Making Your Job Interview Successful
Introduction to Interview Advice
Good news! You’ve been offered an interview at a company you’re interested in. Perhaps you need a job, in which case you will already be highly motivated to win an offer of employment, or perhaps you’ve been approached out of the blue, and offered a chance to meet someone who’s interested in you. It may be that you are happy and securely employed, but your curiosity has been aroused. After all, what have you got to lose by attending the interview? You’re certain to learn something that may be of use in the future, and in the ideal world, it could lead to the job of a lifetime.
In any case, in choosing to go to an interview, your aim should always be to win a job offer, and you should always do everything in your power to achieve that.
Even if you harbour some doubts about the opportunity, you should still ‘play to win’: it’ll be good interview practice, you’ll learn from the experience, make new acquaintances which might be useful in the future, and who knows, you might be wrong!
In order to win out, you must remember that the interview is a sales situation. In this case you are the salesperson, and you are the product! You should treat the interview the same way that a sales person approaches his or her meetings. You must find out as much as you can about the employer’s requirements, and then to sell yourself effectively – explaining exactly what strengths you can bring to the employer, and the benefits that the employer will enjoy by employing you.
And most importantly, you must demonstrate your salesmanship by ‘asking for the order’ and closing the interview properly, by expressing enthusiasm and actually asking for the job.
Preparing for the Interview
It is perfectly natural and certainly expected that you may be nervous; it’s probably even desirable – a little adrenaline usually makes you perform better, and prevents you from appearing ‘laid back’ and showing a ‘take it or leave it’ attitude. However, you won’t want to appear too nervous, and preparation is the best way to reduce anxiety, and maximise your chances of achieving your goal at the same time.
Too many people go to interviews without any real preparation, expecting merely to answer questions asked of them, ‘off the cuff’. Proper preparation will enable you to give a much better impression of your true capabilities, and also to find out more about the company, and the position you are applying to.
Do some research into the type of work that will be involved. Read a book or two on the subject, and have one in your briefcase on the day of the interview. In the case of sales, try to arrange to ‘shadow’ a sales person in the industry, or at least to talk to someone about the subject. You are almost certain to be asked the question ‘What do you know about this type of work?’
Do some research on the company – telephone them for a brochure or annual report, explaining if you are asked, why you want it. If you know the name of the interviewer, ask for their department. Don’t worry if you find yourself speaking to the interviewer; they are always impressed that you are doing proper research, and it helps to break the ice when you finally meet them.
Otherwise, information can be found in directories in any college or public library. The internet is a useful source of information – most companies have a website, and they will usually ask you at the interview, if you have looked at it. Companies House in London or Cardiff may be able to supply financial information about the company. Find out about the company’s competitors. Try to talk to some of their customers. In many cases, the first question asked at an interview is ‘What do you know about us?’
Find out who you will be meeting when you get there. Find out the interviewer’s full name and its proper pronunciation, and their title. You may be able to find out a little about what they are like, and what they expect from an interviewee. If you speak to the interviewer’s P.A. when you telephone for a brochure, he or she might be able to help you.
Prepare the questions you will be asking during the interview. Ask questions to illustrate ‘the big picture’ and don’t bother with small detail. Have these questions written down – use a pad, clipboard or filofax.
Good questions to ask might be:
- What is the interviewing procedure, and who makes the hiring decision, and when?
- What is the history of the company?
- What are its future plans for growth and development?
- What exactly does the job involve?
- What will be expected of me? What goals will I be expected to achieve?
- What training/help/backup will be given to me in order to achieve those goals?
- What are the prospects for advancement when I have successfully achieved those goals?
As in chess, think two moves ahead! These questions may well be turned around on you: Where would you like this job to lead?
One word of caution – at first interview, do not overdo the questions. If the interviewer asks if you have any questions, a sure way to dismay him is to dive into your briefcase and enthusiastically pull out a long list as if you were taking an inventory of the Titanic. Detailed questions about hours of work, holidays, and expenses should not be asked at first interview. These would probably be covered at a second interview anyway and would give the impression that short hours and long holidays may be high on your agenda!
Prepare a briefcase with everything you need, including the information about the company that you have gathered, a job description if you have been given one, several copies of your CV., a notepad with your questions written down on, a pen, a calculator, directions/map.
Take your passport or some other proof of your identity, your National Insurance Number, which is required by law to verify your right to work in the UK, and your driver’s licence (if this is likely to be necessary for the job).
Telephone your Consultant the night before the interview to make sure nothing has changed. Ask if they have had any feedback from other candidates interviewed by the company, what questions they were asked, and any preferences the interviewer might have, if they are known.
Many an interviewee has ruined his or her chances by poor presentation. Ask your Consultant beforehand about the style of the company you are visiting. Alternatively, ask the interviewer’s P.A. when you telephone in advance doing your research. If you have time and are able to observe the company before the day of the interview, you can see for yourself how the people there tend to dress.
But in most cases, you won’t go far wrong if you adopt a neutral presentation style – conservative and businesslike. No casual clothes!
