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Advice / Job Search / Networking

How to Handle Yourself on an Interview When You Know the Hiring Manager (Well)

When I first started job searching, I was pretty terrified by the idea of interviewing with someone I knew. I mean, how am I supposed to act? This person is the guy or girl who decides if I get the job—and he or she already knows too much about me (and is probably friends with me on social media). Should I pretend I’ve never met him or her and start introducing myself in full detail like any other interview? Do I jokingly bring up that time we got drunk at a holiday party together? Most importantly, what do I do with my hands?

All kidding aside, this kind of case is a pretty unique one, which means it calls for some extra prepping.

So, I turned to the people I knew who have been through this, my wonderful fellow Musers. What they told me was actually pretty reassuring. Now, I’ll break it down for you by situation, because every interview is different depending on the person—and how you originally met.

If You’re Interviewing With a Friend

You’ve had drinks with this person and discussed your relationships and family matters in detail. Or, the two of you used to complain about your boss during coffee breaks at your old company. Now, he’s the person taking notes on your resume and asking about your “greatest weakness”—which seems silly, because you’re pretty sure he could answer that for you.

Muse writer Sara McCord experienced this exact situation with a close friend: “I had an interview with a friend just weeks after a very difficult event in my personal life. I remember her starting the call by expressing her condolences and saying we didn’t have to talk about it. However, I was prepared since I hadn’t yet spoken to her. So along with thanking her, I weaved what was going on into my interview, saying things like how meaningful it was for me to delve into work I cared about, and how excited I was to throw myself into projects like the ones in the job description. That happened to be true—and genuine—which is something friends and interviewers alike appreciate.”

What she got out of this encounter was that you can’t—and shouldn’t—ignore the fact that you know each other—well. Avoiding the elephant in the room makes the situation uncomfortable for both of you. With that said, now’s not the time to rehash any drunken escapades, dating horror stories, or annoying statuses from a mutual Facebook friend. Prepare to bring the conversation back to the position at hand every time it starts to get off track. (And the closer you are, the more likely it is to veer away from professional matters.)

If you’re worried you’re coming off too uptight to someone who knows you better, remember that regardless, it’s still an interview. This person should understand you’re taking the process seriously—and will honestly probably be happy to see your more professional side before vouching for you to her company.

If You’re Interviewing With a Former Manager

This situation should be ideal for you. After all, this person knows you in the professional sense and asked you to come in for an interview. That bodes well. However, it can be tricky for the same reason—this person knows exactly what it’s like to work with you. And, if it’s been awhile, you’re in the position of trying to prove how far you’ve come since you last sat across the table from each other.

The Muse’s Managing Editor Jenni Maier suggests you err on the side of staying professional—but, at the same time, don’t be afraid to reference your past. If, for example, you’re asked to talk about your resume, avoid walking your former boss step-by-step through the job she hired you to do. Odds are this person remembers it well enough and pretending that’s not the case wastes both of your time.

Instead, focus on what this person doesn’t know about you now. What have you accomplished and learned since the last time you worked closely together? Rather than spend too much time reminiscing over those PowerPoints you used to put together, use this time to show him or her how much you’ve grown. And, if you know a particular weakness used to be a pain point for her, bring it up and discuss what you’ve done to overcome it.

If You’re Interviewing With a Networking Contact

If this is the case, congrats—you have a knack for networking! That being said, you’re not over the hurdle yet, and this time, you won’t have a glass of wine in front of you.

For McCord, her initial interaction with her future hiring manager wasn’t for a job: “I’d just moved to a new city and been connected with someone through a networking contact. Well, over our initial cup of coffee, while we discussed the local nonprofit landscape, she mentioned that she would be leaving her job soon—and her position sounded amazing! I applied, and a few weeks later, found myself interviewing with her. And that was slightly problematic since I’d recently just spoke with her casually for 45 minutes about all kinds of non-career-related things.”

There are two lessons to be learned from this: One, that you should keep things professional when networking, because you never know what it will lead to. Two, if you end up interviewing, this person is first and foremost your hiring manager—and not your new buddy who shares your interest in happy hour cocktails.

With that said, there’s nothing wrong starting the meeting off by playing catch-up. Reference the last time you met up and thank him for all the advice and guidance he gave you. Keep your tone friendly and show that you’re pleased to see him, but keep the content professional and focused on the interview at hand. After you get the job, you can consider meeting up again for a more relaxed coffee date.

“I was a little bummed I would have to keep looking around to make friends in a new city—since this person would now be my interviewer—but it was well worth it,” adds McCord.

When it comes to interviewing with someone you know, it’s all about finding a balance. The biggest mistake you can make is walking in over-confident because you think you have nothing to prove. You should still prepare just as thoroughly as you would if the hiring manager was a stranger.

Yet, revel in the fact that it is with someone you already know. So all the awkwardness and anticipation of meeting someone new is gone from the get-go—instead, you can get right into the good stuff.

Photo of woman on interview courtesy of Shutterstock.