Succeeding at interviews
Reaching the interview stage is a mark of success in itself. It means your CV has already identified you as a serious candidate. Having convinced the interviewer on paper that you are capable of doing the job, you now have the opportunity to demonstrate your suitability in a face to face discussion so job interview preparation is essential.
Don’t think of the interview as a test. You are not simply there to answer questions: you are there to discuss the role with the interviewer and explore the extent to which your abilities and aspirations match the company’s needs. It’s as much about compatibility as competence. The interviewer needs to find out if you are right for the company, and you need to find out if the company is right for you. We’ve compiled the following interview tips and questions which will prove handy when formulating your ideal interview preparation check list.
Research the position
Attempt to find out as much as possible about the position that is available. You may request that a job description be sent to you. Know what is expected in the position for which you are applying. Visit with any contacts you may have in the organisation. Employer expectations run very high regarding your readiness for the interview.
Research the company
Find out as much as possible about the organisation’s purpose and/or products. Read any information that the organisation publishes such as annual reports, newsletters, and brochures. You can contact the organisation’s public relations department to request such literature. Visit with your contacts at the organisation and persons who are very familiar with its operations. Researching the organisation prior to the interview not only saves an interviewer’s time in explaining basic company opportunities and information, but also displays your initiative and interest in pursuing a career with the organisation.
Knowing yourself and being able to determine what you are really looking for can lead you to a successful interview. Based on what you know about the opening and the organisation, list whatever traits and skills are needed for the job. Now, consider your experience, skills, and strengths in terms of the qualifications for the job. Identify examples of activities or work experience where you have used skills you have listed as necessary for the position. Think about your career goals and be able to state them clearly.
Formulate questions to ask the interviewer
Analyse the job description and prepare a list of questions you may like to ask. For example: “What would you see as my first priority if I am appointed to this position?” “What training and promotional opportunities are there?” “Why has the job become available?” “Who will I report to?”
Naturally, many of these questions may be answered without you having to ask them, but if you are prepared in advance you will make sure you get all the information you need.
Remember the interview is a 2-way process and this is your opportunity to increase your understanding of the employer, the personnel, the job, and future opportunities. This information will help assess whether the job and company are the right employer for you. You might be interested to ask:
- “What is the company culture like?”
- “What are the people like in the team?”
- “What attracted you to this company?”
- “What do you think is the best thing about working here?”
Anticipate some likely interview questions
On the basis of your CV and the job description, you can probably anticipate many of the question the interviewer is likely to ask. Once again, put yourself in the shoes of the interviewer when researching how to prepare for a job interview. What will she be looking for? Typical questions include:
- “What qualifications or experience do you have that would make you a success in this company?”
- “What jobs have you enjoyed most? The least? Why?”
- “What have you done that shows initiative?”
- “Why do you want this position?”
- “What’s important to you in your job?”
It’s also important to identify any subjects or areas that might create problems for you and make sure you have a response you are happy with.
- “Have you ever been made redundant?”
- “What do you think of your current boss?”
- “Are you ready for a job like this?”
Your ability to give brief, focused and reassuring answers to sensitive questions like these will greatly help if you’re assessing how to respond to interview questions. This approach will also strengthen your prospects of success.
Concentrate on relaxing
Before going to the interview, concentrate on relaxing and acting naturally. Focus on your positive skills and strengths. You will not project your qualifications adequately if you are nervous and tense.
Dress for success
The most important thing in dressing appropriately for an interview is to wear clothes in which you feel comfortable, yet look neat, professional, and well-groomed. Your appearance is an important factor in the employer’s decision, as research shows that the first four to nine minutes of an interview will affect the outcome. Proper attire can create an impression of professionalism and leadership and is a foundation on how to interview well.
Dress to reflect your competence, your function, and your comfort. Be sure to consider the organisation’s dress code and watch for styles preferred by the organisation’s leaders. Company literature can often be helpful. Observe the photographs and check for styles, colours, and formality of dress.
It is often said that you have only one chance to make a first impression. Because first impressions are lasting, it is important to wear clothing that is appropriate to the serious nature of the interview. Strive to present a professional, somewhat understated appearance. We suggest a business suit (men or women) in a subdued, conservative colour. Avoid the “Casual Friday” look even if the company dress code is casual. You want them to remember you-not how you were dressed.
First things first
- Arrive 10 to 15 minutes before the interview is scheduled. Giving yourself some extra time reduces your anxiety and gives you the opportunity to mentally prepare for the interview.
- Think about something pleasant in your life, take a few deep breaths, and allow yourself to relax.
