Steering the Personal Interview

Steering the Personal Interview

Swapan Jyoti Sarma

Globally, the Personal Interview remains the most preferred method of scrutiny and selection of candidates for recruitment. The preference stems from the fact that a face-to-face interaction allows for spontaneity in behaviour and responses which enables the interviewer to make his best possible assessment of the candidate. It must be admitted that even an interview can be contrived, and the practiced interviewee will spotlight his academic, personality and career highs while covering up the smudges. An astute interviewer can clearly see through the pretences and will draw his own conclusions.

What is important to note is that both the interviewer as well as the interviewee can use the Personal Interview to their advantage. This is possible only when the interviewee conveys what the interviewer seeks. Which brings us to the fundamental question – What does the interviewer seek? The challenge for the interviewer is that of determining the suitability of the candidate though an interaction of a few minutes to an hour at most. The challenge for the interviewee is that the interviewer can ask any question. Nonetheless, the candidate must know that most of the questions will be about himself. What the interviewer wants to find is how much the candidate is aware about himself, whether he is focussed on his goals, and whether he will ‘fit in’ the organisation. The interview template is, therefore, centred around the question – “Tell us something about yourself”. Inevitably at an interview, either at the beginning or at some point of time the interviewer will pop that question in one form or the other. Even if this question is not asked, the candidate must use every opportunity to talk about himself to the interviewer.

Many youngsters, under the mistaken belief that this question calls for a self-introduction, narrate their names, educational qualifications, work experience and so on. These information are readily available to the interviewer in the candidate’s CV/ Resume or through a background check. The intent of this question, rather of the interview itself, is to unearth hitherto unknown traits, skills and facets of the candidate’s personality and character that can be related to the position. What the interviewer is really saying is, “Give me reasons why we should select you”. The answer to this question will enable the interviewer to take the final call on whether to select the candidate.

For the candidate “Tell us something about yourself” is a golden opportunity to project oneself as the best possible ‘fit’ for the position. The CV/Resume has severe limitations in marketing one’s candidature. The referees can put in a few good words about the candidate but certainly cannot clinch the deal. It is up to the candidate himself on how he manages to draw out the best in him which the interviewer is looking for.

A Personal Interview is not a tennis match where a question is lobbed, and the answer is retuned back. An interview is a conversation. The interviewer and the interviewee must converse to find common ground.  The sequence and context of the interview conversation maybe as follows:

  1. The candidate must be knowledgeable about the organisation in which he is seeking employment. He must acquaint himself with all information that is available in the public domain- specially about its history, culture, and ethics.


  1. The candidate must be aware of the requirements of the position that he is keen to hold. He must not only have domain expertise but also must be passionate about facing the challenges that the job demands.


  1. Much before the interview, the candidate must carry out an exercise where he maps his skills, expertise, knowledge, hobbies, work experiences, internships, voluntary services, social activities etc. along with the demands of the position and correlate the two. Zero on the matches. The more they match the better for the candidate.


  1. The candidate is now ready for the interview. When he is asked about himself, or when an opportunity presents itself, the candidate must relate one skill or experience that equips him to meet the position’s challenges. General statements such as “I am sincere and hardworking”, “I have good leadership skills” “I like taking challenges” will not be credible and will be dismissed with disdain.


  1. What needs to be stated are specific examples which are verifiable. If the position has a marketing role, the candidate can narrate his experience in marketing. One example could be, “I did my summer internship of two months in May and June 2019 with Gujarat Cooperative Milk Marketing Federation Ltd, popularly known by its brand Amul. I was entrusted with the responsibility of appointing five franchisees or distributors and creating sales turnover of Rs 1.5 lakhs. I appointed one franchisee and two distributors and generated sales of Rs 1.12 lakhs and I was happy to receive a letter of appreciation from the Regional Manage GCMMFL”. In case the candidate does have any marketing experience, he could narrate an example of his interpersonal relationship skills such as, “One day in February 2020, I read in a newspaper that Guwahati Medical College Hospital was facing a shortage of blood in its Blood Bank. As the Secretary of the Capital Youth Club, I started a campaign for voluntary blood donation. In two days, 25th and 26th February 2020 we donated 45 units of blood, not only from our Club members but also from members of the public. One volunteer was aged 63 years”.


  1. Similarly, if the position demands leadership skills then it would be relevant to mention a leadership role in an assignment, social organisation, or educational institution- what were the challenges and how they were overcome. If the position demands creativity and innovation, the candidate can narrate any ingenious solution that he has contributed to solving a critical problem.


  1. A conversation is not a monologue. Therefore, the candidate must express himself succinctly but clearly in four to five short sentences. Be aware of the interviewer’s response and body language. If they are encouraging, the candidate can give additional information or better still talk about his next skill or experience that creates an affinity between himself and the coveted position. If the interviewer seems wary, it will be prudent to take a pause and wait for his response.


  1. The candidate must be mindful of the fact that the interviewer may take a cue from the candidate’s reply to ask a related question. This could be to the candidate’s advantage as it is an indication that there is a shift in the interview dynamics. Deft handling of the situation by the candidate can land him in the driver’s seat.


  1. The candidate must choose his words carefully. The key words in his answer should be positive action verbs such as – entrusted with, responsible for, gained, generated, raised, improved, increased, advanced, expanded etc. The candidate should be able to anticipate the question that is likely to follow. With every answer, the candidate must maintain the interviewer’s interest and curiosity and continuously establish a connect between what he has to offer and the requirements of the post. This is truly when the candidate will be in control of the interview and steering it towards the coveted selection.

It will be fitting to end this write-up with a caveat. A personal interview is a highly subjective exercise. The variables are too numerous to fully account for. There is no single best way that guarantee success in interviews. Nevertheless, if an individual covets a particular post and honestly believes that he has all the right credentials to justify his selection, then he must use the personal interview to showcase himself and enjoy the conversation.


Swapan Jyoti Sarma : A Graduate in Economics from Cotton College, MBA from Guwahati University and LLB from Govt. Law College. Sri Sarma joined LIC of India as a Direct Recruit Officer of the 14th Batch and rose to the cadre of Deputy Zonal Manager.