How to Tell When a Job Interview Is Going Well

It is possible to judge the impression you're making as you're making it.

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Karen Burns
A job interview is a high-stress experience. You have a limited amount of time. You need and want to make a dazzling impression. You are likely to be outside your comfort zone. And the stakes are high. Yet everyone tells you to “relax,” to “be yourself.” Yikes.

Would it help you to relax and be yourself if you had an idea of how you were coming across? If so, here’s some good news: It is possible to judge the impression you’re making as you’re making it.

[See 21 Secrets to Getting the Job.]

Here’s what to look for:

• The interviewer nods, leans toward you, and smiles. This is body language that shows engagement. Of course, not everyone displays enthusiasm and liking the same way, so do not freak out if your interviewer leans back and keeps a poker face. Read on.

• The interviewer focuses, resisting outside distraction. In this day of near-constant interruptions (human and electronic), being paid full attention to is the ultimate compliment.

• The interview goes on longer than scheduled. Always a good sign! An interviewer who has already decided “no” is not going to spend any more time on you than absolutely necessary.

[See The Worst Mistake You Can Make on Your Resume.]

• The discussion of the job becomes more detailed. What you’re looking for here is that the talk moves beyond a mere laundry-list description of the position and on to specific issues; e.g., problem areas or areas where the job could eventually expand.

• The interview veers “off script.” If your interviewer has a list of prepared questions but puts it aside to really talk with you, then that means he or she is now engaging with you as a real person, not just as an applicant.

[See more job advice at U.S. News Careers.]

• The interviewer describes problems with the last person who held the job. This shows trust and is a clue that maybe they think you will be able to do a better job.

• The conversation moves to a personal level. If hobbies come up, or sports, or fashion, or pets, then you know the interviewer is starting to imagine what it might be like to have you around all day every day. If you laugh together, it’s even better.

• The interviewer starts to talk about the future. Whether it’s the future of the company or the future of this specific position, this is a good sign that the interviewer is starting to think of “you” and “future” in the same breath.

• The talk turns to start dates. Ascertaining your availability may just be part of the standard info the interviewer needs to gather but it’s still reason for hope. Observe if the question is asked with obvious interest, or an air of “I’m only asking because I need to fill in this blank here.”

• You ask when you will hear back and you get a specific answer. There’s a big difference between a nice concrete “We’ll get back to you on Monday,” and a vague “We’ll be in touch.”

One more thing: Evaluating the impression you’re making “on the fly” can be tricky. In something as important as a job interview, you need to be in the moment, really focusing on the questions and answers. But at the same time, in the back of your mind, you can also be taking the temperature of your interview, as per above. This will allow you to make any modifications or correct any misinterpretations right away. It isn’t as hard as it sounds. Most human interactions involve these sorts of real-time adjustments and readjustments. Pay attention. It gets easier with practice.

Oh, and relax and be yourself.

Karen Burns is the author of the illustrated career advice book The Amazing Adventures of Working Girl: Real-Life Career Advice You Can Actually Use, recently released by Running Press. She blogs at www.karenburnsworkinggirl.com.