The interview for your dream job is tomorrow.  You know how to get there and what time you need to leave home to be sure to make it on time. You even know exactly what you will wear. What you don’t know is, will they want to offer you the job? And what you desperately want to know is: what can you do to make that happen?

I’m going to skip all the more common advice about how to prepare for and behave at a job interview – like making sure to read up on the company and the job, the kind of questions you should have ready, and a list of handy responses to the most difficult interview questions.  I’m going to go straight to the heart of the matter.

The single most important factor in interview success is the ability to share your personality and your relevant skills in an engaging and memorable manner. And the single most common reason for failure to do so is the unequal structure of most interviews.  To give yourself the best shot at landing your dream job, you need to take action to alter the classic interview structure.

mindset strategy: establishing an equal interaction

Many interviewees expect the interviewer to take charge of the interview, and with good reason. Most interviews are conducted with the interviewer opening the conversation, asking the questions, deciding when the interview is over, and what will happen next.

But it doesn’t have to be that way; and with the goal of creating a positive relationship with the interviewer in mind, it’s generally not in your best interest to follow that route.

The more passive you are in an interview, the less of you the interviewer will get to know – and like. Also, if the interviewer is the only one to ask questions, you may not get the opportunity to communicate those things about yourself that are most relevant to the position.

The problem is that even if you go in full of good intentions for creating an equal conversation, a specific question the interviewer may ask or the overall way they treat you – such as lack of eye contact, making you wait, skipping the small talk stage, or engaging in a more challenging line of questioning – can throw you off balance and place you right back in the passive back seat.

The first thing to do in order to change the balance and keep it there, is to put yourself in the right mindset for the interview. This can require you to play some psychological mind games with yourself, with the goal of imagining a situation similar to the interview setup, but where the two sides are equal participants in the process.

case in point: the consultant mindset

For example, one way to make the switch from passive to active in your head is to stop thinking of yourself as a candidate to be chosen or rejected, and start thinking of yourself as a valuable consultant to the interviewer. A consultant will want to understand the company or organization and its needs, including the job that needs to be filled. A consultant will also have ideas and relevant input about the job and the company needs.

You may feel unequal at first to the role of consultant, especially if you are relatively new to your professional field. You may wonder, understandably, what qualifies you to think of yourself as a consultant to someone more experienced than yourself.  Of course, this is just one exercise, and you may come up with a different situation that is more natural to you; however I believe that the consultant role is actually a good fit for almost all interviewees, and giving it some thought may also give you a much needed boost of confidence.

Why are you a valuable consultant? Because you are interested in the company or organization, have some relevant experience in the field that is different to that of your interviewer, and have developed some ideas and opinions about the best way to accomplish the goals relevant for the position. If you are a worthy candidate for the job, you are worthy of being a consultant, whether because you have significant experience, because you bring fresh eyes to the organization, or because of your talents and creativity.

A good consultant does not show up and start giving advice; the best consultants are excellent active listeners, garnering relevant information and sharing ideas in a non judgmental and respectful manner. A good consultant will also have good ideas and be able to think creatively about the company or organizational needs and how they may contribute to its success. In other words, a good consultant would be a fantastic employee.

If you think of yourself as a consultant, you will automatically become more proactive in the interview. This will occur naturally if you have really entered the role, so don’t think about specific things you need to say or do; instead, focus on keeping the consultant  mindset, and you will find yourself doing all the right things. Those right things are all the elements of a professional conversation that make it most friendly and fruitful.

the fruit of mindset strategy

If you have truly entered a mindset that assumes equal footing, you will find yourself initiating small talk at the beginning of the interview, including showing interest in your interviewer. This type of warmth is often glaringly lacking in an interview, when the interviewee is feeling passive and insecure.

Maintaining the right mindset will also help you keep an even sided conversation going. For example, many interviewees confine their speech to responses to questions, and only ask their own questions when given explicit permission to do so (in that famous last interview question: do you have any questions for us?);  a proactive interviewee, on the other hand, will follow up his or her responses with questions. If the interviewer has asked you to discuss your professional strengths and weaknesses, your might follow up your response with a relevant question, such as, “I’d be curious to know what personality traits are most important for this role as you see it.”

Moving through the stages of the interview is another area that many interviewees leave to the interviewer. A proactive interviewee will take a role in moving the interview ahead, including winding down the conversation at the right time, and setting the stage for the next steps.

A caveat: not all interviewers will be equally open to or interested in a more equal exchange. Professionals from more traditional fields or older interviewers may find an initiative – taking interviewee unsettling. Therefore proceed with caution and tact, and gauge the response of the interviewer to your style. If  you begin getting a sense that the interviewer wants to you take a more passive role, tone down your proactive style, but try to maintain your chosen mindset.

It’s easy to become overwhelmed by the amount of advice out there for an interviewee, and so much advice can sometimes leave you feeling even more insecure. Instead, choose a mindset strategy that works for you, and stick to it. You will find that the right behaviors will come naturally, and both your personality and your skills will shine through.