Interviews are far from being the perfect method of assessing a person’s ability to perform in a particular role.
Some large companies improve on the basic interview by running ‘assessment centers’ which provide a more in-depth evaluation, usually over several hours or even a few days. However, for most job hunters, success or failure depends on a single interview lasting perhaps 45 minutes.
From the employer’s point of view, the interview has a twofold purpose.
Firstly, they need to find out whether the candidate has the necessary ‘skills and qualifications’ for the job.
The second objective, often overlooked by employers, is to ‘brief’ the applicant and ‘sell’ the concept of working for the organization.
Even if you are rejected, there should be a feeling of ‘goodwill’ in case a more-appropriate position arises in the future. Unfortunately, very few interviews pan-out like that and you are much more likely to be faced with the aggressive type who regards the interview as a gladiatorial contest.
You may also meet totally-unprepared interviewers who have been drafted-in at the last moment or ‘timid’ interviewers who find the proceedings more stressful than the candidates.
In fact, most interviews assessments are based on an unscientific ‘gut-feel’ for your personality which can be rather difficult to judge if neither side has much to say. Always, the best strategy is to prepare thoroughly, assume that you will do most of the talking and take control of the interview if necessary.
A job interview is an exchange of information between you (to find out about the company) and the company (to find out about you).
But you must be prepared.It is important to think about how you might answer certain types of question beforehand but you should also consider the competencies they are looking for (as detailed in the job description/person specification/advert) as well as actual questions. How will you provide evidence of certain qualities? If you are asked about being a team player, what evidence will you use to show this.
Self – Assessement
Remind yourself of the messages you have conveyed through your CV/application form and to be prepared to discuss anything you have included. Read through your application and imagine you are the interviewer. What questions would you ask in their position? Make sure you can give at least one positive example (preferably more) for each of the skills and attributes the employer is seeking.
Ask yourself these questions:
• Why do I want this job?
• Why should this organization select me?
• What are my ambitions?
• What are my strengths and weaknesses?
• What have I gained from my degree?
• What skills have I gained from my work-related and extracurricular activities?
About the Job
What? – You will want to find out details of things like:
• Who you report to
• Training opportunities
• Pay and conditions
How? – You can find out from:
• The job advertisement
• A job description
• A preliminary telephone conversation with employer or consultant
• Personal contacts
About the Company
What? – Things you might want to find out about include:
• Ownership (public, private, part of a group)
How? – You can find out from:
• Annual reports
• Sales literature
• House magazines
• The Internet
• Preliminary telephone conversation with employer or consultant
Researching the employer is well worth the effort as most will assume that no knowledge equals no interest.
Current affairs commercial awareness
Whatever the position you are applying for, don’t be surprised if you are asked for your views on current affairs and issues of the day. An interview won’t be a general knowledge test but you should have a general idea and understanding of what is going on in the world at large.
Make sure that you are:
• Clean (fingernails, hair, shoes).
• Smart (wear clothes that are comfortable and that are suitable for the job/company). If in doubt, be more formal than not. Men should avoid short-sleeved shirts and gimmicky ties or socks. Socks, by the way, should never be white. Women should avoid very short skirts, very high heels and heavy make-up.
• Don’t overdo perfume, aftershave, or jewellery.
Plan the Journey
• Ask for a map or directions.
• Decide on your route and method of transport.
• Allow plenty of time.
• If you intend to drive, check car parking arrangements.
• Take the company’s phone number with you in case of delay.
• Think positive.
• Think about your strengths.
• Believe in yourself.
• Believe that you can get the job.
If you are very nervous, you may want to investigate ways to relax before your interview.
• Try visualization exercises as part of your preparation. Relax and visualize yourself being enthusiastic and successful at the forthcoming interview. Preparing yourself for success can make success a more likely outcome.
