Are poor interview skills holding you back from getting the job that you want? Are you interested in standing out from the pack and shining out as a top candidate for the job?
Your CV has been shortlisted for the job and you have landed a job interview. Congratulations! You have already crossed the first important step towards landing the job of your dreams. Acing job interviews is an important and useful skill. Your posture, body language, preparation and answering skills will help the interviewer decide if you are suited for the job that you have applied for. But what exactly is a job interview and what is its purpose? Are job interviews conducted to select the best candidates, weed out the unsuitable ones or assess competencies?
You can often receive well-intentioned but incorrect advice from peers and friends. Many times, we are so focused on analysing our words and actions that we are only half-present at interviews. If we are asked a trick question, we may be caught off-guard and may stumble over our words. Excessive nervousness can drive all our carefully researched preparation out of our heads in an instant. This article describes how to excel at job interviews and portray your skills and attributes to a prospective employer in the most effective manner.
What is an Interview?
An interview is a face-to-face consultation (nowadays, it’s common to hold interviews online using interface packages such as Skype or even on the phone) between representatives of the company and the candidate. In simple language, the company has a job post available to be filled and they are looking for a suitable applicant who will help fill the requirement. The purpose of an interview is twofold: the prospective employer is able to gain valuable insights into your competencies and personality; and you, as a potential employee, are able to gauge whether your skills correspond to the job profile. The employer uses this time to judge if he or she will be comfortable having you in their office. Many times, the process of interviewing may not end with a single interview. You may be interviewed at different levels. For example, you may be first interviewed by a representative of a recruitment agency and then by a representative of the company.
The interview stage is an important selection process because the prospective employer gets to select the most suitable candidate from multiple applicants. An interview reveals several aspects of your personality and abilities which a CV alone is unable to convey. For example, an interview can bring your speaking and communication skills, body language, confidence and interaction skills to the fore. The interviewers get a fair idea regarding your ability to fit in with the organisation’s culture and connect with prospective colleagues. Your social skills and behaviour reveals a lot about the kind of person you are. For example, if there are two job posts open, the interviewer may recommend a more extrovert personality for a marketing role and a technically-savvy applicant for research and development. Interviews can be one-on-one or a panel interview where you are interviewed by a group of people.
Important Interview Strategies and Techniques
Remember to do extensive research on the company that has called you for an interview: This will not only help demonstrate your interest in the job, but also help you anticipate the kind of questions that the interviewer may ask. The best way to do this is to visit the company’s website and read the ‘about us’, ‘team’, products and services’ and blog sections. This will help you gain insights into the kind of work done by the company.
In addition, you can try reading press releases and press articles, LinkedIn profiles as well as stock up on information regarding the company’s competitors. If you have anyone in your network who can provide extra information about the company, then try to tap into your sources. By investigating the company, you improve your chances of becoming a stand-out candidate. This is because after researching the company’s mission, values and goals, you will be better placed to understand the skills and attributes that the company looks for in their candidates. The information will also provide insight about clients, key players in the organisation and the person who may interview you. Knowing a little about their backgrounds will help you establish a rapport early on in the interview.
It’s best to be well-prepared for a list of common questions that are usually asked during interviews. Some of these questions are described below along with tips for answering them:
Can you tell me about yourself?
After some chitchat about the weather or sports, this is usually the first question asked during interviews. At this juncture, it’s best to respond with highlights of your career. If you have taken a career break due to having children, this is a good time to mention it. Please do not start talking in too much detail about your qualifications because this information is already on your CV. Instead, focus on your ambitions and suitability for the role in question. This is usually one of the first questions in the interview and your response will help set the tone for the rest of the interview. This is a good chance to mention the positive things that you want the employer to know about you.
Keep your answer concise and relevant and avoid rambling on about hobbies, etc. Interviewers usually ask this open-ended question in order to judge your suitability. A bad hire will reflect poorly on the interviewer’s judgement. Your answer to this question will help form his or her first impression of you.
Why do you wish to join our company? /Why should we consider hiring you?
While you can pinpoint your qualifications, this should not be the only criteria because other candidates may be as much or better qualified than you. In addition to your qualification, direct the interviewer’s attention to your soft skills such as communication, ambition or presentation skills. This will demonstrate your ability to integrate yourself with the company. This is also a good opportunity to accentuate the positives in your application, especially if you do not fully possess the qualifications that the job profile requires. For example, you can express your willingness to learn and be mentored in the job role.
What do you consider to be your greatest strengths?
