’re applying for a food-service sales position, you might acknowledge that you’re not great at making spreadsheets. In most sales positions, this skill isn’t that necessary.

But you shouldn’t stop there. After speaking about this weakness, tell the recruiter what you have done to overcome or mitigate this weakness. Maybe you took a few online Excel classes or had a friend show you the ropes. You want to show them that you are willing to work on areas that you are weak in. See? Easy.

Connect the dots

While you are listening, asking questions, and telling stories, you must have relevance at the top of your mind. When it concerns job interviews, relevance refers to knowing how to apply details of your work experience to the requirements of the position you are interviewing for.

You can have the most extensive experience in the world, but it will not matter if you are unable to show the interviewer how your background is related to the qualities they are seeking. Job interview expert Don Georgeovitch posited that people who understand this concept “clearly demonstrate to interviewers how their background and their career goals are consistent with the requirements for the job.”

When telling your stories and discussing your background make sure you aren’t focusing on areas that are unrelated to the job you are seeking. These factoids might be fascinating, but they don’t necessarily communicate to the interviewer that you are the perfect person for the job.

Tell them something they don’t know

Another handy trick for those who wish to sound smarter during a job interview is to tell the hiring manager something they don’t know. Look up some trivia. Even useless information can convey that you are a knowledgeable person. 

However, you will score bonus points if you’re able to casually mention a piece of information that isn’t widely known. It doesn’t have to be anything groundbreaking. If you bring up something tantalizing that the interviewer isn’t aware of, you will raise your profile in their eyes. They will see you as someone who is interested in expanding your knowledge, which is essential for most positions.

Do NOT do this

Remember when we were talking about how asking intelligent questions can make you sound smarter? Well, it is also important to remember that not-so-intelligent questions can make you sound dumber. Nobody wants that, right?

If you want to make a great impression, you must avoid asking questions that don’t portray you in a positive light. For starters, never ask questions that could easily be answered with an online search. If you ask the interviewer about the company’s competition, it’ll be a dead giveaway that you didn’t do your research. Also, questions about salary or benefits are also verboten – unless the interviewer brings it up first (or you’re into a second or third interview).

Interviewing for your dream job does not have to be nerve-wracking. Be confident when you shake the interviewer’s hand and introduce yourself. Then proceed with the script you prepared using the principles above.