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Clearly, there are some people more naturally adept at dealing with the unique pressures of the interview environment than others. But a strong performance in an interview does not depend on natural ability.

It is perfectly possible for you to become proficient by remembering a few straightforward points. The first and most important objective in this process is to learn to present you in the best possible light.

PREPARATION

  • Plan carefully. Do you know where you are going and how to get there?
  • Make sure you know the names of the people who will be interviewing you. Practice saying them if they are difficult to pronounce.
  • There’s no such thing as enough preparation for an interview. Find out everything you can about the company and what it makes or does. Look for current news – show you are up to date.
  • Why does this job exist? What problems will it solve? What are the Key Result Areas?
  • Remember: employers buy experience. Think about what evidence of achievement you can talk about in the interview; rehearse your success stories.
  • Work out what is appropriate in terms of everything you present, including yourself. Look the part, and you will feel it. Dress as if you are already doing the job.
  • Second-guess the employer’s “shopping list” from the job details – what skills / qualities / experience do you have to match?
  • Be your own worst interview nightmare. What is the most difficult question you might have to face? Practice the answer. Practice again.
  • Be upbeat. Employers latch on to negative messages – so don’t give them any.
  • Prepare for rejection. On balance you will be rejected more times than accepted. Even if you don’t get the job, you can learn a huge amount about your perceived market value. Remember there’s a job out there for you somewhere – more people are working n the UK than ever before.
  • You need to find out as much as you can about the job, the organisation and its products or services. Information such as this can be found in the company’s annual report or product report or product literature. In addition, most businesses will include a lot of corporate information on their websites.
  • Do some research into the type of company you’ve applied to – be it public, private or family owned – and its performance in comparison to that of its competitors.
  • Try to get hold of recent industry press to see if the company has been in the news for any major developments. It would look a little remiss if you were unaware of any relevant highly publicised events. Re-read the advertisement, your application and your CV.
  • Establish clearly in your mind what it is you can offer that meets the company’s requirements. It is, after all, your principal task to demonstrate why you are more suited to its needs that the other candidates

PRESENTATION

  • There are a number of straightforward points you should consider:
  • Try to dress appropriately for the job for which you are applying. If you are unsure then err on the side of conventional business attire.
  • Avoid wearing heavy perfume or aftershave.
  • Arrive at your interview around ten minutes early, but no more. The person you are due to meet will inevitably have other commitments before the interview and your early arrival might cause them to rush what they’re doing – which can be very irritating. Also, you will only make yourself more nervous hanging around waiting.
  • Make sure you have had something to eat prior to the interview (nothing heavy, smelly or fizzy!) to avoid any embarrassing stomach growls.
  • Presentation includes your demeanour and behaviour. Make sure you are professional and courteous to any secretaries or administrators. These people work day in, day out with your interviewer and your behaviour will almost inevitably get back to them – be it positive or negative.
  • Whilst you are waiting to be called into your interview take a look around the reception/waiting area. See if there is any further information you can learn about the company from, say, internal magazines, press release, wall charts, etc. Try to leave any extraneous items (coat, umbrella etc.) at reception so you can arrive at the interview uncluttered.

FIRST IMPRESSIONS

  • It has been said again and again, but first impressions can last a long time. In your pursuit of making a good impression, the opening few minutes can be crucial to the manner in which the interview unfolds.
  • The interview environment requires a great deal of self-control and self-awareness. In your desire to impress it is easy to scupper your own chances with a few ill-chosen words. Here are a few pointers:
  • When the interview is winding up it will often be signalled by a comment such as, “Well, I think we’ve covered all aspects of this job. Have you any further questions you would like to ask?” This is a real opportunity to find out more about the company and the position.
  • Write to the interviewer to show your interest in doing the job and in going on to the next stage. Keep it brief.
  • The handshake – make sure your palm is dry, take the other person’s hand firmly and look them in the eye.
  • When invited, sit down. Try to look confident and ready to take part in a business negotiation.
  • Don’t fidget in your seat or fiddle with your hands, pen or watch etc. DO NOT SMOKE unless directly invited to do so (a very uncommon practice these days).
  • Maintain eye contact with your interviewer (but don’t stare!)
  • Try to be as sincere and natural as possible. Enthusiasm, humour and use of hands to emphasise points can all convey a positive message. But be careful. Don’t get carried away and start rambling – keep answers and explanations relevant at all times. Similarly, don’t overdo the charm and wit.
  • A sense of humour is great, and a necessity in the workplace, but an interview isn’t the place to discover you and your potential boss don’t find the same things funny. Take your lead from the interviewer and let any humour in at appropriate junctures.

