How to Turn an Interview Into a Conversation

If you’ve interviewed a lot of candidates, you probably have a fairly standard routine down by now. You ask a question, they answer, you evaluate each answer, and the interview progresses.

As an interviewer, you want to cover as much ground as possible in a short period of time. The more questions you can ask during an interview session, the better you’ll know the candidate…or will you?

There’s another way to approach an interview that can bring you the best results. This technique can help you draw out hidden qualities in great candidates and avoid hiring candidates who are simply better prepared—but not really the right fit for the job. It involves less talking on your part, and listening more.

The power of the pause

When you ask a good interview question, of course you’ll want to listen attentively to the candidate’s answer. But your interviews can be more effective if you let the candidate respond, and then wait before you move on to the next question.

Jim Lehrer, anchor for PBS NewsHour, calls this “listening slowly.” Lehrer recommends that once the interviewee stops talking, you count silently to five before asking the next question.

This sounds like you’re deliberately creating an awkward silence—which may be true, to a point. The great thing about awkward silences is that people will naturally try to fill them, including your interview candidates. Chances are if you pause instead of firing off another question, the candidate will keep talking. Then, instead of a simple question and answer session, you’re having a genuine conversation.

What you can learn

By using this interview technique, you can get beyond all of the prepared responses that most candidates have ready when they arrive. They may expand on their original response, or give you a surprising and impressive example from their experience that’s relevant to the question.

They may take the response in a different direction—one that can confirm a good candidate on paper who may be shy as a great candidate and the perfect choice for the job. You’ll also be able weed out those candidates who have practiced the perfect answers, but don’t have the skills or experience to back up their responses.

Choosing the right questions for a conversation

Of course, you’ll want to avoid pausing after a question that has a factual answer. That situation will actually become awkward, as the candidate may get confused, or start to second-guess their response.

The best questions to pause after are those that allow candidates to become introspective—usually open-ended questions pertaining to their motivations, their experiences, and their self-assessed qualifications. This is where you can have a meaningful dialogue with a relaxed candidate, and really get to know each of your interview subjects before making the right hiring decisions. For more information or to discuss your hiring needs, reach out to our experienced behavioral health recruiting team at PsychPros today at (513) 651-9500 or by email at

Tagged: , , , , , ,