How to clarify key messages in interviews

Hello everybody. I’m Victoria Rennoldson, Communication and Culture Coach, and welcome to Wednesday Words with me. You can choose to watch this by clicking ‘play’ on the video above, which also has subtitles.

Or, because I know that many of you, just like me, like to listen to podcasts when you’re out and about, you can listen to the audio only version, by clicking below:

Finally, you can also read the blog as well, right here on the website as you are now, so welcome to today’s video, audio and blog, and the topic is all about key ways to decode key messages in the interview, and how to clarify in order to get to the answers you are looking for.

I’m going to share a bit of an insight from a talk I actually did recently to a French group. They were mostly job searchers, and we were particularly talking about job searching in the UK and thinking about communication within that interview process, and I particularly brought this up because I know from my clients that when they’re job searching, sometimes it can be quite difficult to interpret what’s really going on within the interview process, because actually the British cultural style is to be more indirect, in their style of communication and that can be difficult to decode and understand what’s really going on.

I’ll highlight some of the things that you might hear, to help you understand whether they are more neutral, or potentially even negative messages, or perhaps there are some positive messages in there, that give you some strong indication that you’re doing well, or that you’ll make it through to the next round, or even to interview offer.

Then, I’m going to talk a bit about clarifying, because in this type of situation, when you’re experiencing indirect communication, it’s really important to get clarity. Of course you want to know where you stand, and there are some techniques which I’ll share with you about how to do this in an appropriate way, because you don’t want to come across as too pushy, too demanding, as you want to keep that relationship, but you still want to maybe just probe a little bit and find out what might be going on, so you can manage your expectations.

Okay, so let’s dive into the topic of interpreting the interview… and yes, this is a tricky one, right? Some interviewers are very very closed, and it’s really hard to read what’s going on, particularly if you’re doing this like this, online, and you know you don’t have the full view of the body language necessarily. But there might be some specific things that you hear which I wanted to share with you today.

So first of all, they might talk in this sort of way: they might say things like ‘the successful candidate would be expected to work on these projects’. Now compare that to, if they say ‘when you start, you’ll be working on these types of projects.’ Hopefully you can see the difference in communication approach in the first one – it’s very impersonal, they’re talking about the successful candidate, and they use the conditional ‘would’, so that suggests that perhaps that’s a neutral, or perhaps an even a negative message. In the second statement however, you can see that they’re even imagining you starting in the role working on the projects and that’s a really strong positive message, a buying message, that suggests that you’re going to be successful to the next round, and perhaps even beyond.

Also, if you ask about the next steps, and they say something like: ‘well, we’re interviewing lots of candidates at the moment, we’ll get back to you soon’, these are quite neutral messages, even potentially negative messages, but if they’re very specific if they say things like, ‘at the next stage you will be meeting…’, or ‘at the next stage, you’ll be expected to prepare a case study’, for example, then that is fantastic, because, again, they’re being specific about you, what they expect you to do, and it sounds very definite, so those can be taken as positive communication signals.

And then finally, to help you understand the British interview market, again, in cultural terms, if at the end of the interview you find that the interviewer is asking you about your salary expectations or your notice period or even that the conversation turns more casual and relaxed, and you feel like you’re almost chatting, then these are all really really positive signals because usually, particularly the salary and notice period conversation, happens right at the end of the interview process, just before they’re about to make an offer, so that’s worth knowing for the British employment market, and gives you a good sense that your application could be successful.

So I hope that’s helpful in terms of interpreting, now let me turn my attention to clarifying. So, let’s imagine you’ve been hearing many more of the neutral messages and you’re just not really sure where you stand, as they’re keeping, as we say, their cards close to their chest, and they’re not really indicating whether they’re interested in you as a candidate, or not. What can you do? I think a really good technique is to clarify. I think there’s nothing wrong in these kinds of situations to be really asking questions, but we need to do this in the right way so that we come across as interested in the role, and we want to be engaging with them, but clearly we don’t want to sound too demanding or too pushy. So here are some suggested questions that you can ask.

So, for example, I might ask something like:

‘Could I check, who would I be meeting at the next stage?’ or ‘Could you please confirm when you think you can come back to me?’ Or even more specifically, ‘Could you/ will you be coming back to me next week?’

Don’t be afraid to use phrases like:

  • ‘Are you saying…?’
  • ‘Can I confirm?’
  • ‘Could I just check?’
  • ‘Do you think you can reply to me by this point?’

These types of phrases are really useful and actually not just for the interview process, I think clarifying is an incredibly important communication technique to use in many situations, for example, in meetings, because even if communication appears to be happening, sometimes people are deliberately not being clear, and they’re being vague, because either there’s a difficult situation, or a challenging issue. So just bear that technique in mind, it can be really really helpful.

So there we go, that’s a bit of an overview of interpreting the interview process, what might be said, and interpreting the communication, and how to clarify. I really do hope that’s been useful for you, and of course, if you have any specific questions, please do come back to me, drop me a note – there’s lots of links and ways to contact me. I’m always really happy to chat and answer if you’ve got a specific question.

If you are preparing for the British job market, whether you’re relocating, or as part of an international team, then please get in touch I often help my clients with that process of getting ready for the British interview style, and also the step before, in terms of preparing a British style CV, so please get in touch with me also make sure that you subscribe, so you receive these regularly, and thank you so much for joining me today for the Wednesday Words.

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