You can lightly touch on general strengths such as diligence, competence and meticulousness. However, these are qualities that any applicant can claim to possess. Hence, a better way to respond is to highlight three strong attributes and back it up with proof of the quality. For example, if you are a good organiser, you can provide details of a complex corporate event that you supervised.
What do you consider to be your greatest weakness?
This can be a rather tricky question to navigate and most candidates may not be ready to admit their flaws in the middle of an important interview. Please do not say that you do not possess any weaknesses as this indicates lack of preparation for the interview as well as lack of self-awareness. It’s also a rather stereotypical answer. Similarly, please avoid giving backhanded compliments to yourself, such as saying that your weakness is that you work too hard. Be honest in your appraisal of your weakness and remember that identifying a weakness is itself a sign of strength. You must ensure that you declare your willingness to work on it in order to take your candidacy to the next level. Some examples of weakness could include public speaking, the ability to delegate or spending too much time re-checking work.
Be careful here and do not describe any drastic weakness such as saying, “I always come to the office with a hangover on Monday mornings” (this sort of answering spells disaster).
What makes you a good team player?
Although candidates usually give clichéd answers here regarding cooperation, friendliness, ability to adapt, etc., the best way to respond to this question is to give concrete information that backs up your claim of being a team player. You can cite club activities or outings, organising events in your community or fundraisers, etc. It’s not always necessary to give an example relating to the corporate world.
Do you have any questions for me/us?
You can pick on something to do with the job duties, profile or responsibilities that the interviewer mentioned in passing and request them to expand on it. This will indicate that you have been listening with utmost attention to the discussion. The interviewer is likely to see a red flag if you do not have any questions for the interviewer. This often indicates that you have not been engaged or interested enough in the interview. Again, do not ask questions regarding your job profile, etc. as this will be clearly explained on the website. Try to keep the questions meaningful and relevant:
- Questions regarding on-the-job training and performance reviews
- Questions regarding a typical work day and common challenges
- Immediate projects to be addressed
- Questions regarding the last person who held the job
- Opportunities for career growth and professional advancement
Please remember that the questions described above need not be asked in every interview. Although preparation is an excellent idea, do not allow your responses to sound over-rehearsed and contrived like a text book. Speak naturally and while you should read the list of good answers, avoid trying to repeat them verbatim. The interviewer is likely to see through it.
Additional Suggestions on how to give a Winning Interview
- Social media posts: Please monitor your social media postings because most interviewers now scan your online presence. Delete any information that could prove embarrassing to yourself or show up your candidature in a negative light. The rationale behind this is that interviewers increasingly feel that they are likely to get a far more honest portrait of your personality from your Facebook profile than during a formal interview alone. There is less likelihood of posing as something that you are not.
Social media postings can reveal your communication style very clearly. For example, it will easily show if you are belligerent, argumentative or unfriendly to people. On the other hand, it can also show if you are intelligent, witty and warm. Prospective interviewers are put off by poor grammar and spelling, offensive language and posts of a sexual nature. Be careful of what you post on your profile; while a photo of toasting someone with a glass of wine is acceptable, it’s not cool to be seen plastered on the floor.
- Find out how to get to the venue and start early to avoid traffic snarls. Arrive in plenty of time. Arriving late for an interview can create a negative first impression because it points to lack of planning and not caring enough to arrive on time.
- Turn off your mobile phone before going into the interview. It is unprofessional to have your mobile ringing while in any sort of interview or meeting.
- Take important documents like copies of your CV, references and other documentation neatly arranged in a file. Use clear markers because you don’t want to fumble with the file and take forever to take out a document. However, do be careful that you don’t reveal confidential information regarding your existing job.
- Come across as a person who is genuinely interested in the job. Exude confidence in your body language (more on that later) and in the way you speak. Personal interest, optimism and enthusiasm make us desirable candidates: they are always perceived as positive attributes.
- Focus more on what the company wants rather than what you want. To the interviewer, the needs of the company are paramount and they are more likely to select a candidate who meets their needs.
- Keep your mind concentrated on the discussion, this offers multiple benefits. Firstly, you will be able to absorb the important details and secondly, you will be unable to fret or feel nervous about the interview process. Research shows that our minds can only focus on one thing at a time. Use this fact to advantage.
- There is a fine line between confident and cocky. Interviewers are adept at picking up on cues. Confidence indicates self-assurance while cockiness hints at arrogance. Cockiness usually arises out of external sources (material or financial privileges) while confidence comes from within.
