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Your Definitive A-Z Guide to Interviews
Interviews are inevitable part of job hunting but they don’t need to be something you dread. With the right amount of preparation you can stand out from the other candidates and give yourself a much better chance of getting that job.
Here is my tried and tested A-Z guide for interviews.
If the letter inviting you to an interview is rather vague, don’t just accept it. It will be time to ask some questions, so give HR a call and ask for a few more details. It’s advisable to have names and job titles of your interviewer(s) and what the interview agenda will be. Get as many facts as you can since all information will help you focus in the right areas for your interview. The added bonus for requesting this information is that the HR department will remember your high level of professionalism which will give them a very good first impression of you.
Always prepare at least 3 questions to ask at your interview. These should be appropriate to the role or to the company – but don’t try and be clever in asking a question to catch out your interview panel, it will put them right off you. Good question areas are: the products and/or services provided by the company, training procedures and career progression.
If you think you have the confidence to ask questions during the interview as opposed to just at the end please do so, it will demonstrate you are engaged in the interview process and are interested in the role. Take care not to interrupt the interviewer with your questions though, always be patient and let them finish talking before jumping in.
Even if you are nervous, anxious or scared out of your wits, a positive body language will do you well and boost your confidence no end. A firm handshake, an honest smile, holding your head high and shoulders back and making eye contact, will all be remembered by the interviewers as you being a positive and likable candidate.
You may want to take notice of some of your habits you have when you are nervous or being slightly economical with the truth, for example, picking your nails, fiddling with your hair, rubbing your nose, scratching your face etc. The interviewers may not pick up on what these habits represent, but it will definitely distract them. Its better that they listen to what you have to say as opposed to being mesmerised by how often you stick your finger in your ear!
What is your ‘listening look’? For many years I used to frown when I was concentrating on what someone was saying – unfortunately their perception of me was that I was angry with them. Now that I am aware I do this, I have changed my ‘listening look’ by relaxing my face to avoid that frown.
What do you look like when you concentrate?
Do you look angry, bored, confused? How can you check?
Well you can ask someone who’s opinion you trust and get then to talk to you. Concentrate hard on what they are saying and then get them to give you feed back on how you look. You can discuss any adjustments that need to be made to change your ‘listening look’ to something more positive.
Ensure you have a copy of your up-to-date CV with you at the interview. It is unlikely you will need to refer to it, but it will make you feel more confident having it with you. Make sure you are well versed on your CV; there is nothing worse than trying to remember where you worked 5 years ago and fumbling around in your head to recall what you did.
If you find yourself in a situation where the interview has dipped and the mood has taken a down turn – stay calm. Humour can help here but don’t go too crazy, just put on a smile and explain how nervous you are and be positive. Take a deep breath and carry on. Showing your honesty and the appreciation of the situation with a positive spin will be acknowledged and appreciated by your interviewer(s). Remember there is nothing wrong in saying you are nervous, they are probably nervous too.
If there is one thing I enforce more than anything else to my clients it is this: be enthusiastic about the job! Even if it sounds like the dullest job on the planet, you can still show enthusiasm. Enthusiasm is highly infectious and it’s something that companies cannot train. Given the choice between 2 candidates – one with skills and no enthusiasm and one with hardly any experience and bags of energy and enthusiasm – the job will mostly likely be offered to the enthusiastic candidate. Remember: companies are happy to invest time in training for the job role, they won’t want to bother training someone to have a positive attitude.
It is important that the interviewers realise that you will fit in with the team or department. Showing you are approachable and friendly is just as important as having a strong skills set in the job itself.
Yes first impressions do count. Ensure you have the simplest of things sorted: Clean polished shoes, freshly laundered and ironed clothes. If you are a smoker avoid having a quick ciggie right before the interview as the smell will linger, if you are desperate though, make sure you have mints or mouth freshener to hand. Avoid very tight fitting clothes or clothes that will irritate you.
