Making the right impression
So you’ve applied for the job, and you’ve been offered an interview. Fantastic! Now you’re getting there. Except… now you’ve actually got to get through the next stage, and face your inquisitors – or even a whole panel of them. Some people treat interviews as a complete nightmare, whereas others seem to walk them. Whatever your view, our guide on interview techniques is sure to offer some food for thought.
It’s a two way street
One of the first things to bear in mind is that if you’ve been invited for interview, you’re already one step ahead. The recruiter is interested enough in what they’ve already learned about you to want to see you; you made it beyond the rejection pile, and one way or another succeeded in getting their attention.
It’s important, as you start to think about your forthcoming interview, to bear in mind that it should be as much about you finding out about your potential employer as it is for them to find out about you. That isn’t to say that you shouldn’t do your research on the organisation first: if you’re a fan of TV’s The Apprentice you’ll have seen candidate after candidate caught out because they didn’t find out enough about Lord Alan Sugar’s business. But the public face of an organisation may not match the reality of working there, so an interview should be your chance to ask your own probing questions.
And when you start to think about it that way round, it can seem a little less daunting.
Different companies will use different formats for interviews, ranging from the informal (and perhaps even disorganised), through to highly structured sessions in which all candidates are asked exactly the same questions.
If the post you’re applying for is quite technical, like a web developer position, then of course some of the questions will be designed to tease out your level of knowledge to see if you’re up to the job; you may be asked hypothetical questions about how you might solve a particular problem, for example.
For more creative roles like web designer, you’ll almost certainly be asked about how your experience or abilities can help you solve real-world commercial problems. There may be an opportunity to run through your portfolio, so plan in advance which pieces to include: generally employers like to see a range of work to show your versatility, and to hear how specific pieces met a particular brief (rather than that you just thought that a particular design worked well for its own sake). So rehearse how you will show your work smoothly (on a computer, hard copies etc), and prepare something to say about each piece – but also prepare to be interrupted with questions, and only have time to show a few examples.
Types of interview
Interviews can be one-to-one, or more commonly you’ll be seen by two or more people. You may even find yourself being interviewed with other candidates – or at least run into them while you wait.
If the job is in another city, or even another country, you may be interviewed by phone, at least as an initial filtering process, and nowadays it’s not uncommon for video services like Skype to be used to cut travel costs.
The main thing is to try to find out in advance what form the interview will take. Ask about interview length, whether any tests might be involved, and whether you should bring anything in particular. And of course, double check the location of the interview, allow yourself plenty of time on the day, and work out – and if necessary even rehearse – your route, parking, transport etc beforehand.
The aim is to prepare as well as you can, and avoid feeling surprised on the day, so you can focus on what’s going on in the interview itself.
Practice makes perfect
While you can’t know what questions you’ll be asked, you can make a fair guess. So it’s always worth putting yourself in your interviewer’s shoes, and thinking about the post in advance, reading the job and person description, and predicting the main questions you’ll be asked. Then work out your answers, thinking about how you can distinguish yourself from other candidates. How much time you invest preparing depends on how much you want the job, but you could do far worse than running over the questions with a friend, with them playing the part of the interviewer, to perfect your answers. Ask them for their honest feedback afterwards. What could you do better? And if you’re really serious, try videoing yourself in your mock interview: when you play it back, notice which questions you answered well, which other points you could make – and which distracting habits you display that it would be worth trying to eliminate!
Choose whether you feel nervous or confident
As well as running through possible questions, some experts recommend other mental techniques for optimum performance, and suggest that there is a choice as to whether you feel ‘nervous’, ‘confident’ – or any other state. An approach, ahead of the interview, is to think about what frame of mind would be most useful – say it’s ‘determined’ – and then fully remember a time when you felt that way. As you do this, tap a finger onto your thumb to help you remember what ‘determined’ is like for you – and when you enter your interview, repeat the physical gesture as you again remember when you were ‘determined’, and recreate that state. And then remember to focus on what’s going on in the interview room.
Look and act the part
You want to stand out – for the right reasons, not the wrong ones. So it’s best to wear appropriate business clothing you feel comfortable in and don’t need to worry about. It’s generally best to over-dress than feel you’ve portrayed yourself as appearing too casual – even if you do find your interviewers are casually attired.
As well as examples of your work if it’s appropriate, take with you the letter confirming your interview details, your CV, and perhaps a pad with some key points you want to make, and a list of your own questions.
Feeling calm is to a great extent about feeling in control, so arrive early, announce yourself clearly when greeted, give your name and interview time and have your confirmation letter to hand.
During the interview
Here are some pointers for during the interview itself:
- take care to listen to questions, and then give concise answers
- don’t waffle, but rather try to offer examples that support your answers when you can
- if you don’t understand a question, ask for clarification
- try to make eye contact with the person asking the question, and if possible with any other panel members during the course of an answer
- consider – but don’t get too obsessed with – your body language: research has shown that body language can be the most important factor when people meet for the first time, above what you actually say
- some say sticking to very simple answers, particularly towards the beginning of an interview when interviewers are already processing a lot of visual information about you, is more effective
- while cracking jokes or making what you consider to be witticisms is generally thought to be a high-risk strategy, it is however well worth smiling from time to time
We’re all human
And finally, remember that if you are anxious during an interview, that’s fine, because it shows you’re human. In fact, sometimes people who are slightly nervous come over a lot better.
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