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What To Do At An Interview

1. Prepare thoroughly.

Time spent in preparation is rarely wasted. The main thing to think about is what the employer is looking for. If you have been given a job description, work through it carefully, looking for parallels with your own experience and ideas. If you’re not sure what they are looking for, put yourselves in their shoes, and ask yourself how a person in this position could make a positive contribution to a business like theirs. Check them out. Look at their website, brochures and annual report. You might even pose as a customer on the phone, to see how they deal with you and what their style is like.Check out their market. Read the industry magazines, learn the buzzwords, see if there are any trends affecting their business which you can talk about confidently. If there are people you know who may have a connection with the company, give them a call; ask if they could suggest anyone else you could talk to. Find out as much as you can about how the interview will be run, who will be present, how long it will last and any tests they might be running. The personnel department should be able to answer these questions. If the advertisement makes it clear that candidates are welcome to call for an ‘informal chat’ before the interview, make the most of the opportunity. Failure to call might suggest a lack of initiative or interest. Prepare carefully for the call with a list of questions. One of your objectives will be to understand what they are looking for – so ask the question directly. Sound cheerful and friendly, but don’t stay on the line too long if you sense the other person is trying to end the call. Take notes of what the other person said – you might be able to refer back to some of the points later during your interview. Ask them to fax you a map of their location, or get one yourself. If you are nervous about the journey, take a mobile so you can check directions or warn.

2. Believe in yourself.

If you can win an interview you can win the job.

Be clear about your strengths. If it comes to answering a question about your weaknesses, relate it to your strengths. Say things like: “I can get a bit over-enthusiastic about my ability” rather than “I can be a bit stubborn at times”. Try and show you are a rounded person, aware of your own strengths, but also aware of the things which don’t come so easily to you, where you need to learn from others.

If you are asked a difficult question which exposes a problem – a gap in your CV for example – turn it round to something positive by talking about what you learned from being out of work. Nobody is free of mistakes – the important thing is to learn from them.

3. Be interested in them.

Look people in the eye when they are asking you a question. If you are not quite sure what they are driving at, ask something politely and gently which will encourage them to talk some more. Try and pick up on their responses to what you are saying, so the interview becomes more like a friendly conversation. If someone smiles at you, smile back or ask them a question.

If you can turn the interview into a conversation you will have more chances to steer it towards the things you want to talk about. When talking about your experience, try and use little stories and anecdotes to describe what you mean – it will make you seem more interesting and might spark off an exchange in which they share a similar example from their experience. Watch their body language for clues about who is in charge. If you think you can tell who is the key decision maker, make sure you relate to that person - without ignoring any of the others of course.

4. Look as if you are at home.

Dress like they do. If you don’t know how they dress try and visit their premises in advance, when plenty of people are arriving or leaving. Watch them carefully to get a sense of what they are like, and what their attitudes to work might be. If you are still uncertain about what to wear, dress formally. Try and look fresh, healthy and relaxed; give them the feeling you have plenty of energy! Aim to arrive early and soak up as much of the atmosphere as you can before you go on stage. Watch the receptionist. Check out what’s on the noticeboards. Listen to how people seem to be talking to each other. Pay attention to the person showing you to the interview room and smile as you come into the room.

Give them a firm handshake and try to say something to break the ice as you settle down. During the interview, try and speak as if you are already part of the organisation – without sounding arrogant. Say things like: “what would you be expecting me to deliver?”

5. Want the job.

If you give the impression that you are not sure if you want the job, you are less likely to be offered it. On the day, act as if you have a real desire to work for them – you can always change your mind later on. Have a clear idea about the benefits you want to bring to their company. Mention these benefits again at the end of the interview if they ask you to sum up why you want the job. Make this summary as snappy and as truthful as you can. Make sure the answer is more about what you can do for them, rather than what the job would do for you. Send a short letter or e-mail after the interview confirming your interest in the job.

6. A few don’t’s

  • Don’t make empty claims about yourself that you can’t back up.
  • Avoid clichés like “I’m responsible, conscientious and a good team-worker.” If you want to make these points, put them in your own words and use concrete, practical ‘for instances’ to make them believable.
  • Don’t persist in a line of questioning or press them to answer questions if they don’t give the answer you are hoping for.
  • Don’t complain about how you have been treated by previous employers.
  • Don’t look too keen to find out about perks, holidays etc. Do that later.
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