What's Your Interview Style?

Here's a look at four distinct behaviors HR directors see all the time and how you can present yourself in the best light.

During a job interview, are you more apt to come across as a people-pleaser, a clam, a rambler or a warrior? In my 20 years as a human resources and hiring manager, I've interviewed a lot of people, and most job applicants often display aspects of one of these four interviewing styles -- each of which has its advantages and disadvantages. See whether you recognize yourself in any of these behavioral styles. Don't worry: No interview behavior is better or worse than the other. But if you recognize the approach most prevalent in your personality, you can improve your chances of getting the job.

SEE OUR SLIDE SHOW: 7 Interviewer Pet Peeves (And How to Avoid Them)

The People-Pleaser

In an interview setting, you feel the constant need to say what you think the interviewer wants to hear. Here’s a typical exchange between a hiring manager and a people-pleaser:

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INTERVIEWER: "So where do you see yourself in five years?"

YOU: "Well, um, with luck, at this company, working under you, in whatever capacity serves the organization best."

Okay, take a deep breath. This fawning behavior can be a real disadvantage if your eagerness to please the interviewer doesn’t allow him or her to focus on anything else. You want your true personality, humor and creativity to emerge from the interview.

You can help combat excessive people-pleasing during your pre-interview preparation. Recount to yourself (or a friend) your best career power stories. These should be various scenarios at previous employers that best illustrate your ability to get the job done. Remember, you're an equal player in the face-to-face interview conversation. Let your talents and abilities show.

The Clam

It is not easy for many people to open up to complete strangers, but during the job hunt it's the name of the game. Tensing up and giving one-word responses to a hiring manager's questions doesn't allow you the opportunity to convey your strengths. While you may think keeping things short and sweet offers you a better chance of not screwing up, it actually does the opposite.

Here's a typical exchange between a hiring manager and a clam:

INTERVIEWER: "Tell me about yourself."

YOU: "It's really all listed on my resume."

Loosen up. To help improve your interview demeanor, have six or so work-related stories prepared in your head for you to tell when a relevant "story prompt" comes up during the conversation. Practice telling the stories in advance of the interview. An example would be when an interviewer asks something like, "How experienced are you in Excel?" Don’t simply respond, "I'm very experienced." Take the opportunity to share a story from your work experience: "A couple of years ago, we bought a subsidiary, and I had to design all the spreadsheets to value the subsidiary's assets, real estate holdings and the like. I did it in a week, and it was quite the trial by fire. I learned a lot."

The Rambler

Although it is important to share your power stories during an interview, a story has to have a point, as well as a beginning, middle and end. The hiring manager doesn’t need to hear your life story in the span of a 60-minute interview.

INTERVIEWER: "So how will your background help you to be successful in this position?"

YOU: (Nervous laughter) "I have a complicated story, actually. I come from a family of farmers from the Midwest. Naturally, when I expressed interest during my freshman year of college in wanting to pursue a career in business administration, that came as a bit of shock to my parents…"

Stop. A simple story format is one that best illustrates a problem you faced, the solution you found and the impact it had on the company. Practice answering interview questions with a friend and alone. You won't have as much of an urge to ramble if you've gone through in advance what you want to say and what you'd like your story to convey.

The Warrior

You might be someone who views each interview as a competition that must be won. Do you recognize yourself in this exchange?

INTERVIEWER: "Do you have any questions for me?"

YOU: "Yes: Why are we still talking when we should be signing my offer letter? Just kidding. But seriously, I don't stop until I get what I want, and I want this job."

The trouble with an extremely aggressive interview style is that the only people to appreciate it are likely to be type-A tyrants or crisis junkies -- and those types of managers typically aren’t fun to work for.

Fearful people tend to trumpet how fabulous they are, while truly confident people tend to be humble and honest. To help tone down your aggressiveness, look at the interview process as if it were a coffee date with a friend. The conversation should be tempered. The more comfortable you become at interviewing with different people and personality types, the less likely you’ll feel the need to dominate the conversation or serve as your own overzealous PR person.

Liz Ryan
Contributing Columnist, Kiplinger.com