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Prepare to Smash Your Job Interview

So you are in an active job search and have secured yourself an interview.

Now, this is where the ‘rubber hits the road’!



Personally, I think reliance on a job interview to determine the best candidate for a position is a broken system – but we will save this topic for another blog.


Nonetheless, the interview is how 90% of hiring decisions will be made. So be prepared to sell yourself. How you do that will influence the likelihood of an offer and the better the interview, the better the offer potentially!

So my first point will state the blindingly obvious. The best advice on preparation is… to actually prepare!


Many people spend an inordinate amount of time tinkering with the CV, browsing job postings, and crafting the perfect cover letter – but little or no time properly preparing for individual interviews.


If you’re reading this, it looks like you are putting in some groundwork so give yourself a pat on the back, you’re heading in the right direction.


From a mental preparation point of view, I suggest making sure that you are ‘in it to win it.’ Don’t go to an interview to ‘check them out' or to ‘see what they have to say.’ Go to an interview with the intention of winning a great job offer. If you get offered and choose not to accept, that’s empowering and your call to make.


I am always sad when someone is ill-prepared for an interview, goes in lukewarm or even suspicious about the opportunity, and realizes during the appointment that the role is a dream job for them. It’s typically too late to inject passion into the interview and reverse the first impression formed by the interviewer that you only came to ‘kick some tires.’


Logistics


Make sure you plan your journey and allow enough time. That’s enough time to get to the postcode, according to Google Maps, but also to park and sign in. I also suggest allowing enough time for heavy traffic, road closures, getting lost, and spilling coffee down yourself! As sod’s law says, it’s going to happen.


You want to allow enough time to be on time but also to be in the right frame of mind. Five minutes of decompressing from the journey and visualizing a successful interview will pay dividends. Lastly, I don’t want to pile on extra pressure, but I’ve pretty much never seen someone turn up late to an interview and go on to secure the job.


Take a CV with you


Take a fresh copy of your CV and a separate reference sheet so you are ready to hand over either or both. You likely won’t need them but it looks organized and allows you to use them as a point of reference. Also, in the eventuality that they have lost the CV or can’t print it, your job interview still goes smoothly ahead.


Dress to impress


It’s an interview cliché to be sharp-suited, clean pressed shirt and shiny shoes. However, I think old-school rules still apply here. As you all know, first impressions are strong, difficult to change, and are strongly based on visual aspects.


How you present is viewed as a reflection (rightly or wrongly) of how seriously you are taking the application and how much respect you are giving the appointment.


I would say that while you can mess up by under-dressing for an interview, you can never really fail by over-dressing. Many people are concerned that they don’t want to feel over-dressed when they attend an interview in a less formal office environment. So feel free to try to mirror their culture to an extent. I must point out, though, that their current employees are not attending an interview, and you are!


Expectations are different so it really doesn’t matter if you are the only person in a suit. It's kind of like the interviewer can swear in the interview and they won’t notice or remember, if you do, it’s going to stand out and reflect badly.


Paint a picture of a Win-Win


Candidates are going to want to satisfy themselves that they are going to win the job in question, with respect to salary, benefits, challenge, interest, career potential, and so on before accepting an offer. Clients are going to want to satisfy themselves that they are going to win by hiring the candidate in question in respect to skills, experience, personality, attitude, and future potential before making an offer.


What is less obvious is the opposite side of these points. Candidates should want to establish that the company will win by hiring them, meaning they add value, it is a good fit and chances are good it will work out in short and long term.


Clients should want to establish that the candidate will win meaning that they get to apply their skills in a meaningful way, enjoy the work and ultimately stick around.


In my experience, in the stressful set-up of an interview, most people overlook ‘part 2’ of the win-win. So ensure everything you say and do in the selection process points towards a conclusion of strong mutual benefit.


On a related note, be aware of how you are viewed outside of the interview itself, like while booking the interview, when you ring beforehand and how you interact with the receptionist. Even when you are not being officially assessed, you are still being assessed. I would never want to hire someone that was snotty to my receptionist, for example.