When greeting the interviewer, be pleasant, smile, and shake hands firmly, but not aggressively (it is appropriate for the candidate to initiate the gesture). Maintain eye contact and introduce yourself in a confident manner.
Remember to send confident, energetic, non-verbal signals before saying anything (smile, posture, dress, walk, etc.). Body language is a powerful tool: lean forward, make eye contact, and look interested, but don’t exaggerate.
Learn the names of all the people who are interviewing you. Use their correct name(s) in the discussion, if possible, and make sure to pronounce/spell names correctly (try to learn them in advance).
When you get to the interview room, remain standing until you are offered a seat. Once seated, show a reserved confidence. Let the interviewer start the dialogue and listen until you are prompted to talk.
During the interview . . .
Be courteous and professional when visiting with everyone at the organisation. The secretary is often asked of her opinion of the candidates, so treat all members with respect and professionalism.
Answer questions in terms of your skills and accomplishments. Give examples of how you have used your skills. Avoid general statements such as “I want to utilise my education and ability” and “I like to work with people.” Focus your responses based on previous experiences relating to the employer’s needs and how your skills can contribute.
Avoid writing notes during the interview; however, immediately following the interview, take a few moments to jot down key points.
NEVER make negative comments about former employers or co-workers.
Always be honest. Even though you need not volunteer negative information, answer truthfully when questioned.
Be very aware of your body language–it conveys the way you feel about yourself. Sit comfortably but do not sprawl, slump over, or hold your body rigid. Do not smoke, chew gum, or fidget. Aim to project enthusiasm, flexibility, ease of communication, and a willingness to take on more than the duties in the job description.
Be sensitive to the interviewer’s body language. When people’s eyes stop focusing on you, and they start shuffling papers, they are sending you a message, such as “I’m losing interest” or “I don’t follow.” Respond to the silent message by altering your course.
Act natural–be friendly, courteous, and professional.
Keep it simple
Research into interviewing shows that the person conducting the interview is often more stressed than the candidate. This stress comes from a variety of sources including concern that a poor selection can mean a loss of a superiors’ confidence, fitting an interview into an already hectic schedule, and a host of other worries. People under stress may not hear and interpret everything you say as clearly and as correctly as they might in a less stressful conversation.
Minimise miscommunication by following these suggestions:
- Think before you speak. Phrase what you say in short, simple sentences.
- Answer one question at a time.
- Do not volunteer information – provide just the information needed to answer the question. Get to the point.
- Stay positive – NEVER say or imply anything about a past employer that is less than complimentary.
Anyone who has interviewed potential employees will agree that individuals who fail to ask questions are rarely hired. By asking questions you effectively demonstrate your sincerity, interest, and maturity. In addition, asking questions often leads to a more open conversation and a more relaxed interview that is beneficial to both parties.
- Most companies will want to know what salary you expect. Do not be too specific, try to talk in terms of a “salary range”.
- Stay away from subjects such as religion and politics.
- Avoid trying to guess what the interviewer wants to hear. Be who you are and answer questions honestly and directly.
- Do not take notes during the interview. Try to get a business card from those you speak with so that you have a record of their name, title, etc.
- Turn off your phone.
At the close of the interview . . .
Let the interviewer initiate the close and be alert for indications of closure.
Summarise the skills you have to offer and your interest and enthusiasm about the position. If the interviewer has not already requested a list of references, ask if he/she would like a list of your references.
Do not ask questions about salary and benefits until you have been offered the job. If the employer asks you about salary requirements, postpone discussing it or answer it in terms of a salary range (try to get them to state the range if possible). If it is brought up before you have been offered the position, respond with “open” or “negotiable.” Talk opportunity, not security, in the early stages.
If you are offered a job, you need not respond on the spot. Reaffirm your interest and ask to be given time to think it over.
Make sure you leave on a positive note. Shake hands, thank the interviewer for his/her time, and indicate your sincere interest in the position. Clarify call-back procedure. Express your interest by asking how long it may be before you are notified of a decision, or if you should initiate the call, and when.
End the interview
An interview is an opportunity for you to present your skills, interests, and abilities to a potential employer. It is also an opportunity for the company to “sell” you on the advantages of working with them. If you like what you have seen and want to be considered for an offer – TELL THEM OF YOUR INTEREST.
After the interview
Follow up the interview with a short note that states your interest in the position and the company, explains why you are qualified, and tells how you would fit into the team. At the end of the note, express your thanks for having had the opportunity to interview. Keep the note to one or two sentences per paragraph and no more than four paragraphs. Send it to the person to whom you would be reporting.
The anticipation of waiting for an offer is probably the hardest part of all but at this stage you have done all you can and if you have followed the above steps then whatever the outcome you will know you have given it your best shot.