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So…you’ve managed to get a job interview? Great! You’re nervous and you can’t sleep but you want to impress and get the job. You know yourself better than anyone else and you have decided that this role is a good fit for your skills, experience and personality.

Do you want to know a secret? The interview panel – those scary senior managers and the dragon from HR – are also having sleepless nights. Why? Because they need to find a square peg for their square hole. They need to quickly and cheaply sift through a million CVs and cut through the lies told by interview candidates to find you – someone who will do the job really well and will fit in. If they appoint the wrong person, it means several unproductive months followed by a difficult conversation and then another vacant post. Cost and embarrassment!

You need to describe the square hole in the interview. What I mean by that is, you need to tell the panel exactly what they are looking for, so that you can reassure them that you would be a perfect fit.

1) Memorise “Fireworks”:

Your interview preparation top priority is to memorise your own “Fireworks” opening statement so that the recruiting panel remember you as the best candidate. Imagining what they need, devise a three sentence statement that describes the gap e.g. From your research you can see that their company urgently needs to rebuild market share.

So you say: I am a seasoned sales professional with a track record of growing market share. Boom! Make it the first thing you say and the panel will immediately be sitting up and paying attention. You already know that you are right for them so your mission is to demonstrate that by telling them how you will solve their current hot problems.

Second sentence addresses their culture. They are a young inexperienced company?

You say: I am CMI qualified with 10 years’ experience. Kerpow! They feel safe with you, you will come in and be the safe pair of hands they are all secretly hoping for but can’t admit to their equally insecure colleagues. From your networking you have discovered that the last person in this role retired with a reputation for irritating clients with their less than dynamic style, and woolly sales pitches.

So you say: I combine detail with engaging client interaction. Whoosh! Look at those sparks! The panel imagine you righting all the wrongs of your predecessor, rebuilding relationships with customers who were unimpressed by the outgoing post holder.

2) Have you ever tried some NLP?

NLP – Neuro Linguistic Programming – matches your language and internal frames to theirs.

You don’t have long in an interview but you can learn to quickly assess the main way that each panel member communicates:

  • Visual processors: tend to draw a diagram to remind themselves of your answers and will be more engaged by charts and diagrams in your presentation. They will use language such as, “what is your long term vision for…”, “my view of this,” “help me see this from a different perspective.”  To reassure this panel member you need to use vivid descriptive words to let them clearly imagine you succeeding in the role. They will be critically analysing whether you look the part as well, from interview clothes through grooming and even your physical movements. If you sense a visual thinker losing interest during your interview, don’t be afraid to offer to draw out what you are explaining on a flip chart.
  • Listeners: tend to narrow their eyes when concentrating on your answer, and use phrases such as “what I’m hearing is…” or “it sounds like…”You can match your language to their internal frame of reference by using aural communication words in your examples, such as, “in my most recent role, by listening to my key customers I came up with an after-care service to make sure they knew their concerns had been heard.”  This panel member will be irritated if you make distracting noises, so don’t slam the door or jangle keys while speaking, and always follow up with an email thanking them for the interview and reiterating an eloquent verbal summary of why you are the best candidate.
  • Kinaesthetic processors: are the hardest to spot as they have usually learnt to conceal their preferred style of intuiting or feeling their way through decisions. The HR dragon (that’s me by the way) will probably have coached this panel member that they are not allowed to use intuition to choose the best candidate – but they still will; they can’t help it. If one of the panel is using terms like, “gut instinct”, “I feel” and of course, “my sense is…” The great news is that this misunderstood creature, the hardest to win over, will fight for you once you have their trust and loyalty. Speak slowly, give them time, mirror back some of this person’s words and phrases, and make sure they feel cherished. Once they feel you are on their side, they will be the most forgiving of your mistakes.

3) 6 errors the panel will never forgive you for:

  1. Make sure you know what the job is – I once interviewed a young graduate who was so keen to tell us what she was like, when it came to the end of the interview her questions for the panel included, “what is the job title” and “what would I be doing?” When I gave her a copy of the job description, it was clear that she had never seen it before. No panel would take a punt on you after that.
  2. Don’t leave any member of the panel out – Yes, even if you have a natural rapport with the others, and yes, even if one seems to dominate within the panel as a group.  That silent, less engaging one is likely to speak up when they discuss you together after you have gone.  Make sure each of them will vote for you. You can’t afford to get a single ‘no’.
  3. Never fail to be curious, humble, and tirelessly optimistic – The panel will not be able to find out everything you know if you are stubborn or limited in your thinking, arrogant, or can’t show cheerful resilience in the face of challenge.
  4. Don’t ever ever be late and don’t draw out your answers so that your interview runs over – The panel have a series of slots of intense concentration to deal with that day, probably still with the same amount of other work and emails to squeeze in around them, so you will make them murderous with rage if you waste their time.
  5. Don’t try to be clever – one candidate I interviewed for an HR role insisted on turning each of my questions around, so that he could ask me, “that is a great question, what do YOU think?”  He didn’t get the job. Just listen carefully to each question, respond to it in a clear and concise way using examples from previous roles, then stop and smile. You will be remembered as more powerful than if you continue to gabble until one of the panel has to actually interrupt you to get you to stop.
  6. Don’t say anything negative about any of your previous companies, managers or colleagues – Ever. Not one single bad word about them, even if it is true. Always explain why you are drawn to this company through a series of honest positive things they do well, and refuse to criticise no matter how much the interview panel lull you into a false sense of security – it adds no value to your answers and makes them see you as an ungrateful troublemaker. Seriously.

So, remember, you are the square peg they are looking for to fill their square hole. If you are prepared, and make the most of the intense social interaction that is a selection interview, you will help the panel out. Their problem is that they have a vacancy, they need to find someone who will do the job really well and fit in. You can relax and make sure you leave the interview having reassured all of them that that perfect square peg, is you.

Author: Helen Marsh is the HR manager for searchflow.co.uk.

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