Prepare by researching the company


This is so you can talk intelligently about the organization, its products, and projects. Or at least be able to answer the obvious question of why you are interested in XYZ when asked. You can look for published information from their website, news sources, or from employer evaluation sites such as Glassdoor to get the ‘inside track’. Also, try and make sure you know the job specification and potentially the person specification for the role too.


Prepare lots of questions


There will typically be an opportunity to ask questions during an interview. Hopefully, throughout, allow a good two-way street of communication, or otherwise towards the end. This is an opportunity for you to take advantage of it.


The quality of your questions can differentiate you from an otherwise similar candidate. Questions that show you have done your research are great, and in general, open questions that demonstrate your understanding or prove your interest are going to foster a positive response and often further discussion.


Questions that can be seen as suspicious, negative, or just hard to answer will make for a negative atmosphere that ends up reflecting badly.


For example, try not to ask: “What happened to the last person in this role?” or “What’s your sick days allocation?” or “What’s the company’s financial position like?”

Believe me, I have heard them asked before.


Take notes


There is some debate on this topic, but I think it is okay to take some notes if you wish to capture key information for your future reference. Again, it can help demonstrate organization and professionalism. Do ask permission and don’t overdo it, as your note-taking can be off-putting to the interviewer and, of course, reduce eye contact, which is important for building rapport.


Interview technique


This is a subject in itself and there are all kinds of advice to impart here. I’ll keep it simple and just cover two of them – confidence and enthusiasm.

If you think about it, the hiring company needs to work out two things: 1) Can you do the job (better than other candidates)? 2) Do you want the job (and will you accept it)?


Therefore you convince them you can do the job by feeling, showing, and instilling them with confidence in your capabilities. You convince them that you want the job by demonstrating your enthusiasm for the job, company, product, and projects in question.


Confidence


This will be maximized by being prepared (as above) by knowing your CV, the job spec, and how they relate. Prepare specific examples you plan to leverage and questions you would like to ask. Be conscious of using positive body language and voice projection. Practice the power of belief.


Enthusiasm


Prepare all the valid personal reasons why this job is a great match for you in order to demonstrate an authentic win-win. Why are you passionate about the industry, what do you like about the company, what attracts you to the job, are the location and salary going to satisfy you long term. Enthusiasm isn’t all about being ‘bubbly’ if that isn’t your style but demonstrating your appetite for the job somehow is important.


Be specific


The need to be specific will apply to many areas of the interview but particularly in terms of duties, responsibilities, and achievements. Being specific and where appropriate using quantifiable examples moves you from making general claims about your suitability to giving evidence that you are the best candidate.


Be succinct


It’s a fine balance. You are going to want to answer questions fully, to score maximum points (either in the interviewer’s mind or often literally if you are being graded). However, you are also going to want to be succinct. The interviewer only has a certain amount of time, and if they don’t get to ask all the questions, then you certainly don’t get to score all the points. It’s easy with pressure and nerves to waffle on or go off on an irrelevant tangent. It's much better to take a breath, get composure, and then give a killer answer rather than jumping in without thinking.


Ask for the job


I don’t think this is common interview advice, but if I put it in the right way, I think it is positive and powerful. This is typically for the end with respect to closing statements and could be along the lines of: “On the basis of this conversation, I am even more excited about the job than when I applied. I would love to assume the role and look forward to hearing back.” This removes any doubt that you would be prepared to accept (offer dependent) and makes you a safer bet. Companies, like potential dates, hate being turned down and would prefer to ask someone who they know will likely say yes!


Any objections?


Again, I don’t think this is a common area of interview advice, however, put in the right way I think this question can be a good strategic, assertive move. It would come near the end and would go something like: “I am very confident that I can meet all the requirements of the role, so do you have any questions or concerns?” If you are going to ask this, make sure you are ready to answer, address perceived issues, and hopefully overcome them.


So, good luck with your current and future interviews. Expect success. The hiring company has a business issue to solve, and given that you have been selected for the interview, you are well qualified to solve it. It is just about making sure that this comes across effectively.


The interviewers are also hoping that you are going to do well. So, everyone is on the same side in that respect. My advice, in short (as candidates who have worked with me will likely recall), is:


  • Be prepared

  • Be confident

  • Be enthusiastic

  • Be specific





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