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Interview Success

Aug 28, 2008
If there's a single image that sums up the recruitment process it's the faces of three stern, note-taking interviewers staring at you from the other side of a table. With a combination of performance anxiety and ruthless self-promotion, it's no wonder that so many of us hate interviews. Unfortunately, a recent recruitment survey show interviews are by far the most popular means of assessing candidates, with 92% of companies using interviews. So if it's almost certain you'll have to face those stern-faced interviewers, it makes sense take some expert careers advice and master ways of creating an altogether happier image of interviews.

Believe the clichés: first impressions count

The practical issues of a good first impression include making sure you arrive early (do a dry run to make sure you can get there easily) and look well groomed, with clean teeth, fresh breath and a business-like appearance. Even if the company has a relaxed dress code, you'll never be out of place in a smart suit and clean shoes. Keep a handkerchief in your pocket or bag to blot any pre-interview nervous sweat from your palm so you can give a firm handshake to each interviewer with a confident announcement of your name. Maintain this good body language by not fiddling, smiling and keeping good eye contact. Take along a copy of your application and any information you could need in a smart folder and make sure you switch your mobile phone off.

Arm yourself with relevant information

Most invitation letters will tell you who your interview will be with and should also give you an idea of whether it will just be an interview, or whether there will be assessment elements to the day. If it doesn't tell you then feel free to make a polite phone call to the HR department to find out. Armed with this knowledge you can begin to research. You should prepare by researching the company, its products, the people (especially anyone who might be interviewing you) and the role. If relevant, practice psychometric tests many are freely available - and reacquaint yourself with specific software that might be needed for the job.

Research yourself

Before your interview look over the information that got you through the door - your CV, your covering letter and any application forms. Go back to the original advert and refresh yourself on the competencies that they are looking for. There is every chance that you will be asked to prove you have these qualities, so get some strong evidence to demonstrate it. Research how you can link each point of your CV to the job. Finally, reconnect with the motivation that inspired you to make the application in the first place. A candidate who can convey genuine enthusiasm for the role and company is very difficult to reject.

Prepare your answers, but not too much!

At least one practice session where you walk through the interview and practice your responses is essential. There are two questions in particular to which you must have an answer before you walk into the interview: "why do you want the job?" and "why do you think you are the perfect candidate?" Other common questions include, "What are your strengths and weaknesses?" "What has been your biggest challenge?" and "What do you know about the company?" It's better to have a fluid list of points which you can tailor for any given question, rather than an exact answer to a question that might not come up in the manner you expect.

How to give a good answer

There are some general rules to constructing a good answer. The first point is to listen carefully to the wording of the question. Rather than just hearing the word "teamwork" and listing your teamworking experience, listen if the interviewer is asking whether you like working in a team or whether you can work in a team. If you are in doubt about the meaning then politely ask for clarification. The second step is to think of your answer, don't just blurt out anything that comes to mind. If you need to buy thinking time, take a sip of water (ask for a glass at the beginning of the interview). Finally, give your answer - never a straight yes or no or a soft statement ("I'm a great team player") - but a statement of your opinion which you can then back up with reasoned and measurable evidence and strong facts.

The dreaded trick question

Trick questions, such as "who would your ideal dinner guests be?" are actually quite rare in interviews but they can crop up, so it's important to be prepared. The thing to remember is that what these questions really test is your ability to cope with the unexpected. So stay cool. If you need to time to think about you answer, ask if you can come back to that question later. You can use it as a chance to refer back to your skills, picking business leaders or people whose skills you admire as your guests, but ultimately there's no harm in answering a relatively trivial question with your honest opinion.

Classic interview mistakes

As tempting as it may be, never criticise your previous employers, colleagues or work. If you had to leave a job under a cloud then, as with all interview disclosures (periods of sickness, disabilities, criminal convictions), the best way to address the situation is in an honest and positive light. Never lie at an interview. Although massaging sales figures, or your previous salaries might seem harmless enough, HR departments often work co-operatively and any lie you tell could result in disaster.

Interviews are a two-way process

At some stage of the interview you will get a chance to ask questions. Make sure you take this opportunity. After all, your interview is the best chance you've got of making sure that you will enjoy doing the job and that you will fit well with the company. It also shows recruiters that your interest is genuine and that you've actively considered working for the company.

Coping with nerves

The best way to get over nerves is to prepare well. The fewer surprises that come your way, the less likely you are to get nervous. Ultimately, if you do find yourself put off by nerves then it's perfectly acceptable to mention it - everyone gets nervous and if you just ask for a moment to collect your thoughts, take a deep breath and drink some water - then you can get back on track. Don't try and avoid nerves with caffeine or alcohol as they can both make nerves worse.

Following it up

Ultimately, if you're not successful at an interview then getting feedback on your performance can help you improve your success rate for the future. Make a polite phone call to the HR department, asking for the person who conducted the interview. Explain that you accept their decision but would like any feedback that they can give you. Although you might feel quite emotional, try and focus on getting useful information rather than demanding an explanation. Getting feedback not only shows you where to improve but can also pinpoint other problems such as bad references which can be corrected for future interviews.
About the Author
Peter Whitehead is commissioned to write articles on behalf of iProfile the preferred CV template. iProfile brings the Online CV into the 21st Century.
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