AT THE INTERVIEW

  • Keep in mind that the interviewer is hoping that you are the right person for the job; they are unlikely to be looking to catch you out.
  • Listen carefully to what is being said. If you need to get a better understanding, repeat or rephrase their question.
  • Be prepared to answer questions about yourself – strengths, weaknesses, success and failures. Many people find such question difficult to answer so it is vital you’ve considered potential answers. Make sure you’ve got answers to all those questions you would least like to be asked.
  • Be prepared to answer ‘topic’ questions, aimed at ascertaining your knowledge of your industry. An example of such as question might be “Who do you think will be our major competitors in 5-10 years?” Having done your preparation and read industry journals, you should be able to make an informed opinion.
  • It is likely that you will also be asked questions on what you have done in the past, since this is a good indicator of how you may perform in the future. The interviewer is looking for you to have handled situations in a positive way and for you to have learned from experience. Describe the outcome in positive terms.
  • You should also prepare yourself for questions the interviewer knows you will find difficult to answer, such as those on controversial subjects. These are designed to see how you react under pressure. Do not blurt out an answer – a short pause conveys thoughtfulness.
  • “Tell us about yourself”. Prepare for the worst – a classic opener that can really throw you. Plan ahead by having presentation statement to cover this.
  • “Where do you see yourself in 5 years’ time?” – if your answer doesn’t ring true for you, it won’t for anyone else. Talk about career plans, and what you want to learn and achieve in the future.
  • “Why do you want this job?” Have a clear answer to this (even if, privately, you’re not sure – you only have to decide when the job offer is in your hand).”What kind of person are you?” Handle questions about personality carefully. Rather than say “I’m an ideas person”, talk about a time when you changed things with a good idea.
  • Why did you leave…?” Employers will probe for reasons for job change. If you are currently out of work, they will probe this, too. Rehearse short, simple, positive “stories” to cover these points. This is not telling lies, just a simple, positive summary.
  • “How will you cope in a crisis?” Have a couple of good examples of past triumphs up your sleeve.
  • “How will you…” questions are beginning to create a future which includes you – so welcome them. Describe what you would do within the organisation as if you are there already. Create the right picture, and the employer won’t be able to imagine a future without you.
  • “What would you do if…?” Some interviewers ask fantasy questions not related to reality, but watch out for questions that are like verbal in-tray exercises. You might be asked to “sell me this pencil sharpener/ paper clip/ biro” – prepare to think on your feet.
  • “What do you need to earn?” Wrong question. Focus on the value you can add to the employer, not your basic needs. Find out what the company is willing to pay, or work out what similar employers pay for good people. Always throw pay questions back to the other side of the net.
  • “What are your weaknesses?” Remember that the recruiter gives far more weight to negative information. Talk about weaknesses that are also strengths, e.g. being demanding of your team, being a perfectionist, pushing hard to get things done.

TRY TO AVOID

  • Don’t spend too much time talking about your early career. Your recent achievements are usually far more relevant.
  • Don’t name-drop. It can backfire spectacularly.
  • Don’t interrupt the interviewer. If you are feeling that things are going well it is easy for your enthusiasm to get the better of you. But it comes across as rude and you may miss the main drive of the interviewer’s question.
  • Whatever you do, don’t pretend you’ve got a better offer. Using this ploy to force the interviewer to a decision may bring them to the wrong one. Do, however, let them know if other people are interviewing you.

CONCLUDING THE INTERVIEW

  • If you have asked questions all the way through, however, you can legitimately say something like, “No, I think that you have explained things very clearly.” And it wouldn’t hurt to add; “I’ve enjoyed our meeting and would very much like to do the job for you. I am confident I could do it well.”
  • If you have not had much opportunity to ask questions, then make sure you have one or two well-chosen points to raise. For example, “How did this position become available?” or, “What kind of training and development opportunities exist with the company?”
  • By all means enquire about the future prospects for promotion but don’t overdo it, you haven’t got this job yet. Find out what the next stage will be then leave quickly and politely.
  • Smile. Handshake. Exit.

AFTER THE INTERVIEW

  • Refer to the positivity of the interview.
  • Let the interviewer know that you understood the task and duties to be undertaken. Confirm that you wish to proceed with your application and your excitement at the prospect of contributing to the organisation.
  • Once the letter is written, reflect on the interview. Were you happy with the way in which you conducted yourself? Did you get across the points you intended? Did you find out what you needed to know?
  • If you have been put forward by a recruitment consultancy, call them as soon as you can to let them know how you got on and to confirm your interest in the job. This will almost certainly be fed back to the interviewer and it will be viewed positively.
  • Don’t worry if you don’t hear for a while. Recruitment can sometimes take many weeks or even months. If, however, they have promised to let you know by a certain date and that day comes and goes, there is no harm in telephoning to see how soon their decision is expected.

Although an interview can be stressful, remember that interviewers want you to succeed. And with the right preparation, presentation, self-confidence and self-control, there is not reason that you won’t.