Cialdini’s secret for acing an interview

Robert Cialdini is the go-to guru for great advice about persuasion. His classic book Influence explains how subtle tweaks in phrasing a question or making an offer can transform a “no” into a “yes.” And his more recent Pre-Suasion explains how to set the stage before making an ask.

Cialdini also shares his wisdom on LinkedIn Learning. I love his short clip on job interviews. If you have a couple of minutes, check it out before reading further.

I’ll summarize the gambit here, but my bet is that people who hear him use it will be more impressed with the approach than others who just read about it in the text below. Delivery is important in this situation. I’ll explain why I think the tactic is brilliant, provided it’s done right.

There is one way, however, it could I’ll describe the risk towards the end. (If you’re prepared for it, you’ll be fine.) So either click the link above, as I recommend, or plow ahead.

Here’s Cialdini’s interviewing advice in a nutshell.

Start, of course, by thanking the recruiter for meeting with you. Say that you’re looking forward to responding to his or her questions. But then add this:

“I wonder if you could answer something for me. Why did you invite me here today? What was it about my resume that attracted you to my candidacy?”

As Cialdini explains, this query opens your conversation on a favorable note. It prompts the interviewer to focus on your strengths, the factors that distinguish you from other applicants. It implies—without actually saying it—that you’re on the short list.

I’d add that it’s also a confidence builder for you, the interviewee. Having someone else emphasize your virtues puts you on solid ground. More subtly, the technique allows you influence the process. That has to feel good, too.

To top it off, question-asking increases likeability, as my colleagues Alison Wood Brooks and Leslie John reported last year in their Harvard Business Review article, “The Surprising Power of Questions.”

But this gambit must be well executed. If you watched the video, you saw Cialdini’s smile and heard the warmth in his voice. The tilt of his head seemed to signal genuine curiosity. Plus he’s got energy in abundance.

Those signals are visible if you’re meeting face-to-face, but I’d never recommend using this interview gambit in a text chat or even a phone call. In that context, the question could sound presumptuous.

Cialdini’s phrasing is cleverly crafted, as well He doesn’t just ask flat out, “Why did you invite me here today?” Instead, he prefaces the query with “I wonder if you could answer something for me.” This gives the interviewer notice that a question is coming, perhaps piquing interest on what it could be.

Then with exquisite timing (to my ear at least) Cialdini pauses for beat to let that sink in. Only then does he pose the “why” question. And he doesn’t stop there. He gently guides the interviewer on where to look for an answer: “What was it about my resume that attracted you to my candidacy?” All three pieces are essential to making the gambit work.

I love Cialdini’s work, especially how it promotes understanding and agreement. So let me follow suit and put two questions to you. 

First, in what situations would you consider using this gambit–and when would you not? 

Second, imagine that you tried the gambit, but the interviewer shot back, “Hey, I’ve seen that Cialdini video, too. Are you trying to run this conversion?” How would you respond?

I think I have a decent answer, but I’ll hold off on making my suggestion until I’ve had a chance to see your ideas. Stay tuned!

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