- Follow the conversational style of the interviewer. If he or she only wants precise answers, respond accordingly. If they want a casual conversation, go with the flow. Do not overstep your role as an applicant seeking a job; don’t become too familiar with the interviewer and please avoid profanity or inappropriate language. Talking too much is considered undesirable and you could end up talking yourself out of the job.
- Remember to email the person who interviewed you even if you don’t eventually land the job. The favourable impression will keep the communication open to dialogue and the recruiter or interviewer may consider you for fresh job opportunities.
- Your overall goal is to appear interested but not desperate and needy. Even if the job is very important to you, show energy but do not grovel for the post. There will always be other opportunities.
Special Interview Tips for Stay-at-Home Mums returning to Work
As a stay-at-home mum returning to work, you will most probably be asked to explain the gaps in your CV. Even if you have to do this, do it with confidence. Never apologise for the fact that you stayed at home to raise children. Explain instead that you made the best decision for the wellbeing of your family. The process can seem challenging initially. After answering questions like, “Why can’t I eat chocolate cereal all day?”, you have to now respond to questions like “What was your last difficult experience with a client?”.
- Update yourself on the job and requirements: things may have changed drastically during the time that you stayed home. It doesn’t pay to appear like Rip Van Winkle waking up after a slumber; you may be asked to do your own correspondence and use equipment that may be new to you. You must also be prepared to learn new office jargon and adapt yourself to a changing office culture.
- Prepare answers to common questions (such as those described above)
- Bring along documents, copies of your CV and any career-related certificates etc.
- Relax before the interview and remind yourself of your talents, skills and abilities
- Ensure that you have organised for babysitting at home
- Make sure that you ask a few questions at the end. For example, you could consider asking about time off from work if required or working hours on weekends.
Interview Mistakes to Avoid
- Do not show off to the interviewer even if you have a history of successes
- Avoid complaining about your most recent employer; it shows lack of loyalty
- Please avoid giving monosyllables as answers; be your natural self
- Avoid over-familiar gestures such as winking. Also avoid discussing salary and benefits too soon.
- Talk about what you can do rather than what you cannot do. There will always be something that you cannot do but shift the emphasis to the positive side.
- Do not fabricate facts or stretch the truth – you will get found out and be shown up as a dishonest person.
- Avoid talking too fast. This can sometimes happen when our nerves get the better of us and we begin to stumble on our words. The information we communicate can be incomplete and erratic. Remember to modulate your speed of talking in a conscious manner.
Nonverbal Cues that can make or break the Interview
Nonverbal cues are subtle but powerful communication tools that can predispose the interviewer in your favour or prejudice him/her against you subconsciously.
- Offer a firm but not bone-crushing handshake. If there are many interviewers, shake hands with all of them.
- Sit up straight but don’t arch your back and sit ramrod straight. Avoid slouching. Keep your file/folder on the table.
- Avoid fidgeting with your pen, shaking your legs restlessly or unconsciously touching your hair. Relax and keep your movement minimal. Also avoid dramatic hand gestures while answering.
- Sit all the way back in your seat.
- Make steady eye contact but break it off now and then. You don’t want to stare your interviewer down or appear intimidating. At the same time, do not stare around the room or look down all the time as this indicates lack of confidence or lack of attention.
- Avoid clearing your throat every now and then; take a few sips of water instead. Speak on the exhale as you breathe.
- Smile now and then because it feels natural and human rather than keeping a poker face without expression. This can act as a put-off for the interviewer.
- Dress well but do not dress outlandishly. Scruffy shoes or complicated hair styles that prove to be a distraction are also to be avoided. Please do not wear clothes that are construed as revealing. Keep your attire plain and simple.
- Nod your head to indicate interest and attention and lean your body slightly in towards the interviewer.
Excelling at an interview means much more than simply giving artful answers to the interviewer. Interview techniques and tips are crucial because many times, you may not be aware of what you are communicating through your responses and body language. The process should be a mindful and conscious one.
An interview is an evaluative process but not an interrogation. Both parties contribute to the discussion. Everything you do speaks volumes about you: the way you enter, your dress, body language, eye contact, voice modulation, communication skills, confidence and the way you take leave at the end of the interview. You have a limited time in which you need to make the maximum impact on your prospective employers. This is your chance to show the employer the value that you can bring to their company. Interviews can last anywhere from 15 minutes to over two hours, depending on the complexity of the role. Keep in mind that it’s not only essential to know important information, but also communicate it in an effective and organised manner.
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