Even if you’re told the interview is just an informal chat, don’t believe it. The interview is a business transaction whereby both parties are exploring the opportunity to initiate a work relationship. But if you stop and think about what is at the core of that potential future work relationship, the logical answer is mutual trust. Yes, we all agree that the interview is a process whereby the employer wants to determine whether you have the skills that employer is looking for, and if so, whether you’d be good at them or just average, whether you could solve work-related issues, whether you’d be well accepted by your peers—meaning, whether you’d fit into the organizational culture—and so forth. The employer knows there are other options and so reviews other applicants. But the candidate, too, knows there are other options and can explore other prospective employers. Above all, though, both parties are asking themselves—actually during the interview process—whether they can trust each other.
Mutual trust and confidence
This basic concept of mutual trust and confidence was solidified by the legal system in the distant past when it referred to the employment relationship between employee and employer carried an understanding that there is an implied obligation between the two parties to behave in a way that does not undermine that mutual employment relationship. Simply put, both parties should have each other’s back. This means that each party is expected to trust the other.
What does trust mean?
If you asked people how they interpret trust and what trust means to them, you’d get many and various answers. I’ve tested this numerous times when presenting to large groups, and the answers have clearly demonstrated to me that trust means different things to different people. For me, trust means you do what you said you’d do. On one hand, similar to the establishment of a personal reputation, trust is not something someone can establish instantly; it takes a long time to establish one’s trustworthiness because trust is based on behavior that is cumulative and over time. On the other hand, trustworthiness can be destroyed in an instant.
How to evaluate—and demonstrate—trustworthiness during an interview?
An easy way for an employer to test a candidate’s trustworthiness is via the common and mostly dreaded interview question, What are your weaknesses? I have never met anyone who likes that question. Here the employer is testing the candidate’s honesty and, thereby, trustworthiness. A good answer here is to talk about an occurrence in the not too distant past—something that is common and plausible wherein the candidate admits failure but then claims to have been smart enough to learn from it and by now has so well fixed it that others ask for his advice. This is a turnaround tactic that works in most cases.
In a job interview, the candidate should give several examples whose common thread shows honesty, dependability, reliability, and credibility. They all lead to trust. Conversely, the candidate, too, should look for those same qualities in the prospective employer. Mutual trust will lead to a long-term employment relationship.