An interview is an intense and artificial way of measuring whether you will be a good fit for a role. Until another method is developed, it is important to learn how to play this game. My first interview was secured through a friend who had an office suite on the same floor as an Accountant. The interview lasted about half an hour. Part of the interview included the Accountant asking me to write a sentence so he could determine how legible my handwriting was. How interviews have changed!
First impressions are very important. It makes sense to dress your best for interview, regardless of the dress code of the organisation. When in doubt about how to dress for an interview, dress as formally and professionally as possible. It is much better to be overdressed than underdressed. Make sure you are on time and that you have a firm handshake. Something important to consider is that once you enter the building, your interview has begun. Everyone you speak to has the potential to influence the outcome so treat everyone with the respect they deserve. Maintaining good eye contact, posture and listening carefully are key. Studies show that people make judgments about you within four minutes of your first meeting and these judgments form their subsequent impressions. They also suggest that 55% of perception of you is based on how you look.
Another important factor for employers is cultural fit. Without a good understanding of the organisation, you cannot possibly demonstrate your fit for their culture. Ensure that you use all sources available to gain this knowledge including the ad, job description, company website, your network, the annual report and current affairs. Researching the company’s mission statement and values will be a good starting point in terms of which competencies to focus on. Using buzz words from the website is a good indicator of your knowledge. If you were interviewing for Deloitte, for example, referring to their 7 signals and picking some that resonate with you would strengthen your case.
Understanding the people interviewing you can be as important as learning about the business. A small thing like mispronunciation of an interviewer’s name could lose you a lot of points. Do your research on google and LinkedIn and speak to your network to work out what matters to them. Just before an interview I found out that one of the panel members was a big believer in mindfulness. Amazing, but the use of that word or inferences to mindfulness made a visible difference to the rapport I built with him.
Prepare an elevator pitch. The key elements of the pitch should convey your skills and abilities and the resulting benefit. Include a memorable competitive advantage that can be the edge that will enable you to stand out from others. Practice your pitch in front of friends or family to get it right. Then recite it from memory and deliver it in an enthusiastic, confident manner. This article from Forbes contains some great ideas about the elevator pitch based on concepts from Dan Pink : https://www.forbes.com/sites/carminegallo/2013/03/26/six-simple-and-irresistible-alternatives-to-the-elevator-pitch/#544f3e4b24d2
To convince an employer that you are the best candidate for the role, you need to make a connection with them. This should happen naturally, but you can influence it too – if only to give the interviewer the feeling that you are getting on. Examples are leaning forward or backwards to mirror your interviewer or at a coffee interview, pacing yourself to drink at the same rate as they do.
There is no way to predict what an interviewer will ask, but preparation will assist you in doing the best job you can. Preparation is essential and practice makes perfect. Strong preparation will allow the interviewer to have a good understanding of your past performance which is indicative of your future potential.
General interview questions are mainly to break the ice, to build rapport and find out about you – whether you understand the role and the culture of the organisation. Some general questions that are frequently asked at interview are:
- Tell me about yourself?
- Would you like to walk me through your resume?
- What appeals to you about this role?
- Why do you think you would be a good fit for this organisation?
- What attributes would make you a strong candidate for this role?
“Tell me about yourself?” is a tricky question. How long does one speak about themselves? Some of us could go on for days! Use two minutes as a guide for how long to spend on question.
A structure that can be useful is to cover your:
- Interests outside of work
The focus should be on the education and experience, the last point is just to provide more information on yourself and to give the interviewer comfort that you will be able to relate well to the other staff. When discussing your education and experience, start with the item that comes first chronologically and work your way towards the present. When, “walking” through your resume, spend more time on the roles that relate to the role you are applying for. This question resembles the previous one, but it is a good idea to go into more detail.
Prior to the interview, it is a good idea to think of what your strongest competencies are and how they match to the role. This will help with several questions including:
What are your strengths?
- What appeals to you about the role?
- What attributes make you a strong candidate?
While it is important to make your case for the role, what you don’t say is equally important. Any negative comments regarding past employers could really count against you. The topic of salary can also be challenging. It is generally not advisable to raise salary or other benefit questions at the first interview. The general rule is that anything related to remuneration should be raised by the interviewer.
Having your own good questions about the organisation or role demonstrates that you understand the industry or the challenges facing the role. Asking what would be expected from you in the first 30 and 90 days in the role, can be helpful to understand exactly what is entailed.
Equipped with preparation and practice you will be in a good position to face your next interview. Bear in mind that you are interviewing the organisation as much as they are interviewing you! This will give you confidence and help you lose some of those natural interview nerves when you enter the interview room. Remember to enjoy the game.
Karen Lewitton is a founding member of the FlexCoach panel of career and executive coaches. Having worked in Cape Town, San Francisco, London and Sydney in professional services, investment banking, asset management, recruitment (14 years in Australia) and coaching, Karen has a diverse background and good understanding of different cultures.
Karen enjoys helping people discover their goals and providing the tools to assist realisation.
FlexCareers offers a free 30-min chemistry session with our coaches. You can connect with Karen here