You would be hard pushed to find anyone who enjoys the formal, unnatural and complex social interactions known as job interviews. They can be strained and unsatisfying for both parties. Nevertheless, they are still the best available method for evaluating candidates and are an opportunity for you to assess a potential employer.
As such, interview technique is critical to all job seekers. However, the key is to remain relaxed and focused and not to “overthink” it. Look at the interview as an opportunity to sell yourself. If you use your initiative, you should be able to spot and exploit every opportunity to make a positive impression. That takes confidence and careful calculation and it starts before you even go through the door.
Preparing for an Interview
These days, when almost every company has a website, there is no excuse not to be well informed about a prospective employer before you attend the interview. Read everything on the company and its industry that you can get hold of and think of questions to ask the interviewer.
Mentally prepare answers to the type of questions you expect to be asked. Know your own CV like the back of your hand. Being vague about your own CV content or getting the order of your past jobs mixed up will lose you points. Also, don’t plan a ”just-in-time” journey to get to the interview – allow for delays. Besides, arriving early allows you to collect your thoughts and check your appearance in the bathroom.
At the Interview
If you do carry a publication to read when you are waiting, a brochure on the company would be ideal. Interviewers often ask their receptionists and security guards for feedback on candidates, so be sure to be polite to all front-house staff you meet.
Most interviews follow a fairly standard format. First, the interviewer will make a general statement about the vacancy and the firm. Then he will ask you questions and, finally, he will answer yours. During the first part of the interview allow the employer to have his say, while staying alert and interested. What the interviewer tells you now can give you clues about what you should ask when it is your turn.
The interviewer will then try to find out more about you than is shown on your CV; your experiences, attitudes, whether you will be satisfied with the position. Avoid ‘yes’ and ‘no’ answers; they do not give you a chance to sell yourself. It is a good idea to watch for the unexpressed motive behind a question. Some employers may ask questions they know you cannot answer. They want to see how you respond to the difficulties of the situation, and look for a positive approach. So try to determine what the interviewer really wants to know.
When it is your turn, your questions should reflect genuine interest in the firm and the position. It is not advisable to ask direct questions about salaries too quickly. Here are some questions that are appropriate in a first-round interview:
- To whom would I be reporting?
- What are the challenges facing your company?
- Does the company have a record of promoting from within?
- Why has this position become vacant?
- When would you like me to start (if I get the job)?!
Before you leave the interview, you should ask when the employer intends to make a decision. That focuses both your attentions on the competition – yours on the fact that there will be other candidates and theirs on the possibility that you are considering other employment opportunities. It also gives you an opportunity for some well–timed follow–up.
In an interview, the three most important things to do are:
- Relax; ‘Mr Nasty’ interviews are out of date and discredited. Most interviewers will try to make you feel at ease. At the same time, don’t slouch in the chair.
- Listen; pay attention to the questions and give concise (not necessarily brief) answers. If you suspect the interviewer wants more information, offer it (“would you like me to go on?”).
- Be yourself; if you have to put on a performance to get the job, it probably is not right for you anyway.
The game is not over when you walk out the door after an interview. Collect your thoughts and make notes. Within a day or two of the interview send the employer an e-mail or letter expressing your interest in the position. Thank her for the interview and if there was a subject of the discussion or an aspect of the company that impressed you, mention it briefly. Your follow–up letter is another low–key opportunity to sell yourself.
Written by: William Glover, Head of Asia Pacific, Macdonald & Company (recruitment consultancy)