- Ladies: Take care on the jewellery and make-up, a classic look is best. I have interviewed ladies with glitter lipstick and wearing enough jewellery to put Goldsmith’s to shame. Avoid showing to much skin even on a hot day (that includes décolletage!). Make sure there are no holes in tights/stockings and it’s always a good idea to pack a spare pair discretely in your bag – just in case.
- Gentlemen: Ensure your aftershave is not going to knock out a rhino at 20 paces; less is best. Facial hair is OK as long as it’s neat and tidy. Avoid ‘builder’s cleavage’ when you bend down, so ensure your shirt is tucked in well.
Make sure you have done your research on the company and the role as much as you can. Try and remember a few facts about the company, as it will be highly likely they will ask a few questions in this area at the start of the interview. By making a little effort in your research, you will gain a lot of head way at the interview. I am always amazed at the number of candidates who do not bother doing this.
Your preparation can in some instances go against you, especially if you have done prep work weeks in advance of the interview. Be ready to be intuitive with your answers and tweak your responses accordingly, rather than regurgitating what you have rehearsed and sounding like a robot.
“Just one more thing”
This is what I call the Columbo technique. For those of you who missed out on the fabulous 70’s detective series, our genius detective Columbo would ask loads of questions to the prime suspect. He would then leave the room, the suspect would then relax and then Columbo would suddenly reappear and say the classic line “..just one more thing ” and then deliver the killer question while the suspect was completely off guard.
This can happen to you at the end of the interview. So if you think everything is drawing to an end, please stay in interview mode until you actually physically leave the building…you never know, they could ask that make or break question as you are shaking their hand good bye.
Killer skill set
Don’t just think of qualifications and experience when preparing for your interview, chances are you will have a fabulous skill set too. It is very usual for all of us to play down what we do so well. If you made a list of all your skills most, if not all, would be transferable to anything you decide to do.
Remember soft skills are just as important as hands-on skills. So if you are an excellent negotiator, good listener, a natural leader or you just have the ability to brighten a persons day, then remember to mention this and prepare examples where you can illustrate your excellent talents.
I have put luck in this list as a number of my clients insist that getting the job is more about luck than it is about anything else. I don’t agree, if you have done your preparation, dressed according, have a positive attitude with lots of enthusiasm you will definitely be short listed or better still offered the role.
Unless asked, refrain from asking about money/salary or any other job perks at the interview. If you are asked any salary related questions by the interviewer, then by all means answer appropriately. What you want to avoid is to be seen as only wanting the job for the money. Even in a sales environment where salary and bonuses are a huge motivating factor; interest in the company and product are vitally important and are very appreciated.
We all get nervous prior to an interview even the interviewers. Nerves are good, it means adrenalin is pumping which will help you focus and think on your feet. Avoid using negative coping mechanisms such a drugs and alcohol to calm your nerves. Instead, you can look to Bach natural flower remedies, deep breathing exercises or positive affirmations to help you feel really confident.
Especially to other people’s opinions. This is particularly important if you are in a group interview setting and you have to deal with other people’s opinions as well as your own. It is important to be able to express yourself without alienating others.
With certain interview techniques, some very emotive questions may be asked just to see how you react. Be honest but fair and if in doubt use something like the ‘sandwich technique’ where you say something positive prior to saying something controversial (or negative) and then follow up with something positive or neutral at the end. This will ensure the interviewers are under no illusion that you can handle opinions in a balanced way.
Like all things in life, preparation is key to success. Please don’t go into an interview thinking you can wing-it!
You may want to consider some of the following:
- Working out the travel times to the place of interview
- Research on the company and position
- Presentation (if required)
- Your interview questions to ask interviewers
- Clothes and shoes
- Getting a good night sleep the night before
- Eating something at least 30 minutes prior to the interview
- Keeping hydrated (good for the brain)
Now this is an interesting one and really depends on which industry you are going for an interview in. I have had clients in the past who are very individual and quirky in their appearance and lifestyle. They are keen to show their true selves at an interview, but unfortunately this can go against you. So if you fall into this category please be aware of the industry you are trying to get a job in.
