Looking for, and actually getting, a new job is a big deal. And interviews are arguably the most daunting part of the job search process. Job hunting isn’t a walk in the park for anyone – not even the most seasoned professionals. If you have an interview lined up, half your work is done, but you still need to focus on making a strong impression, and convincing the other party that you are the perfect fit for the role. Here are some tips to stand out from the competition:
This should be a no brainer, but it’s amazing how many people neglect to do comprehensive research before heading into an interview. You need to research all the available information about the employer – this includes going through the company website in detail and doing a thorough search on Google, LinkedIn, their social media and in the news. With this knowledge, you’ll be able to demonstrate your business acumen; ask intelligent, informed questions; and impress the interviewer with your keenness. Plus you’ll get an insight into the company’s culture, its people and values.
An employer needs to see that you have a very clear understanding of the role and that your skills and experiences are aligned to the job. They also need to feel that you will fit in well with the company culture.
Begin by reviewing the position description in detail. Highlight key points and think about the type of questions you could be asked (here is a list of both common and left-of-field interview questions). Expect general questions as well as questions relating to the organisation’s values and mission statement.
Be prepared for questions specific to the role, which may be behaviourally based. Behavioural questions revolve around past behaviour and are thought to be indicative of what you would do in the future. These questions are usually based on the key selection criteria and often start with, ‘Tell me about a time …’.
The trick to answering these types of questions is to use the ‘EAR’ technique:
• What was the Event?
• What Action did you take?
• And what was the Result?
I also recommend identifying what you learned from your experience. Make sure you keep the focus on yourself – an employer does not want to hear about what ‘we’ did – they want to know what YOU did. It’s a good idea to have an arsenal of anecdotes that illustrate each skill the position requires (bonus points for having a few stories that tick off multiple areas). You don’t need to remember your responses word-for-word. Just write down some key points and role play your responses with a friend.
Also prepare questions to ask the interviewer. This will show that you are enthusiastic, interested and have thought ahead.
From the moment you enter the building, be polite and friendly and treat everyone you meet with the utmost respect. You don’t know who is in the bathroom or in the lift with you – it could be the CEO, or the CEO’s PA.
First impressions matter, so be early - but not too early. You don’t want to appear over-eager but you do want to show that you are punctual and reliable. It’s ok to be nervous, but the more you have prepared, the less nervous you will be. What an interviewer wants to see is genuine passion and that you really do want the job.
The first 30 seconds are your chance to shine. Shake hands firmly, and greet your interviewer by name. Don’t just take a seat – wait to be offered one. There’s nothing worse than sitting in the interviewer’s chair by mistake!
It‘s a commonly cited fact that up to 93 per cent of our communication is non-verbal. In fact, 55 per cent of communication is visual (body language and eye contact) and 38 per cent is vocal (pitch, speed, volume and tone of voice). That means that in order to communicate effectively, you need to pay attention to every facet of your communication.
During the interview, be conscious of your body language, remember to smile, make eye contact and sit up straight.
When you are roleplaying the interview, ask your ‘interviewer’ to let you know if you have any bad habits such as saying ‘um’ and ‘you know’, or if you are a pencil or toe-tapper. It’s also a good idea to get feedback about your body language so you’re aware of what you’re doing.This way you can work on changing some of your bad habits prior to the interview.
Make sure that you plan what you are going to wear well in advance, and always err on the side of caution (i.e. be conservative). Tailor your outfit to the position. My tip is to dress like you already work there! Make sure that your outfit is impeccable – it’s a good idea to give it a trial run a couple of days before your interview if possible to make sure that it still fits properly, and it doesn’t have any pilling or tears. Whether you like it or not, people will judge you based on your appearance (if you're curious, you can read more about the science of dressing and how what you wear can impact your performance). If you are impeccably groomed and wearing a nicely ironed suit, you will come across as being presentable and competent (and you'll also feel like a million bucks, which in turn will help your chances of getting the job!)
Don’t forget to smile, relax and be yourself – while this is an interview, it’s important to come across as someone that people actually want to work with. A study featured in the American Sociological Review suggests that employers are more likely to hire someone that they have more in common with, rather than the most skilled candidate. Your skills got you the interview, but your personality is more likely to get you the job. Your interviewer is a human being, so making a genuine connection rather than firing off one well-rehearsed answer after another will help to set you apart.
An interview usually starts with a warm-up stage. This is when you get asked questions like, ‘Tell me about yourself’. Speak clearly without rushing and keep your answers under two minutes; if an interviewer wants to find out more they will prompt you. Make sure your responses stick to the point and are directly relevant to the question.
Ensure that you always use positive language – no ‘buts’ or ‘I’m just …’. Focus on your transferable skills and find ways that you can tie your past experience to the present job. When asked that dreaded question about your weaknesses, focus on something that isn’t too important for the job – for example, don’t say you have poor communication skills if you’re going for a marketing position!
When the interview starts to wind down, ask about the next stage of the process. Thank your interviewer/s for their time and reiterate your interest in the role. A thank you email following the interview will show your interest and good manners.
In an interview, your job is to connect with the interviewer(s) and show them that you are exactly the person they are looking for. Be prepared, be confident and be your authentic self – and you’ll nail the interview.
Best of luck – go get ‘em!