Be Assertive During Job Interviews

Being assertive is a great skill that everyone should learn to apply throughout their careers – from job interviews to the daily 9 to 5.
The gradsingapore Team

Assertiveness is about finding a happy medium between aggressiveness ("I am the best thing that's going to happen to your organisation.") and passivity ("Well... I'm not sure how well I can perform on this job. I can give it a try... I guess."). 

It is also about striking a balance between your needs and the demands of your colleagues, boss, and clients.

Translated into the interview arena, this means staying in control and treating the interview as a two-way process (think of it as a "meeting" or a "conversation" if it helps), with clear, calm, and frank communication.

Here are some ways you can accomplish this!

Assertive Communication

• Smile: Always look directly at your interviewer and smile. If you're being interviewed by a panel, take time to look at each interviewer in turn.

• Repeat key facts: Got an important detail that you want to highlight? Mention it, and then summarise it again! If you think it deserves another mention later, do so, but be careful not to come across as pedantic.

• Find equal trade-offs: Do not be intimidated into accepting a one-sided bargain. Your agreement should outline a win-win scenario, where you and the employer both gain, e.g. they offer training while you offer your passion and commitment.

• Don't panic: “Why should I hire you even though your grades are low?” Don’t be pressured into giving an instant response. Instead, buy time by asking the interviewer to clarify the question, or by asking for some time to think it through.

• Ask questions: Show your intelligence, maturity, enthusiasm and curiosity by asking questions about the company’s role and the industry. Questions about working at the organisation are also an indication of your desire to fit in.

• "I" vs "We": Use the first person singular, rather than “we” if you want to highlight your contributions: “I led my group in X project” or “I was responsible for budget Y” and “I learned from my mistakes...”

• Slow down: Breathe deeply, and pace your speech so you don’t speed-talk.

• Have realistic goals: It’s OK to say “I need a role where I’m expected to perform and offer excellent service”, but not so to say that “I want to run this place within 18 months.”

• Break the ice: Don’t be afraid to start a conversation with your recruiters – it shows courage and can even help you to relax! That said, avoid making extremely personal comments (“Wow, you’re really beautiful!”). Keep things neutral: the impressive office, the busy traffic, and the beautiful weather are all safe topics.

Active listening

• Don't interrupt: Don’t interrupt and form your own assumptions of what the recruiter might be asking or saying before (s)he finishes. You wouldn’t want to spend 15 minutes answering a question, only to find that you’ve misunderstood the recruiter!

• Nod and acknowledge: Every once in a while, nod and acknowledge the recruiters. If necessary, make brief comments to indicate that you’re listening (“yes” and “uh huh” works). Don’t nod excessively, though!

• Paraphrase: Occasionally, paraphrase what the interviewer has told you about their organisation, from their frame of reference. It shows that you’re taking things in. Ask questions, too, if needed. 

• Prepare: Convince yourself to settle into a ready state – physically, mentally, and emotionally – to listen to the recruiter. Pay attention to the recruiter’s words and actions instead of getting distracted by your own thoughts.

• Echo their language: Establish rapport by echoing the language used by the interviewer to describe their approach to problems and solutions. For example, do they "Feel the outcome is..." or "See the outcome as being...?"

• Body language: Mimic the interviewer’s body language to build connection, but don’t overdo it! Responding with the appropriate facial expression is important too. Looking bored as you listen definitely isn’t the way to go!


Don't forget about the "Bill of Assertive Rights" for interviewees too!

  1. You have the right to look your interviewer in the eye and feel OK.
  2. You have the right to praise your own achievements, even if no one else has bothered to.
  3. You have the right to ask intelligent questions.
  4. You have the right to say "I don't know" or "Sorry, I don't understand the question."
  5. You have the right to have made mistakes in the past – and to be honest about them.
  6. You have the right to change your mind in an interview.
  7. You have the right to bring your résumé into the interview room and refer to it if it helps.
  8. You have the right to crack intelligent jokes once in a while and get your interviewers laughing.
  9. You have the right to say "I'm capable of doing this job," if that's what you honestly believe.
  10. You have the right to say "I don't want this job" if you really don't want it.