Men should have tidy hair, and trim beards and moustaches neatly. Wear a dark or grey two piece business suit (unless attending a job as a stockbroker or an undertaker when waistcoats are mandatory!), white or pastel shirt, coordinated tie, dark socks, clean black shoes. Make sure your hands and nails are clean.
Men: No jewelry (one ring OK), NO piercings. Women: Limited, considered jewelry.
Women should also dress in a tailored and conservative style. If a skirt is worn, so should tights.
In both cases, the purpose is to not raise any questions by your attire.
The day of the interview
Make sure you have no other commitments on the day – you don’t want to appear distracted if the interview takes longer than you imagined (in fact, the opposite should be true – it’s usually a good sign!)
Find out exactly where the company is located, how to get there, and how long it will take. Plan to allow 50% extra time for the journey, however long it takes – an extra 15 minutes for a half hour journey, an extra two hours on a four-hour journey. It’s amazing how many things can go wrong on interview days! If you make good time and arrive early, you can use the time to relax, have a snack and recap your preparation notes.
If the interview is a very long way away, travel the night before, and stay in a local B&B.
Late arrival for an interview is never excusable.
Arrive at the company about fifteen minutes before your interview and announce yourself to Reception. You may have to sign in, or go through a security procedure. Take time to be pleasant to the receptionist, and other people you meet – word about your attitude towards them is sure to get back to the interviewer. Many interviewers put a lot of store by the opinion of their colleagues.
If there is company literature available in reception, read it while you wait. You may find an interesting nugget of information which you can use during your interview which would demonstrate your interest in the company.
When you are greeted by the interviewer, or if you are taken and introduced to him or her, remember that the first few moments of meeting are of the greatest importance. If you create a strong first impression, the interviewer may discount many negative factors after that, but if you create a poor first impression, you will have made a mountain to climb to win back the interviewer’s favour.
To create a good first impression – stand up straight, walk briskly towards the interviewer, smile and shake their hand with a firm, dry handshake. Do not crush their bones, do not hang on too long, do not use both hands, and do not clutch the end of the fingertips. Use the interviewer’s title and surname: How do you do Dr. Jones, I’m pleased to meet you.
The Interview Itself
Remember, you are being interviewed because the employer wants to recruit someone – not because he wants to trip you up or embarrass you. Often the interviewer is under pressure to recruit someone, and may not be highly skilled as an interviewer. He or she is probably as nervous as you are! In any case, it is as important for them as it is for you, to ensure that you are a good match for the company, and you must find out if they can offer you the career you are looking for.
Shrewd and practised interviewers will insist on questioning you first, to find out how you think and feel. However, it is much more helpful to you, if you can ask questions of the company first, in order to find out what is important to them, and then you can sell yourself more effectively to them. If you get a chance, after exchanging the usual pleasantries at the beginning, say something like ‘I’m very pleased to have this opportunity to meet you Mr Jones, and I have a few key questions that I’d like to ask you, if I may.’ Most interviewers are only too pleased that you appear to be taking the initiative, and will let you ask your questions first.
However, if the interviewer takes control and asks his questions first, don’t worry – just answer them honestly, and try not to make categorical statements about your preferences, so as to keep your options open.
Be Prepared to Answer Questions Like…
- What do you know about us?
- Tell me about yourself! (Prepare beforehand, a short 1 – 2 minute ‘potted history’ of yourself)
- What are your strengths? (Prepare for this as well: don’t be arrogant! Employers value hard work, enthusiasm and reliability above most other characteristics)
- What are your weaknesses? (Don’t admit to anything too damaging such as ‘Lazy’, but suggest things such as ‘I have difficulty with arrogant people, but I’m learning to hold my tongue!’)
- What has been your key achievement in your current employment ?
- Why do you want to work for our company?
- Why do you want this job?
- Where do you want your career to go? (Employers look for evidence that you have a life-plan and are not just drifting from one job to the next. You don’t have to be specific, but you could say ‘I want to achieve as much as I can in life, and to be successful in this job is the first step. I’m sure that once I’ve achieved that, you’ll be able to help me to decide which is the best route forward.’)
Why should we select you above all the others? What can you ‘bring to the party’? (You could do worse than saying ‘If you take me on Mr Jones, I’ll give you energy, enthusiasm and 110% commitment’)
Interview Advice Do’s and Don’ts
DO fill out application forms neatly and completely.
DO wait until you are offered a chair before sitting. Sit upright in the chair, leaning slightly forwards, with your hands visible, folded on your lap. Look alert and interested throughout. Be a good listener as well as a good talker. Use your ears and mouth in proportion. Look the interviewer in the eye while you talk to him or her, but try not to stare.
DO get your points across in a factual, logical, sincere manner. Stress achievements from work, study or personal life. Take documented evidence of your successes – letters of commendation, certificates, letters from grateful customers. Be prepared to SELL YOURSELF.
DO follow the employer’s leads, but try to ask your questions as early in the interview as you can. If you know what’s important to the company, you’ll stand a better chance of telling them why you are right for the job.
