Newest Review: ... for pretty girls and vice versa, a trophy secretary/ PA very common. Bosses of both sexes don't want to drag 'big girls' around to m... more
Surviving Interviews: A View From Across The Table
Interview Tips & Advice
Member Name: Hishyeness
Interview Tips & Advice
Disadvantages: Can be nerve-wracking
I recently went through the experience of recruiting a new staff member, and, having interviewed close to a dozen people, I thought it would be useful to share some of the lessons learned - mainly from an interviewers perspective. It was the first time I had actually been "across the table". All my previous experience was as a candidate, so it was very interesting to consider things from the opposite point of view.
In the heat of the moment, it's easy for a candidate to lose sight of what interviews are about - they are a two way street -i.e. as much of an opportunity for candidates to sell themselves as they are for the organisation offering the vacancy to sell itself to the candidate. If you are invited to interview, chances are you have ticked most of the boxes for the job. Your qualifications and achievements have got you in the door, so the purpose of the interview is for the employer to try and figure out whether your "face will fit" in the organisation and within the smaller team that is recruiting you.
At this stage, the cards are stacked in your favour. Your CV has created a favourable impression (well, you got the interview didn't you?) and the interviewer is looking for an excuse to hire you. It's up to you to get through it with that positive impression still intact, or better yet, much improved upon.
When I first started interviewing, I was quite surprised by how much work was involved in preparing for each candidate. I sat down with a colleague (usually the one who was going into the room with me) and meticulously reviewed the candidate's CV with a forensic eye, discussed any obvious issues arising from it, formulated some interesting (and hopefully) revealing questions and decided on the respective roles we would play while in the room (everything from who would do the initial meet or greet, where we would sit, who would take notes and who would lead).
So, what did I learn?
In most cases, the CV will be used as the foundation for your meeting, so ensure that: (a) You know its contents inside out and comfortably talk about everything that is on there; (b) You can justify what you have written; and (c) you haven't embellished or exaggerated the truth. An employer will be looking for evidence that you have used your time constructively and also for clues as to your interests and personality. If you have gaps in your CV, be prepared to talk about them. If you are NOT interested in cooking, hill-walking or playing cricket - for heaven's sake, don't put it on your CV just to sound impressive. You will invariably come up against someone who's an expert on the subject and you'll have to fudge or lie - not exactly the best way to impress. This isn't as rare as you might think - in fact, we sometimes decide who will do the interviewing based on whether they have anything in common with a prospective candidate. It puts both parties at ease and provides an easy way to break the ice.
DO YOUR HOMEWORK
Find out as much as you can about the company, the role, the interview process (ex. how many interviews and the format they will take) and the people interviewing you as possible beforehand. These days, most decent sized companies will have a web site that not only explains who they are and what they do, but often has a section about its people as well. Google your interviewers - it's amazing what insight you can get into the type of people they are - and don't be afraid to use it at interview. It shows initiative and commitment.
If you have a friend or a relative willing to do some role-play, then by all means, get some practice in. If it can be video-taped, so much the better. The first time I saw myself on film in a practice session, I cringed at the number of times I played with my ear-lobe and nervously rotated my wedding ring. Seeing it helped me to stop these habits.
GET THERE ON TIME
The people who are interviewing you are generally busy and the last thing they want is to waste time waiting for you to turn up. As a business, we tend to do as many interviews in a row as possible and then do a debrief after each one - late arrivals can really put a spanner in the works. Unless there has been a major incident, travel delays are not considered great excuses - it's up to you as a candidate to find out exactly how, and how long it will take you to get there. If you intend to drive, make sure you can park, and/or find out whether visitor parking is available at your destination.
If you are made to wait, take it with good grace - no one is going to keep you hanging around on purpose, there is usually a pretty good reason why an interviewer is late - especially if you are coming during the business day. When I was interviewing for jobs, I arrived half an hour early, installed myself at a local coffee shop to review my notes and then pitched up in reception ten minutes before time to ensure I could clear security and get badged up in plenty of time.