If you are going for a job in the fashion or media/music industry individuality is crucial, it would be perfectly acceptable to show piercings, tattoos, modern hair cuts and hi-fashion clothing at your interview. However if you are going for a role in an industry slightly more conservative, for example, the pharmaceutical or banking industry, sporting a Mohican or wearing fetish stilettos to your interview would not be advisable.
If you are unsure of your interview ‘look’, check out the company’s website, have a look at the photos of the staff (even if it is just stock footage), this should give you a feel for what they expect of their personnel. If there are no clues from the website, by all means check back with the recruitment agency or ask a reliable friend for advice on your attire.
Resist the urge to tell the interviewer(s) your whole life story. Nerves can play havoc with self censorship and you might feel the urge to share that really ‘funny’ story when you were really drunk on B52 cocktails in Turkey and ended up at a nightclub waving your pants in the air….
Resist the urge to be really, really honest, saying that you only want the job is because you need something to pay the bills, this is not acceptable.
Resist moaning and complaining especially about your previous or current employers (or role). Warning! Many industries are small, and the chances of your interviewer knowing someone at your old or current place of work is very likely – so you could find your self slagging-off their best friend.
Smiling instantly builds rapport with the interviewers, and don’t be put off if they don’t smile back. You may have found yourself in an old fashioned interview technique of god cop – bad cop. Ensure your smile is genuine – a fake smile will be spotted a mile away.
Take your time
Don’t gabble your words and if you feel like you are rushing, then ask for a few moments to gather your thoughts or better still ask if the question could be repeated at the end of the interview so you can buy yourself some time to think.
Understand what is expected of you
Will there be a test? Will there be a group interview with other candidates? Will you be interviewed by a panel of interviewers? Will you being attending a lunch etc
These are all important aspects of the interview that you know before you step into the interview….remember ask and gather the information that you need.
Value who you are
High self esteem is important and body language and grooming will do well for you here. There is nothing wrong with saying how good you are at something, how successful a project was or what fabulous process you implemented in you current role.
The trick here is to be confident without being arrogant. Interviews are a great opportunity to tell the world how good you are and why you are the right person for the job. No one else can do that for you, so get comfortable in talking about yourself in a positive way.
You might find a combination of nerves, and enthusiasm might cause you to wade in with answers before the interviewer has even finished the question. STOP. Slow down, let them finish and then take a few seconds to think about what you are going to say. It’s better to take a few moments and seem thoughtful, than to rush in and regret what falls out of your mouth.
It is absolutely totally unacceptable to use expletives (swear words) during your interview. This may seem like common sense but I am always amazed, or rather shocked at some of the language used during interview process. If you are someone who has a natural habit of using strong language in your everyday dialogue, then please be aware of this and self censor accordingly. Some interviews can be very laid back and even if the interviewer uses mildly offensive language, please do not follow suit.
It is important to bring an essence of you to the interview. It is very likely that all the candidates for the interview will say roughly the same thing in their responses to interview questions. What’s important is bringing your own experiences to the interview so they get a sense of you, who you are and how you will fit into to the organisation. It is also vital that you know your strengths and weaknesses.
Be careful here, if asked what your weaknesses are, make sure they are relevant to work (no need to say you cry every time you watch a Disney film) and also end it on a positive note.
For example, “I like to have things organised really well so spend extra time on planning and preparation, some may think this is a weakness because of the time I spend doing this, however it can also be considered a strength since good preparation work is vital and saves time in the long run“.
Zest for life
It is important to show you have a life outside of work; the key here is to make sure you have a good life-work balance. It’s absolutely fine to show you are sociable, but take care you are not describing yourself as a party animal. The interviewers will unfortunately have visions of you rolling into work with hangovers or not being focused on your work.
If asked about your hobbies please feel free to express what you do. Team sports are good, as are hobbies or interests that are very different from your working subject. If you love your work so much that you don’t have any outside interests it might be advantageous to consider bringing some balance to your life and discover some outside interests.
And finally… always thank the interviewers at the end, ask when you would hope to hear from them and say that you are still very interested in the role, even if you are not. It is better that you make the decision if you want the job, rather than the interviewers deciding if they want you!
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