21 tips to prepare for interviews
By Pam Naughton
“We would like you to come in for an interview.”
The last time I heard those words they sent me into a tailspin of gigantic proportions. I wanted the job but didn’t realise how nervous I was about the interview until the time was approaching.
A job interview is widely regarded as being a pretty stressful time. While we all have varied reasons for looking for work, it is worth remembering the reason for the interview itself. It is an opportunity for both parties to exchange information and to secure the right person for the team and the job. I have sometimes felt it is like a firing squad and they are there to interrogate you and to give you a hard time. It is much better for both parties to view the interview as an information -gathering opportunity rather than the death squad.
I recently completed some professional interview training with a local recruitment firm. This was the best thing I ever did: you can get blasé about your knowledge and sometimes it’s good just to brush up your skills and it gave me a much-needed confidence boost. There is often free interview training if you look around or recruitment firms will do this for a fee.
Interview training can just give you a little bit of impartiality and the trainers can be more honest with you than well-meaning friends. You may have nervous tics you are not aware of! Mine is that I constantly flick my hair, something I was never aware of and that my friends never told me.
Possibly like you, I have been bombarded with information over the years – books, websites, friends and experts etc. My tips come from my experience and some have also been borrowed from experts.
I have compiled 21 tips which are easy to read and to remember, especially when you are spinning out in a nervous haze!
- Once you have secured the interview, print out the job application, the position description and information from the company’s website – anything which will be of use. Read this before you do anything else; highlight key points and words. This will help to keep you calm and to remember why you applied for the job in the first place. You may also be able to pick up hidden messages about what the employer is actually looking for.
- If you talk yourself into and out of the job several times ahead of the interview, make sure you have someone you can talk it through with beforehand. This can be a coach or a friend. Just make sure it is someone you can trust and someone who doesn’t have his or her own agenda.
- Get excited about the job! If you really want it, it will show in the interview. Enthusiasm goes a long way and it can compensate in part if you don’t have quite the right skill set. Visualise yourself in the role and doing the role well. This will show through.
- Don’t pretend that you know something that you don’t, and don’t try to be anything other than yourself. This will always show. Act professionally but be natural. You never really know what the interviewer is looking for so don’t try and second guess them.
- A lot of people say maintain good eye contact. This just means when you are answering the question look at the person or persons who have asked it, don’t look at the desk. You don’t want to get into staring at the person, again just be natural but if you find yourself with eyes fixed on the desk, look up.
- I tend to do a bit of a robot dance when I am nervous. I swing in the chair, my hands are all over the place, including in my hair. This is where it helps if someone else observes you beforehand. A good tip (which can be quite funny as well) is to ask in the interview if the chair locks, or change chairs. Animated hand action is fine if this is part of your personality but don’t scratch yourself or pull up your socks and, most importantly, keep your hands out of your hair. Wear your hair up if necessary.
- Never, ever come to a job interview unkempt or hung-over. Without a doubt, the worst person I ever interviewed was clearly hung-over and probably hadn’t been to bed. He certainly hadn’t looked in the mirror when he got dressed. To cap it all off, he put a big greasy brown paper bag on the table when he sat down. Needless to say he had lost the interview in the first two seconds! It is very true that first impressions count so be respectful of the process.
- Try and suss out what the style of clothing is at the workplace and the level of formality. You should wear the same or similar style but up your game a little bit. This will show you will fit into the workplace and you are aware of first impressions.
- Make sure you know who is interviewing you. When I was an interviewer, I would ask questions and find the interviewee answering my male colleague instead of me! Some never held eye contact with me – not realising that it was me that was making the employment decision. Always look at the person who asked the question in the first instance. Don’t be fooled by the person that is seemingly directing the interview; this doesn’t always mean they will be the decision maker.
- Don’t interrupt the interviewer, talk over them or act as if you know more than them.
- Say your piece and stop; don’t rush to fill gaps.
- In the first interview if they ask about salary expectations it is often wise to say you have some flexibility about salary rather than talk about numbers and possibly back yourself into a corner. If they press the point a good comeback line is “I am happy to talk through salary if we get to the point when we both decide that I am a good fit for this position”.
- If the interview has gone well and you feel that absolutely everything has been covered, there may be no need to ask questions. If there are things that are really important to you, ask. This shows you are interested and engaged with the position. I often ask questions about the team dynamics and the management style – these are important to me.
- The “tell me about your weaknesses” question is one I have personally struggled with. An excellent tip is to look for something that will be fairly obvious and use this as a limitation. For example, “I feel that a limitation I will have in this role is that whilst I have a great understanding of financial services and I have a lot of experience, I would need to come up to speed with the specific financial products and services that your organisation offers”. Look for something relatively simple and if you can’t think of one look for something which isn’t going to be a big part of the job, i.e. I only drive an automatic car (short and sweet and true in my case).
- Avoid using the word ‘just’ if you can, for example in phrases like, “Well, I just …” This diminishes everything you are saying. Using qualifying words (rather, quite) and minimising words (just, only) can be a habit so, again, ask someone to listen to you beforehand and give you feedback.
- A lot of people ask questions in the behavioural situational format. For example, “Tell me about a time you worked with a difficult colleague. How did you handle this?” They are looking for a brief synopsis of the situation: what happened and how you resolved it. It is important to come prepared with examples that show you have managed situations well and achieved results and good outcomes.
- Do your research on standard interview questions. There are websites and agencies that can help with this. Typical questions will often cover negotiation skills, team work skills, ability to work with difficult people, time management, your strengths, limitations and why you want to work with this employer. Be prepared with examples and don’t make these up. If you don’t have an example simply say “that has never happened to me, however, if it did this is what I would do …”.
- Remember: be prepared to talk about yourself and your achievements. Modesty does not belong in a job interview but don’t oversell yourself or sound desperate. This is pretty hard but it is something you have to do. Prepare a sales pitch (usually three to five points) about yourself and if these are not covered in the interview bring them up in the question time at the end of the interview.
- Never, ever complain about a previous employer or the weather or personal situations. The interview is neither the time nor the place.
- One I always struggle with is when you first sit down and are immediately invited to tell them about yourself. A good approach is to briefly explain your background, i.e. as per my CV you can see I have a background in finance and then go a bit softer and explain what you are looking for in the future and why you want to work for them. No need to bore them with the details of your personal life unless they specifically ask. If you have an example of dealings with the company in the past, use it.
- If you missed out on a job, try to not take it as a personal insult and learn from it. If possible, ring the employer and ask why you missed out. This can be a bit painful but helps a lot and often the employer will not mind at all. It is also worth thinking that you missed out on the job because it wasn’t right and the team wasn’t right. In fact, you have saved yourself hassle and heartache by not getting it.
And when it’s over…
Best of all, remember to reward yourself after an interview. Also, take time to write down what didn’t go so well and what you would do differently next time. Don’t give up if it didn’t go well because the next one is bound to go better.Lastly, remember you are never alone and most people have experience in job interviews and can assist you even if it is just to let you download. Good luck out there!
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