Ah, the interview!
I’ve been on both sides of the interviewing table on countless occasions, both as a hungry job-seeker chasing that perfect career opportunity, or as a hiring manager looking to boost the skills and capability of my team by finding the ideal recruit.
Currently on a round of interviews to seek out a new vacancy in my team, I’ve been through at least fourteen interviews (I’ve been a bit picky..) thus far and have seen some good, and some not so good candidates… and interviews. I thought it might be worth sharing my own experiences of how I prepare for an interview and also some observations on what I like (and dislike) when talking to potential candidates.
Before we dive into my top ten interview tips, remember:
There is no such thing as being over-prepared for an interview, and in *most* circumstances, no excuse for being caught off-guard. The responsibility for nailing the interview sits with nobody other than YOU!
I really believe the “fail to prepare, prepare to fail” mantra applies here.
Top job interview tips
1. Get your CV right… and know it.
I could write an entire post about getting your CV right, there are so many faux-pas and basic principles that people regularly get wrong. Remember, your CV represents you before you’ve even walked through the door, so it should be concise, professionally presented (poor font selection, spacing and layout REALLY grinds my gears), spelling-error free and (for full marks) tailored to the job advert and personal specification you applied with.
As well as producing a quality CV in the first place, you should be able to talk around your experience and background competently when prompted; my opening interview question often is “tell me about yourself”. I regularly come across people who simply cannot talk about themselves or waffle through their answer without any hint relevance to the position their interviewing for.
It baffles me that candidates rarely bring notes too – let alone a spare copy or two of their CV – with them to an interview, expecting the interviewer to print the latter and bring it with them. There is no shame in referring to an annotated version of your CV and a copy of the job vacancy description to make sure you link it back to the role you’re interviewing for and how your background makes you an ideal hire to the employer.
2. Get the job interview basics right!
This one is imperative and often over-looked, but these core interviewing principles are essential when forming a first impression.
- Be punctual. Give yourself plenty of time, don’t rush. Plan your journey and know the location of your interview. Arrive 10 minutes early. Do you need change for the car park? Are the roads reliable or is it likely you’ll experience a traffic jam? If you’re going on public transport, build in time for delays.
- Be presentable. I *hopefully* don’t need to expel the virtues of being well-groomed and smartly presented.. let alone hygienic. You’ll feel more confident and make a positive impression. Details really matter. Fragrance. Gents: tidy up that beard/stubble. Think about your style.
- Turn off your mobile phone! Aaaaah this one! Enough said.
- Think about your audience. Everybody from the receptionist, to the chap you pass at the photocopier is there to make an impression on. Be courteous to everybody you come across, you never know if they’ll have a say on you once you’ve left.
- A polite and firm handshake. It really matters. Trust me.
3. Do your interview research!
It aggravates me when a candidate clearly hasn’t done their homework, and I will probe further if I get a hint of this. Yes, you can’t be expected to know everything, but information widely in the public domain is there for you to demonstrate your protectiveness and desire for the job at hand. Sadly, a lack of knowledge about the company, it’s customers, competitors and wider market challenges suggests to me as an employer that you’re heart really isn’t in the role and I’m wasting my time – I know there are other people out there who WILL take the time to look at this. A little bit of preparation will go a long way in building a credible case for you in the interview.
Gong for bonus points? Look your interviewer / hiring manager up on LinkedIn. Where have they worked in the past? Could you link this in with a question that you could ask such as “how does this company compare to the culture you experienced at XYZ?”.
4. Prepare answers to key interview questions.
Even the most creative of interviewers will use a combination of tried and tested interviewing questions, designed to help gauge your appropriateness for the role in question. Typical questions that I generally lean on include:
- Why do you want to work here?
- Why do you want this vacancy?
- Why should we hire you? What makes you special?
- What skills and experience do you have that’s relevant to the job?
- What can you tell me about the company?
- Where do you see yourself in five years?
- What is your salary expectation?
- What is your greatest strength?
- What is your greatest weakness?
Additionally, think about preparing some examples where you’ve demonstrated core behaviours and capabilities such as problem-solving, diplomacy in the face of disagreements or any other competencies that the job description hints at as desirable qualities – you may be asked to recall a time you’ve demonstrated these. Again, take notes with you, it limits the amount you need to remember and avoids awkward pauses.
