When you are invited to an interview it means that the hiring manager believes you may be a good match for the job opening, and he or she wants to know for sure. The interview is used to determine whether you are qualified for the position. Also one important thing as the job seeker is, you should make use of the interview to determine whether you can be successful in the available position.
A candidate who can answer questions in a way which is acceptable, but not necessarily right, to the interviewer, someone who knows something about their potential employers business and the post they hope to fill. These are really the basic components of any candidate who ‘interviews well’. There are undoubtedly other aspects employers may look for in relation to specific posts – having their own ideas, thinking on their feet, aspects which will be related to the job and to the company’s preference in employees.
The key to successful interviews
We all know the main aim of the job interview. Your potential employer has worked through the entire laborious process and if you’re still in the game, you’d have to assume that you now have a reasonable chance of landing the job. The interview is without doubt the most stressful point of the job search process for the job seeker and also the one that counts most.
Your potential employer has received a pile of applications and CV’s. These have been weeded through. Now it’s time to put faces to the paperwork and ask probing, insightful questions to determine the perfect candidate for the prized position. But, as we also all know, what we aim for isn’t what always happens. It’s the person who gives the best interview who wins — whether they’re the best one for the job or not.
One important point to remember is that we are only human. And so too are our interviewers. Some of us perform badly in interviews. And sometimes our interviewers perform badly, too. There are times we go in poorly prepared. And occasionally, they do too. Sometimes we ask foolish questions. And sometimes they ask questions they have no right to ask. Whatever happens, don’t be disheartened. See every interview as a learning experience. If you are not successful, ring and ask for feedback. Determine what you did well and where you need to improve.
See the interview as a competition — one in which there is rarely a prize for coming second. So you have to win. And before you can win any competition, you need to prepare for it. Identify four or five of your most valuable strengths, thinking along the lines of personal qualities. These could include the ability to stay calm while other around you are panicking; commitment; willingness to work long hours; lateral thinking; team leader, team player, sense of humour. Prepare an example of how you have demonstrated each of these strengths and make sure you get an opportunity to mention them somewhere during the interview. At the same time confront some of your weaknesses. While you don’t need to share these with your interviewer/s, you don’t necessarily want to land yourself a job you will hate.
Demonstrate a “good fit”
List the requirements of the job point by point, then match your experience to the appropriate requirements. Learn them. But make sure that, when the opportunity arises, they come out naturally and spontaneously — don’t regurgitate them in an obviously rehearsed way. If you’re truly lucky, a less than total match will be overlooked. But if a gap is mentioned, try to stress your enthusiasm to learn.
If they’re right onto you and probe deeply, accept that you need experience in that area. Counter any negative impact by pointing out a previous situation where you were ‘thrown in at the deep end’ and you demonstrated a rapid learning curve.
Know the organisation
If you can’t demonstrate some interest in how the company makes their money, they’re unlikely to offer you any of it. The more you can find out about the following, the better: company size, form, locations and divisions; products and services, target market; culture and reputation; financial performance and history, including turnover, profitability and exports;major competitors.
If it is a small company that is unlisted on the stock exchange, you could be limited to word-of-mouth. But if it is a listed company you can research in libraries, trade references and newspapers.
Review your CV
Read your CV carefully to remind yourself of your past achievements and identify areas to highlight at the interview. You got to the interview stage because the interviewer saw something in the CV that appealed. Identify what it is.
Practise answering likely questions on your past history that show the following. A logical progression from one position to the next. Positive reasons for moving rather than negative ones or fickle rationales. How your experience has been built by each successive employer and is now available to the new company.
Plan the journey
Plan your route carefully. Allow for delays and traffic jams. Plan to arrive at least 15 minutes before the interview so that you’re relaxed. Arrive at the interview venue no more than five minutes early. Use the time to soak up the atmosphere of the company and mentally go over what you want to say.
Dress comfortably but presentably. If in doubt, err on the side of conservatism, avoiding loud ties, bright socks or esoteric clothing. Make sure your shoes are clean and avoid overpowering aftershave/perfume. Dress in dark blue, black. Darker outfits give an image of control, while lighter ones tend to show a need for attention. Make sure that you are still well presented if you take off your jacket.
At the interview
You’re prepared, on time, perfectly groomed for the role and ready to convince them that you’re the person they need. Along with the other applicants, you will have been allocated a certain amount of time in which to convince the interviewer or panel of interviewers. It’s also worthwhile pointing out that the interviewers too are in the spotlight to an extent. Even the most thorough pre-application research cannot tell you certain things about the company or the job. So the recruiter/employer is selling the company and position to you as well.
Make a good first impression
The first impression is always the strongest and most lasting. Be friendly, but not over-friendly. Leave the smart, witty rejoinders for another time. Create a positive first impression by offering a firm, non-bone crunching, handshake and make direct eye contact.
Deal with nerves
Being nervous is normal and most experienced interviewers understand this. And it rarely harms your chances if you acknowledge your nervousness. However, excessive nervousness can work against you — especially if you continually apologise for it. It makes other applicants, who are more relaxed and confident, seem more attractive. Also many people tend to be overly talkative when nervous. If you fall into this category, try not to go off on tangents. Stick to the question being asked and answer it concisely. You will control your nervousness more effectively if you have taken the time to practise answering questions before the interview.
Interviews aren’t supposed to be grilling sessions. The intention behind a good interview is to find out more about you, while you find out more about them. In other words, to get a good match between the person and the job. Interviews should be a two-way street. Probing, intelligent questions can help the employer to evaluate your professional and personal needs. Your chance of being successful increases when the employer believes that the position will be mutually beneficial. Consider bringing a notepad and pen to take notes of answers to your questions and pertinent facts and figures. It shows you have come prepared and are taking the opportunity seriously.
Answer honestly and completely
Answer questions honestly. Avoid the temptation to overly embellish your experience, qualifications and abilities. If you’re questioned deeply about a fact that you’ve creatively enhanced, your credibility could disappear. On the other hand, try to avoid giving blunt “yes” or “no” answers. They reveal nothing. Certainly, a “closed” question (“Do you perform well under pressure?”), generally indicates an unskilled interviewer. You could simply answer “yes” but this doesn’t help you. If you get a closed question, give a brief but comprehensive response. Use it as an opportunity to sell yourself. “Yes, it gets the adrenalin going and I get a real sense of achievement. But I also like to plan and manage my time so as to avoid crises when possible.” As a general rule of thumb, try not to speak longer than two minutes at a time and never dominate the conversation.
The recruiter must feel in control.
Furthermore, in What Colour is your Parachute, Richard Bolles points out that studies have shown that people who mix listening and speaking activities roughly 50/50 have a greater chance of getting hired.
Avoid making negative judgements and criticisms of past employers and companies — even if encouraged — unless you want interviewers to make the following judgements: you’re a “know-all”; you’re a “buck-passer” who refuses to accept responsibility for your own performance;
you’d criticise this organisation and its members when applying for a future job.
Ask for the job
Don’t be afraid to strongly communicate your desire for the job. Acting cool won’t get you anywhere. An interested candidate always gets the offer over the non-interested candidate.
Here is an example of how you might phrase it
“I’m very interested in what you’re doing here and the products you’re developing. The working environment appears pleasant and the people I’ve met seem knowledgeable. It’s a very interesting opportunity and I believe with my background I could make a significant contribution.”