Improve Job Interviews By Using Flattery?

What if I told you that a simple change in phrasing could make a huge difference in your job interview performance? In today’s career expert Q&A, Marc DeBoer, founder of abetterinterview.com, teaches us why and how to use flattery in job interviews. Welcome to “Flattery 101.”

Flattery in the Job Interview

When you talk about flattery in job interviews, you don’t mean complimenting the hiring manager’s shoes. What do you mean?

That’s funny! That’s the first time I’ve heard that question, but a great one to ask. If you did go that route, it would definitely start the interview with a laugh, but has more potential for negative than positive.

The problem with interviews and our perception of them is that we believe they are all about us as the candidate ( « Tweet this ). The interviewer asks us questions and we do all the talking and maybe, if we are lucky, at the end we can ask a few questions. We need to change the way we think about interviews; they’re not about us, they’re about the interviewer. At the end of the day, the interviewer has a problem and that problem is represented through an open job and because of that, we are just a potential solution to that problem.

If we can agree on that then we can begin to learn about flattering the interviewer.

To have the best interview, we need to understand basic sociology. People don’t like to listen to someone talk about themselves for hours. Let me say it differently. You’re at a bar or restaurant with some friends and they introduce you to another friend of theirs. For the next 20 minutes, that person just talked about themselves. Never took a breath, not a sip on their drink, just 20 minutes straight talking about their life, significant other, job, hobbies, house, pet, family, car, etc… Could you imagine that? If you’re like me then you are probably saying, “Ugh, that would be awful!” And that is exactly my point! You are forcing the interviewer to listen to you drone on for 20-30-40-60 minutes!! And if they are in HR, it’s possible they are doing this multiple times a day, every day!!

So, how do we flatter the interviewer? Simple! Give them the chance to talk about themselves. You do this with your questions that you ask, but instead with a twist. I put together a list of great interview questions for you to ask, but these are different. These questions are directly related to the interviewer to ask their opinion.

Instead of “What would make a candidate ideal for this position?”
Ask “In your opinion, what would make a candidate ideal for this position?”

Instead of “What are three ways I can contribute to the company beyond the job description?”
Ask “How do you contribute to the company beyond your job description?” or “What were three ways you contributed beyond your job when you first started?”

Instead of “How can I best contribute to the department’s goals?”
Ask “What are your goals for this department and how do you feel I can best contribute?”

Instead of “What are the biggest challenges of working here and how can I overcome those challenges?”
Ask “What were the biggest challenges you faced when you started here and how did you overcome them?”

See how I twisted these interview questions around. They are all great questions to ask, but what I did was put the emphasis on the interviewer. This shows the recruiter that you want to talk about them! Their first reaction will be, “Wow, no one ever wants to know my opinion,” and now you are giving them the opportunity to talk about themselves. Also, what is great about doing this is that you will still gain the same answer as the original question.

Why is flattery an effective interview strategy?

This form of flattery is important for everyone to do because it shows the interviewer that you are genuinely interested in learning their opinion. Instead of flattery, think of it as empathy — the idea of caring for others. When you can show that you are empathetic, you show that you care about others’ emotions and that you are not egotistical or conceded. This is a quality that every single hiring manager is looking for and is difficult to interview for. It’s either you have it or you don’t.

Do you have any guidelines for the do’s and don’ts of interview flattery?

Please don’t take the flattery to an extreme level. The interview is still about the interviewer learning about you. If you try to charm the interviewer too much, you will come off as “sleazy.” This tactic is only to show the interviewer that you recognize they are human as well and that they want to talk about themselves too once and a while. It is easy to cross the line of pushing the flattery too much, so I would focus simply on rearranging the way you ask questions in the beginning. As you noticed up top, we took simple interview questions, but put a twist on them so the focus is on the interviewer and not the company.

Here is another example:

A great question to always ask in an interview is, “What is culture like here?” However, a way you can twist this to flatter the interviewer could be, “What are three specific things that you enjoy most here about the culture?” Now, the question is asking the same thing and, in both, you will receive the same answer. However, in the second question, you are specifically saying, “I want to know what you like about the culture here.”

I would consider this “Flattery 101” and to go to the next level requires you master this first. You don’t want to come off too strong with this as it can easily backfire.

Can flattery ever backfire? For instance, you make the interviewer feel great so she hires you. Then you both realize she hired you for the wrong reasons and you’re not actually a great fit.

That’s a great question and as I just pointed out, yes, it can backfire. The whole point of this is to change the interview from 90:10 to 70:30 or 60:40. Because you want the interviewer to talk more, you should be learning more about the company. It is possible that you gain more intimate details on the company because you have focused questions now and you’re gaining their personal opinion. We have to remember that you should be interviewing them as much as they are interviewing you. If you are lucky enough to receive an offer, you need to make a determination if you feel you will be a fit for that job and company. You should never accept a job just for the sake of getting a job. While this tactic can help you have a better interview, it is still your responsibility to accept the job only on the premise that you are a good fit for the job and the company.

Hiring mistakes happen and sometimes they are the fault of no one. This is why the interview is crucial. By utilizing this tactic of interview flattery, it will allow you to gain more intimate knowledge of the company so you can make more informed decisions about joining the company.

Is there anything else you would like to say about this topic?

Yes, there is. You don’t need to wait until the end of the interview to ask your questions. Just like a conversation, a successful interview is a give and take. Let’s suppose this scenario:

Interviewer: “Tell me about a time when you failed and how you learned from it.”

You tell your story about a previous failure and it entailed how your company had a very lackadaisical policy on particular procedure. After you finish giving your answer, you can follow it up with a question such as, “Have you created any particular policies to combat against things like that happening?”

Don’t make your interview so regimented; make it more like a conversation and you will find how much easier an interview truly is!

Do you have questions or stories about using flattery in job interviews? Please share them in the comments below.


About the Expert

A Better InterviewMarc DeBoer is the founder of www.abetterinterview.com. After spending many years as a corporate recruiter and headhunter, he decided to take that knowledge to the general public. A Better Interview, LLC was established to help guide people through the job search process in addition to providing interview coaching. Go to www.abetterinterview.com/articles for his blog!

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