• Try positive affirmations to eliminate any negative feelings. Identify your main concern about the interview (eg ‘everyone else will be better than me’) and write yourself a positive statement, in the first person and in the present tense, to address it. You might try ‘I am the strongest candidate for the job’. Relax and say your positive affirmation to yourself – out loud if you can – at the start of the day and repeat it whenever you are feeling nervous.
First impressions are important. An interview may last for 30 minutes or more but studies have shown that someone forms judgments about you within four minutes of meeting you and that these judgments affect their subsequent impressions. Research shows that first impressions are made up of the following:
• 80% of interviews are decided in the first four minutes.
• 55% visual impact, ie dress, facial expressions and body language.
• 38% tone of voice.
• 7% from what you actually say.
So it is important to make a good impression from the start:
• Be punctual or do plan to arrive at least 15 minutes early as there is nothing more irritating than hanging around waiting for people to show-up.
• Be courteous – the security guard, receptionist, secretary – anyone of them may influence the interviewer in some way and your attitude and behavior to them may be significant
• Shake hands firmly, smile and try to relax.
• Sit well back in the chair, sit upright and be comfortable. Do not slouch. Slouching or leaning too far back in your chair can give the impression that you are too casual about the whole thing. If you tend to flap your hands around a lot when you speak, try to hold them together. However, don’t cross your arms as it can make you appear defensive. Moderate hand movements are perfectly acceptable and can enliven the conversation
• Listen to what the interviewer is actually saying and not what you think they are saying.
• The style, tone and delivery of your voice. Try not to talk too fast and keep your tone moderate. This can be difficult when you are nervous but take a deep breath before you start to answer a question and work on keeping your answers concise. Rehearse your answers beforehand and monitor your speed and tone. Don’t use slang and watch out for too many ‘ers’ and ‘ums’. Practicing beforehand, especially in front of someone else, can help you identify any bad habits.
• Make eye contact. Good eye contact is essential and is an excellent way of conveying your interest in the job. Looking downwards or at anything other than the interviewer can make you appear disinterested and insincere. Maintaining good eye contact can also help you gauge the interviewer’s reaction to what you are saying (to see whether you should be expanding on your answers). With panel interviews, the best advice is to look at and answer the person asking the questions, with a glance from time to time at the other interviewers.
• Always take an up-to-date copy of your CV to the interview and use it as a structure for your presentation. Don’t assume that the interviewer already has one.
During the Interview
The key to a successful interview is a structured presentation putting over all of the information or ‘sales points’ that you wish to convey.
Doubtless, there will be initial small talk to ‘put you at your ease’ but you may need to take the initiative and get down to business if the chit-chat drifts on. As with any speech or presentation, the most difficult part is getting started. Typically, you should go through your career from the beginning but providing more detail on your recent work.
Although your presentation may well be covered in the CV, the employer needs to hear it ‘from the horses mouth’ in order to better assess your ‘depth’ of experience. Your presentation will also be used to assess various ‘personality’ attributes such as confidence, communication skills, motivation and initiative. Use examples from several different experiences, rather than concentrating on just one aspect of your life.
Of course, you should respond to any questions although the well-prepared presentation will have anticipated most of these. For example, it is better to state why you left a particular job rather than being put into the ‘defensive’ position of having to explain yourself.
• Listen carefully to any questions and respond spontaneously – Be sure to ask for clarification if necessary – This not only helps you to answer the question asked but also demonstrates confidence and control.
• If you need a moment’s thinking time, take a sip of water, if available – This will provide you with an opportunity to think. An experienced interviewer will not be impressed by an obviously ‘rehearsed’ or ‘textbook’ answer.
• Be prepared to talk – avoid yes/no answers and expand as often as possible (are guaranteed conversation killers). Don’t, however, over-communicate; it can be tempting to talk too much. Don’t talk yourself out of a job trying to fill silences left by the interviewer! Take your cue from the interviewer and, if you are not sure that they have heard enough, ask if they would like you to continue.