DO conduct yourself throughout the interview as if you are determined to get the job you are discussing.
DO indicate that you are intent on a career in this particular line of work. DO mention it if you are under consideration by a similar organisation.
DON’T chew gum.
DON’T answer questions solely with a Yes or No. Explain wherever possible. Tell the interviewer about your experience and knowledge which relates to the requirements of the job.
DON’T waffle, be succinct.
DON’T lie. Employers almost always verify the information given to them by taking references.
DON’T make excuses for past failures; employers respect candour and honesty.
DON’T make derogatory remarks about your present or former employers or companies.
DON’T be contentious. Avoid discussion about sex, politics or religion, if at all possible.
DON’T enquire about salary, holiday, bonuses, or other benefits, unless the employer has said he would like to offer you the job. If you are asked what salary you want say ‘What I’m really interested in is the career opportunity that you have to offer. I’m sure if I’m the right person for the job, you’ll offer me a fair wage.’ If pressed, tell him what your current salary is, if applicable.
DON’T indicate that you are considering this job as one of a number of different career options.
Most Common Causes of Failure
Failure to ask questions about the job – specifically ‘What exactly does this job entail?’
Persistent attitude of ‘What’s in it for me?’
Lack of interest or enthusiasm.
Failure to look the employer in the eye.
Lack of preparation for the interview.
Poor personal appearance/poor first impression.
Limp fishy handshake.
Unable to express thoughts clearly, poor poise, diction or grammar.
Overemphasis on money – interested only in ‘big bucks’.
Evasive – making excuses for unfavourable factors in record.
Lack of planning for career – no purpose or goals.
Overbearing, conceited, ‘know-it-all’ attitude.
The Most Important Thing!
Our interview advice page would not be complete without this one piece of advice! Employers are always more interested in people who are keen on the job. If you are interested in the position, and would like to receive an offer, ASK FOR THE JOB! ‘Mr Jones, I’m very interested in this position, and I’m sure I can do a good job for you. When will I be able to start?’ Or, if a second interview has been indicated ‘Mr Jones, you said earlier that there would have to be a second interview. I’m very interested in this position and I’m sure I can do a good job for you. Are there any reasons why I shouldn’t be invited back for a second interview?’
In either case, you may be told that the company has other people to see before a decision can be reached. You should at least agree a date to talk again to find out how to proceed ‘If I haven’t heard from you by next Friday Mr Jones, I’ll call you to find out where I stand, if that’s alright?’
If you do have to wait for a few days, and you are interested, write a neat handwritten letter to the employer straight away, thanking him for the interview and expressing your interest. Confirm that if you haven’t heard from the company by the agreed time, you will telephone to find out where you stand. Send the letter by first class post.
Just as Important…
Immediately after your interview you must telephone your consultant. Very often employers telephone us to give us feedback, and always ask ‘Have you heard from the candidate?’ It is much more encouraging to the employer if we can say that we have, and that you are very interested. Call us from the company’s reception area if they have a telephone you can use, or from a nearby callbox (we will call you straight back!) or from you mobile phone.
When you have received an offer of employment which you are inclined to accept, you must consider very carefully whether it really solves your problem and offers you the opportunity you are seeking before you resign from your current employment.
If you choose to accept the offer and to resign from your current employment, you must be prepared to resist powerful, persuasive tactics which your employer can use to change your mind.
It is invariably a costly irritation for employers to recruit your replacement and often they will do everything they can to keep you. They may offer large sums of money or increased benefits, titles and promises for the future. They can also apply strong emotional and psychological pressure. It can be attractive and tempting to accept.
However, once they know you are discontented, they will regard you as a ‘problem employee’. Nationally compiled statistics show that nine out of ten people who accept counter offers have left their employment within six months, either because their employers arrange a replacement in their own time, or because the real reasons for wanting to change your job in the first place, have not gone away.
Twelve Reasons for Not Accepting a Counter Offer
- You have now made your employer aware that you are unhappy. From this day on your commitment will always be in question.
- When promotion time comes around, your employer will remember who is loyal and who isn’t.
- When times get tough, your employer will begin the cutbacks with you.
- When your employer replaces you after six months and ‘lets you go’, it’ll be harder to turn them around that it was for them to turn you around.
- Accepting a counter offer is an insult to your intelligence. You didn’t know what was best for you.
- Accepting a counter offer is a blow to your personal pride, knowing you were ‘bought’.
- Accepting a counter offer rarely changes the factors that drove you to look for a new job in the first place.
- Where is the money for the counter offer coming from? Is it your next pay rise early?
- Statistics show that if you accept a counter offer, there is a ninety percent chance you will be out of the job within six months.
- What type of a company do you work for if you have to threaten to resign before they give you what you’re worth?
- Why didn’t they pay you that before? It was because they didn’t think you were worth it.
- Why are they paying it to you now? It’s because it’s easier and cheaper for them to keep you for the time being, while they sort the problem out.
DON’T ACCEPT COUNTER OFFERS!!!
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