When you get that invitation to interview your initial excitement is always tempered slightly with trepidation at what’s to come. In the days before many people send themselves into an anxious frenzy, scouring the web for every interview tip and technique they can find. Some of them even end up reading blogs like this! It is worth remembering that there’s an unavoidable element of subjectivity surrounding each and every aspect of the recruitment process, so don’t be surprised to come across conflicting advice. I’ve tried to turn this on its head and help you find the ‘middle ground’….
1) “Do your research….but don’t go overboard”
There’s no way you should ever attempt to wing it in an interview, hoping charm alone will win the day. Good preparation is critical to a good outcome, so don’t think you can skip the research and fill in the blanks. It is imperative that you research the company/organisation and have a comprehensive understanding of their vision, clients, products, services and competitors. What this doesn’t mean is quoting quarterly reports verbatim, regurgitating the mission statement, citing every single deal since time began or sharing personal info about the CEO following a sustained and relentless internet search. You want to appear professional, informed and motivated not obsessive with stalker-ish tendencies.
It’s tempting to show the interviewer just how much you know but the interview isn’t simply a vehicle to showcase your encyclopaedic knowledge about X company. The employer is looking for you to draw intelligent connections between the company/role and your own skills, experience, values and attributes.
2) ” Ask questions….but not too many”
You should take every opportunity during the interview process to show your interest and affirm your suitability for the position. Posing the odd question throughout the interview is a good way to do this, but firing questions with the intensity and velocity of an AK47 is counter productive. The interviewer will react in a number of ways, none of which will work in your favour. They may assume:
- You haven’t been listening
- You’re very nervous
- You’re trying to gain the upper hand
- You’re deflecting the interviewer
- You’re showing off!
I have been on the receiving end and it’s not much fun. It’s hard to shake the feeling that you’ve become engaged – unwittingly – in a war of attrition. Perhaps the candidate was hoping I’d gasp in awe at their confidence and control; instead, I just felt annoyed and irritated. They didn’t get the job.
Ask sensible, thoughtful questions but remember an interview is a discussion, not an interrogation (interviewers: the same applies to you…!)
3) “Be enthusiastic…..but not desperate”
Ah, the whiff of desperation during an interview. It’s palpable and the interviewer can sense it a mile off. Now I have experienced enough interviews to know that personality counts for something; as an interviewer you do warm to candidates who smile and seem genuinely pleased (nerves aside) to be there. There’s nothing more frustrating than interviewees who look bored, uninterested or indifferent. Why not call it quits and stop wasting everyone’s time? But……the flip side of the coin, is the candidate who is SO eager to please they nod assiduously at any and every comment and smile as if their very life depended on it.
You’re not there to “please” the interviewer – leave the grovelling to X Factor candidates. Employers won’t hire you because you really want (or need) the job; they’ll appoint you because you’ve got what it takes. Bear in mind, every interview is a two way process and you need to decide whether YOU want to work for them.
4) “Show a little personality….but not too much”
The default setting in an interview scenario should always be, “look, think, act like a professional”. However, this doesn’t mean expunging all traces of your personality. Yes, employers are looking for candidates who fit the company culture and will complement the existing team, but they’re not recruiting an army of clones. Try not to contort yourself in knots fitting some pre-conceived notions about the ideal employee.
Despite your fears to the contrary, interviewers are not looking for perfection. I don’t think many of us give a truly flawless performance during interviews, and employers are surprisingly tolerant of the odd brain freeze or memory lapse. They’ve been on the other side too. How you handle the situation is the real litmus test. Just smile, collect yourself and start over.
Likeability can often seal the deal. If you allow just a little of your personality through, the chances are you’ll triumph over the ‘perfect’ but over-rehearsed and robotic candidate.
I’ll just issue one word of warning: bring your personality, but leave the eccentrcity at home. This isn’t the time to show yourself ‘warts and all’!
5) “Learn from the experience….but don’t dwell on it”
If you don’t get the outcome you’re hoping for, give yourself a bit of time to lick your wounds, feel aggrieved and then move on. We do tend to magnify the negatives and obliterate the positives, so your initial reaction to a ‘poor’ interview may be more emotional than rational.
It’s often worth jotting down some key points – good and bad – whilst the experience is still fresh in your mind. Use this information to help you move forward and refine your strategy for next time. Talk it through with a careers adviser or book a mock interview; it may be you did everything right but simply fell foul of the numbers game – more applicants than there are jobs. Alternatively, there’s some other reason that’s stopping you converting interview into offer, and you won’t succeed next time round unless you find out *what* that something is. Either way, you’ll end the discussion more informed – and hopefully reassured – than you started. It’s a win-win.
One final thought: successful people are no strangers to failure – hold on to that fact.