Do you know how to sell yourself in an interview? Have you found yourself freezing up? Have you ever had a question where you have not been able to work out what the interviewer was asking – or you could give an answer, but didn’t know if it was the right one? Here are my top 10 interview tips for this month. As someone said on Twitter, these are not rocket science, but really timely reminders of the basics:
1) Research the organization:
Everyone gets nervous in the interview. It’s a big occasion and you should be nervous. However, if you start with some thorough research, you start to build a case in your own mind of why you should be sitting in that interview room or in front of a panel. Having some confidence is a solid first step to overcoming nerves.
You can actually tell a lot about an employer from the employment pages of their website. Things such as the values they have, how easy it is to find out about potential jobs, and their responses to you when you apply, can all tell you about the way they handle their recruitment. This in turn may be a reflection of what it’s like to work there. If it’s friendly and easy to apply for a job, then chances are they have given some thought to why you would want to work for them.
The web is a such wealth of facts, but what you need to do, is turn this into information. You can look at annual reports, media releases and products, and service information. Online directories have company information and Google indexes the latest media news and references from other sources. If a career page has an email contact for an employee and invites contact, then do it. Often companies will use testimonials that way to attract new people. Use sites such as linked in to research companies.
When you look for this information, you are not just looking for a set of unrelated facts. You should be looking for reasons that you want to work for that employer. You’ll really impress the interviewer if you find some simple yet compelling reasons as to why you want to work for the employer and what appeals to you about the role.
2) Research the role:
One thing that constantly surprises me is how few people really have any understanding of the role that they are applying for. Job advertisements are partly to blame for this. They are often misleading. The person writing the advert is often not the person that you’ll be reporting to. Things always sound different on paper compared to what you will actually be doing in the role.
One of my clients recently applied for a job in the public sector. The position description said:
Building effective communication strategies with a variety of stakeholders and colleagues to ensure information exchanges are timely, accurate and useful.
This is what this statement meant:
Providing advice to staff and students on the status of their research applications.
If you see something like the above, try to talk to someone who knows about the role. A good question to ask is “what does a typical day/week look like?” Once you know what’s expected of you, preparing for the interview is instantly easier.
Also important is a real insight into the role and the recruitment process. Dig deeper than the advertisement. Put a call through if a contact number is provided. You can find out which of the skills that the employer requires are actually the priority. You can determine what you can do without and importantly you can start to make yourself known (in a good way) to your future employer. Even if the advertisement doesn’t invite it, you can still contact the recruiter. If there are no contact details, be scrupulously polite, it usually means the employers are expecting a deluge of applications.
Ask them questions about the recruitment process, what the steps are, how long each step takes, and whether they’ve had many applicants. You’d be surprised at the information you’ll receive if you sound polite and interested.
3) Research yourself:
Employers want you to be self-aware. Have a long hard look at what you have achieved, the way you have achieved that result, and the skills you developed or demonstrated along the way.
This type of reflection helps you understand your strengths. It gives you confidence and helps you overcome nerves.
4) Interviewer insight:
No two interview processes are the same. Depending on the organization and the role, you could be interviewed by a recruitment consultant, the HR department, the line manager, all three individually, or any combination. Each will have a different agenda for the interview. This is important to remember as your approach with each should be slightly different.
The recruitment consultant is always the first screener. Their role is to match you to the employer’s requirements and sell you as an applicant. The consultant establishes their credibility with each good candidate they put forward to the employer. Take time to woo them, even if you think they don’t know their stuff (as is a common criticism). Their role is essentially a sales one: to sell you the job and, if they believe you are right for the role, to sell you to their client. Make the consultant’s role easier by focussing on your strengths and achievements and point out why you are a good match.
The HR consultant is usually the recruitment procedural expert. One of their jobs is to ensure the organization meets its legal requirements. They often set up the recruitment process and have a strong attachment to ensuring it is working. It’s a safe bet that you will face a more structured interview from them than you will from a line manager. They are often the employer’s first screener and may need to sell you further, depending on their position and influence within the organization.
The line manager will be the person who is most concerned about finding someone for the role. They may be a person down or not meeting their organization’s objectives by being understaffed. In the interview, it will be the line manager who has the greatest sense of urgency about filling the role. Focus on your workplace achievements when fielding their questions. Work hard to build a rapport with them. They will be assessing your fit for their team.
It may sound obvious but treat each interviewer as if they don’t talk to each other and know anything about you. You’d be amazed at how little communication sometimes goes on between each party.
Most organizations now use behavioral questions – which means they will be expecting you to provide specific examples of where you have demonstrated the skill they are seeking.
I strongly suggest practicing for an interview and seeking professional help. A professional is skilled at drawing examples out of you and finessing the ones you already have. However never rote learn your lines as you can never predict all the recruiter will ask. Memorizing answers will make you stressed in the interview if you can’t recall what you want to say. Worse still, you may even be not be answering the questions the interviewer asks.
6) Build rapport:
Be friendly. People like that!
One of the best ways to relax is to assume the interviewer is on your side. Good interviewers are not interested in tripping you up. In fact, most of them are on your side, or are at the very least they will be approaching the interview in a professional manner. It may even help you to relax if you think of the interviewer as someone who wants you to do your best
7) Give yourself time:
Leave plenty of time to get to the interview. Rushing breeds panic. No matter what excuse you have, lateness is noted. It creates a negative impression and it puts you behind immediately. Allowing waiting time for an interview gives you time to compose yourself, gather your thoughts, and be mentally prepared.
8) Please be yourself:
That is please be yourself. You will be doing yourself no favors if you try and suppress your personality, or pretend to be something that you aren’t.
While you think this may be the perfect job for you, it may be that it’s not. There are other jobs out there. If you keep this in mind then you’ll remove some pressure from yourself that this is your only chance to perform.
If you think the interview is going badly, relax, and use it as practice for the next one. You never know, you could even recover if you take this approach.
10) An insider’s tip:
The interview is just the formal means of assessing your suitability as a candidate. However, you are not just assessed there. Each interaction you have with your future employer feeds into the bigger picture of their impression of you. Use this knowledge. Be polite and friendly with whomever you meet in the process from the very first phone call to the last goodbye to the receptionist on your way out.
Interviews can be daunting. Please contact me if you need some help putting it all into practice or just some extra advice. Here’s another blatant plug. When it comes to interviewing skills, practice with a professional does make perfect.
Further reading at 10 Classic Interview Blunders to Avoid.