How can you ignite thinking during a job interview?

Board room

Most of us have, at some point in our lives, experienced a job interview. Many of us will have experienced it from both sides of the table: as candidate and as interviewer.

Job interviews can be pretty stressful, especially for the candidate: you want to “nail” the interview, because you have so much riding on it. You want give a good first impression to maximise the chances you’ll be giving the job you’re applying for, and you want this job! Why did you apply otherwise?

Unfortunately, many job interviews are structured in a way that doesn’t benefit the candidate. You might be brought into a sterile office meeting room and placed directly opposite from the people who are conducting the interview. If you’re unlucky, at least one of them will have a laptop in front of them so they can make notes during the interview. They might apologise for doing so (and you’re supposed to understand), but in reality it will be one of the biggest distractions.

Apart from some generic chit-chat that occurs while you’re walking from the reception to the meeting room (How was your trip? Did you find it alright?), there is little room for getting comfortable. Let’s face it, pleasant as that conversation may be, it will be forgotten the moment the door closes behind you and you are faced with the prospect of performing to the best of your abilities for the next 45 minutes or so.

Having experienced quite a few job interviews myself, I have found myself thinking that there is room for improvement. As interviewer, you would hopefully look to create circumstances that will bring out the best of the candidates you are interviewing. The thinking we do is influenced most of all by how we are treated. So, if we want to bring out the best in the candidate, we should treat them well.

“When all Ten Components of the Thinking Environment are present, thinking will soar!”

We can get a fairly good idea of how well an candidate is treated during the job interview by examining the presence of the Ten Components of the Thinking Environment. The more components that are present, the better someone will think. When all ten components are present, thinking will soar!

The Ten Components of the Thinking Environment

Place — This is something that, as an interviewer, you may have some influence on. Instead of booking a sterile meeting room, why don’t you try and find a different place, one that more or less says “we want you to be comfortable”. Beware though, that it should still be a place that’s free of (accidental) eavesdroppers and noise makers. A cafe may sound nice, but it probably less than perfect for conducting a job interview, which always has a certain level of confidentiality. The noise of the coffee grinder might be a distraction too.

Appreciation — Why don’t you start the interview by asking all participants (in no particular order, although it’s probably best if one of the interviewers start) to share something cool that happened to them recently? An acquaintance of mine worded it like this: “What is your one cool thing that happened to you this week?” It will prime the brain for positivity and enable clearer thinking. This is a nice technique that the candidate can initiate too (in which case it will show courage and initiative).

Ease — Is there anywhere else you need to be? Are you on the clock? If so, you might not be at ease. Make sure the candidate doesn’t feel your rush, so allow sufficient time for the interview. Try not to plan multiple interview back-to-back. If you really are pressed for time, make sure that everyone knows this (see also: Information), but refrain from looking at the clock all the time.

Don’t do this during a job interview. (Image credit:

Attention — Do you really want to sit down typing in all answers the candidate is giving on your laptop? Or do you want to look at them, listen to what they have to say, and be genuinely curious about what they might say next? Really show the candidate you are listening.

Information — As far as factual information goes, this usually goes quite well. Share whatever you need to share in the context of the job interview itself (for instance, if you are on the clock, as said earlier). Share what needs to be shared about the actual position too. Also, be open and honest about the job and the company: tell it like it is, not how you would like it to be (dismantle your denial). Finally, inform the candidate about the rest of the process, for instance, when they may expect a decision.

Diversity — I suggest you investigate where you are on diversity well before you’re even having the job interview. Still, while interviewing the candidate, be open to their thoughts which may diverge from yours. Are you looking for a clone, or for fresh, new ideas coming from someone showing divergent thinking?

Feelings — Job interviews can be stressful. Don’t berate or belittle someone for showing their feelings or emotions, but take them seriously.

Equality — At the very least, assume that the person you are interviewing can think brilliantly for themselves, just like you. The interviewer-candidate relationship is inherently a power relationship, but during the interview everyone involved should consider each other thinking peers.

Encouragement — Show that you want the candidate to go to the cutting edge of their thinking. Be truly interested and curious as to what they may come up with and don’t compete with them: there is very little point in wanting to prove that you are the “smartest person in the room”. If you are the candidate: try and refrain from guessing what the interviewer might want to hear and encourage yourself to do your best thinking.

“If you knew that your primary role is to create the conditions for each candidate to shine today, how would you?“

Incisive Questions — You might want to ask an Incisive Question when someone makes an assumption about why they think they can’t do something. As interviewer, you could ask yourself incisive questions before the interview. Here is a beautiful example provided by Sophie Stevenson (Time to Think Faculty member): “If you knew that your primary role [is] to create the conditions for each candidate to shine today, how would you?“

In conclusion

Because of the power relationship that a job interview establishes between interviewer and candidate, I believe the onus is mostly on the interviewer to create an environment that stimulates clear, creative, and independent thinking. By making sure the Ten Components are present, you have created the optimal circumstances for a successful job interview. For yourself and for the candidate.

What do you think? Are you going to create the best possible conditions for the candidate next time you’re conducting an interview, remembering that you’ll benefit too? Let me know your thoughts, I’m always open to exchange ideas. If you want to tweak your hiring process (start to finish) based on what you’ve just read, feel free to contact me any time.