How to Conduct a Job Interview: A Sample Conversation

Especially in setting the stage for early interviews, I usually want to be simultaneously “selling the candidate” on the idea of working for our firm, while at the same time trying to judge whether he or she has the capability and enthusiasm to do the job and to fit in at our company.

As the interview rounds progress, especially for higher-level critical positions, I generally want to put more emphasis on trying to evaluate the candidate’s capabilities. With candid references from previous employers often difficult to come by, much of the onus for judging a candidate’s potential must be derived during the interview process.

Furthermore, I would much rather test an employee during a job interview, to try to dig hard and find out what he or she is capable of, rather than find ourselves in a disappointing employer/employee relationship down the road.

Still looking for a business idea? Take my quiz below to discover what business you should start.




Sample Job Interview Conversation

Bob Adams (hiring manager): Susan Smith, I assume? I’m Bob Adams, pleased to meet you.

Susan Smith (job candidate): Good to meet you, too!

Comment: First impressions don’t just matter for the job seeker’s candidacy; they also matter for the employer. A warm greeting, good eye contact, and a firm handshake are a good way to start—that and, of course, not keeping the job candidate waiting!

Bob Adams: Thanks so much for coming in to see us today! I was very impressed with your resume. Oh, and I noticed that your last job was just a few blocks from here? You must like this area?

Susan Smith: Why, thank you, and thank you for seeing me. Yes, I worked right up on State Street. I find it a good area to work in, and an easy commute for me.

Comment: Being polite by thanking the job seeker to come in helps set a more level, conversational tone for the interview. And complimenting the job seeker on his or her resume helps set the interview on a positive, more relaxed, and more open footing. The note on the previous location was made just to engage in a little small talk, something you want to do for a couple of minutes at the beginning of the interview. Just don’t comment on the employee’s appearance or attire.

Bob: So, it appears from your resume that both of your last two jobs have a lot of similarities with the position we have open?

Susan: Yes, they do. I feel very well prepared for this opening. I’ve had solid experience in all dimensions of the job.

Comment: This is an open-ended question. Bob is trying to get the job candidate to open up and talk about her past positions and her expectations for this position. If this position is so similar to her last two positions, then why does she want to leave? It’s not really an advancement; could there have been an issue at the last job?

Bob: How would this job seem to be different than your current situation?

Susan: While the job function is pretty similar, I think the company situation would be quite a bit different. In my present job, I feel stifled in that I need to strictly stay within the bounds of my job description. I can’t really interact with people in other departments, for example, without going through my boss. She’s not a bad person. But there are limits to what I can and can’t do on the job.

Comment: This is what Bob is looking for. He’s trying to get Susan to explain the real reasons why she is looking to make what is basically a parallel job move.

Bob: Any other things that you would hope would be different?

Susan: I’ve performed well in my job and contributed a lot. But promotions and pay increases are slow at my current firm. It’s really an environment where seniority matters at least as much as performance. I’d hope to get a better compensation package.

Comment: Susan is talking in a seemingly open manner. This is what you want to see happen as an interviewer.

Bob: What level of compensation are you looking for?

Susan: I don’t have an exact figure in mind, but to move from the current situation that I am very secure in, it would have to be attractive.

Comment: Bob is trying to get Susan’s exact salary expectations or at least a range so he can quickly figure out whether he is wasting his time talking to her and if he continues to interview her, what it would take to hire her. Susan cleverly is avoiding the question.

Bob: Could you tell me what you are earning now?

Susan: My base pay is in the mid-90s, plus my bonus can easily run another 15 percent or so.

Comment: Now Bob has a pretty good idea of what Susan is looking for.

Bob: Beyond the day-to-day client servicing, could you tell me about any particular initiatives of which you are particularly proud in your current position?

Susan: More than anyone else in my office, I have led my clients aggressively into alternative investments. This has not only led to slightly higher returns, but it has also decreased their volatility, and I think more importantly, tightened my relationship with them and built their trust with me. I have shared this success with a couple other managers in my office and they have started to follow this model.

Comment: What Bob is trying to see here is what Susan has been accomplishing in her job beyond just fulfilling the basic job description. Here Susan not only has an excellent example of this but also seems to be stretching beyond her current job title by helping serve as a leader to her peers.

Bob: You mentioned earlier that you felt somewhat—perhaps the word is “stifled”—by your current boss. I wonder if you could compare or contrast this to your previous bosses. And I wonder if you could describe how you feel your boss could get your best work from you?

Susan: My previous boss was great. I met with him a lot and learned from him a lot. He gave me specific objectives and goals and would always be there when I needed him for advice, but unlike my current boss I didn’t feel that he was constantly checking up on me. He also was very comfortable when I interacted directly with other departments; he wasn’t at all territorial that way. But I did keep him informed of substantive issues and any interactions with other departments that might matter. So I would say this previous boss was an excellent model on how to get my best work out of me.

Comment: Bob particularly wanted to test and see whether she would complain about her other bosses. And he wanted to try to see how well Susan’s style might work in his office.

Bob: Can you tell me about your approach to clients? How does it differ from people around you? And has it changed much as you have changed employers?

Susan: I am working with a high-income, highly educated clientele, and I respect them. Unlike some of my colleagues, I don’t feel that my job is to sell them new products. Instead, I feel my value added to them is to educate them about new products and then let them decide whether it works for them. Each client situation I view as being unique. Each one has a different risk/return profile. And each one takes a different amount of time and education to get used to considering a new product. I don’t push products. But at the same time, my adaption rate of alternative products has over time become the highest in the office. My clients respect me and I respect them. My high referral rates underscore this.

Comment: By asking Susan to compare and contrast her style with her peers, Bob was able to get Susan talking in an open manner about herself, painting a vivid picture of how she works.

Bob: Susan, I know you need to go; you are here on your lunch hour and need to get back to work. But I really like what I have heard. I think that your style could fit in exceptionally well and you could be very happy here. I’ll be back to you shortly to set up some times for a follow-up meeting with some of my colleagues as well.

Susan: Sounds great. I have heard positive things about your firm.

Comment: Bob is showing respect to Susan by honoring her request that this interview fit within her lunchtime. He also made very clear that he was highly interested in pursuing continuing discussions. And he tried to appeal to her desire to find a place to work that she would enjoy more, specifically choosing not to say anything more about salary. If he can offer her a job, he envisions a higher salary, but he wants to be sure to convey to Susan that he understands the non-compensation aspects of work are very important, too.

This job interview was short, but it was also highly substantive. A lot of the focus was on fit and style—both with one’s boss and also with one’s company.

Are you looking for more advice on starting your business? Check out how to start your own business in 5 steps.

About Bob Adams

Bob Adams is a Harvard MBA serial entrepreneur. He has started over a dozen businesses including one that he launched with $1500 and sold for $40 million. He has written 17 books and created 52 online courses for entrepreneurs. Bob also founded BusinessTown, the go-to learning platform for starting and running a business.