5. Be authentic, positive, focused, confident, relevant and concise!
As an interviewer, there are a fewer things more frustrating (… and boring) than a candidate who doesn’t directly answer a question, or vaguely attempts to amongst a barrage of waffle. Keep interviewers interested by providing succinct and snappy answers, bringing in your experience to add relevance to the company or role that you’re interviewing for. If you’re unsure what you’re being asked, clarify! Simples.
Oh and for goodness sake, answer all questions honestly – don’t falsify claims or over-exaggerate, it’ll only come back to bite you in the future or your interviewer may even potentially unpick them there and then.
6. Body language matters: pay attention in the interview!
It’s often not what you say, but how you say it that really matters.
Avoid being ‘closed-off’ by folding your arms or risk displaying a lack of interest by leaning back or looking at the floor. Definite no-nos include playing with a pen, fiddling, chewing gum, mumbling, and fidgeting. Ensure you keep a solid posture, smile and maintain eye contact when in your interview.
Energy is infectious; be yourself, but if appropriate, inject humour and maintain positivity in the interview, you’ll build rapport with your interviewer which matters as they decide on whether you’re right for the job and business.
7. Manage your stress in the interview!
As somebody who gets nervous whether I’m public speaking or heading in for a grilling in an interview, over the years I’ve had to learn how to control my nerves. For me, I’ve found taking a few steps before heading into an interview helps. My top tips include:
- The night before, get a good night’s rest.
- Get yourself there in plenty of time. Find a coffee shop nearby. Avoid rushing.
- Listen to an empowering or uplifting song before you go into the building.
- Re-read all of your notes, the job description and your CV before you enter.
- Take deep breaths and maintain a good posture to ensure strong projection.
It goes without saying that a lot of interview nerves often stem from candidates not feeling prepared, so follow all ten suggestions in this post and you should go some way to reduce the stress. Don’t be afraid if you do feel nervous though, everybody does – but you can at least take proactive steps to minimise it.
8. Be proactive!
I have found much success when interviewing – and love it when a candidate – treats the interview as if they already have the job. Proactively come up with a plan on your first ninety days in the job and think about over the longer-term what you’d like to influence, what could you do to make a big impact?
Not only does this show a level of protectiveness (which I assure you the majority of other candidates won’t display), but the employer will (perhaps subliminally) imagine you in the job, which certainly won’t harm your chances. Yes, the plan might need tweaking once you’ve arrived and understood the business a little more, but it demonstrates confidence and decisiveness, which are extremely valuable traits to have as a prospective employee.
9. Ask insightful, relevant and engaging questions.
This is not just your opportunity to turn the tables on your interviewer, find out more about the company or get a better understanding of the job; it’s your final chance in-person to ensure you make a positive lasting impression on your potential employer. It’s a cardinal sin not to use this opportunity at the end of the interview, so make the most of it!
My personal view is that it’s best to avoid sensitive questions about salary until that becomes an actual concern (at the point of a job offer). Instead, questions about the company culture, personal development opportunities or asking the interviewer their thoughts on the direction of the company or what they like / find challenging about working in the business are probably better suited questions.
10. Remember your manners! Follow-up your interview with a thank you.
The amount of candidates that don’t do this surprises me – but it takes two minutes to drop the hiring manager an email to thank them for their time. Remember, they’ve taken time out of their busy day to give you time to tell them why they should hire you! It goes a long way too when it comes to recalling candidates from a batch of CVs.
If you’ve arranged your interview by an HR department, ask for the hiring manager’s business card or email address at the end of the interview – or as a last resort, scan LinkedIn for their details on the off-chance they have a public profile, and send them a private message.
Good luck with your interview!
It’s easier said than done, but try to enjoy the process. It’s a great way to learn about businesses, the people within them and how they operate. Do enough of them and it’ll feel second nature. Practice at home with friends and family, make sure you do your research and follow the above top interview tips and you can’t really go wrong.
Remember: the interview is as much the employer assessing you for the job as it is for YOU to assess whether the company and job are right for you.
Good luck, go and get that job! 🙂