• Honesty is most important as very few candidates are able to sustain lies or exaggeration in the face of competent questioning. Remember that honesty is the best policy – if it is discovered at a later stage that you have been dishonest, you could be dismissed. Admitting to a period of poor motivation during your A-levels shows more integrity than blaming someone else for your grades. Don’t feel that you should cover up incidents like this, rather present them as positive learning experiences.
Towards the end of your structured presentation, you need to give the employer an indication of your current aspirations and why you are interested in their particular vacancy.
Candidates for technical jobs should be prepared to answer technical questions although in-depth technical interviews are rare.
If you don’t know an answer, it is better to say so rather than guessing or arguing the ‘relevance’ of the question.
Technical assessment may take the form of a discussion, a practical test or a written test of which the ‘multiple choice’ variety is the most popular. Do be careful in the use of ‘jargon’, which often means different things to different people – You may well be called upon to explain yourself. In many ways, a formal test is better than the interviewer who asks two favorite questions which inevitably relate to features that the candidate has never used. If you are going for a technical job, be prepared to answer technical questions. “I can look it up in the manual” does not impress.
You may feel that there are certain questions are hard.
These may include questions that appear to be an invitation to shoot yourself in the foot and those asking you to think about yourself in a different way, such as:
• What is your biggest weakness.
• What would you say has been your greatest failure.
• How would your friends describe you.
• If you were an animal/biscuit, what would you be?
One of the reasons that questions like these are asked at all is to see how you react. Relax, be honest, keep in mind the points that you want to make about yourself and turn the matter around so that you can emphasize the positive whilst minimizing weaker areas. In answer to the first question, you might say that you tend to be a perfectionist, which can cause time management problems but that you have realized this and now ensure you allocate your time effectively to meet deadlines.
The same strategy can also be used with questions asking you to think about yourself in a different way. It is unlikely that your friends would highlight all of the strengths that you would like to lay claim to but the question focuses very much on your relationships with other people. Your answer could cover your loyalty, your understanding or your readiness to help. The problem is that it is sometimes difficult to say things like ‘my friends think I’m loyal…’ without sounding presumptuous and you may find it easier to preface these glowing attributes with, ‘I think that my friends would say…’ or ‘I hope that my friends would say…’.
Employers will sometimes ask stupid questions. Just answer as politely as you can and keep any negative feelings well-hidden.
• Be yourself. Unless you are a trained actor, your attempts at acting will be unconvincing.
• Be concise. A far more-useful area of preparation is to work out what is you want to say bearing in mind that ‘content is more important than style’.
• Stay alert. Always be prepared for interviews under less-than-ideal conditions which might include constant interruptions, several interviewers or even the recording of your performance.
Candidates can be surprisingly cagey when it comes to salary discussions. Some ‘experts’ will tell you not to mention salary until the employer has made an offer. Most employers are disinclined to make an offer unless they feel that it will be accepted – They don’t like being rejected any more than you do.
Towards The End
The candidate will benefit from showing enthusiasm for the job. So when they use the favorite winding-up technique of asking “do you have any questions about us?” you should always have a couple ‘in hand’ just to demonstrate your interest.
Prepare two or three questions that you would really like answered. This can be a good opportunity to reveal positive aspects about yourself that the interviewer’s questions may not have elicited. Good questions to ask are those that demonstrate your eagerness to develop within the organization and take on responsibility. Questions about training or what the process is for progression in the company are also a good idea but make sure these are relevant to the organization (saying you would like to develop to managing director as quickly as possible in a company of ten people is not realistic and may put an interviewer off). This is also a good opportunity for you to demonstrate your research into the organization by asking questions about relevant articles you may have read.
Do not, however, proceed to interrogate the employer at length. Many interviewers can be deliberately ‘inscrutable’ and it is often quite difficult to judge how well you have done.
Furthermore, they will usually need to consult others before a job is offered – Not all employers follow our advice of “if you like them – tell them”. It is always worth asking, without being presumptuous, when you are likely to learn the result of the interview.
Finally, do leave a positive impression by thanking the interviewer(s) for their time and consideration.