DON'T BE COMPLACENT
Your interview starts the moment you arrive - that means the security guard at the door, the receptionist and the tea lady are just as important as the CEO. We decided not to take forward one applicant who was an otherwise excellent candidate because he became surly and rude when the receptionist brought him a tea without sugar rather than the two he had requested. We were not in the room at the time, but had asked our receptionist to keep a note of her views on candidates as they arrived. Be polite, gracious and well mannered with everyone - good manners are noticed as readily as bad. The reception area can be a mine of useful information, as you are likely to find company literature, in-house and trade magazines, and chatty receptionists. It is also the public face of the organisation so note the décor - it can give you useful insight into the personality of the place.
THE KEY FIRST IMPRESSION
An interviewer will subconsciously decide whether they like you or not in the first thirty seconds, and if the impression is a bad one, it can be hard to overcome. Dress comfortably, smartly and appropriately - regardless of the job you are going for. It's important that you look professional and focussed. Make eye contact, give a firm handshake - and smile! Trust me, you'll feel a heck of a lot more nervous than you look. Room set-ups can vary from the adversarial (two people across from you) to the collegiate (a round table) and even "open" (no table), so if in doubt, and it's not immediately obvious, ask where they want you to sit. Sometimes you are shown straight to the room and you can choose for yourself, so try and pick a seat facing the door to make introductions less awkward.
Overt "statements" of personality can work against you - so use your common sense! Garish tops, novelty ties, oversized jewellery, inappropriate make-up and interesting body piercings may fly in some trades, but certainly not in more conservative professions. I am not saying it's necessarily fair - but its human nature - and when you are looking for an edge, so it's worth considering whether you want to (or need to) make the sacrifice of personal expression to land the job. Think of all those property shows where the owner whose house does not sell - because of a purple and pink boudoir themed bedroom - refuses to paint it magnolia against the advice of the resident guru who is there to hasten the sale.
It seems obvious, but make sure your shoes are polished, your clothes are clean and pressed and you've looked after your personal hygiene. That includes neat facial hair, trimmed and clean fingernails, no snot hanging off your nose, no hair protruding from ears and nostrils, a decent hair cut and no oozing spots you've just squeezed (yes, these are actual examples - I speak from bitter and disgusted experience). Make sure you don't pong - it still amazes me how some people turn up stinking of smoke, lager, body odour or halitosis. In contrast, don't shower yourself in perfume or aftershave either. We'll be spending a fair bit of time in close proximity and in a confined space and I have no desire to gag on your BO any more than I want to die of Chanel No. 5 inhalation.
Don't pretend you are someone you are not. As mentioned, an interviewer is trying to figure out whether you will fit in with the organisation and will be looking for certain attributes, personality traits and qualities that complement other people already in the business. If you blag your way through and are dishonest in the way you portray yourself, you are doing no one any favours - least of all yourself. Sit how you feel comfortable (within limits). I cross my arms when relaxed. Some would interpret this as putting up a "physical barrier" but the way it ties in with your general demeanour is much more important.
ANSWER THE QUESTIONS
We use two interviewers to minimise the effect of any personal bias, and also to make sure that one can maintain a conversation and keep eye contact while the other takes notes. Make sure you answer the questions that are asked rather than the ones you want to answer, and don't be afraid to stop, pause and think before you reply. Interviewees absolutely abhor silence, but no one is going to mark you down for taking the time consider a reply before giving it. Resist the temptation to say things for the sake of it - I would much prefer ten seconds of silence than meaningless waffle. Your throat can get dry, so make sure you have water or a drink handy (ask for it or bring your own!) it not only ensures that you don't squeak, but its also useful as a delay tactic to get you some thinking time.
When asked to describe a project or a job you have worked on, make sure you concentrate on what YOU did, rather than what "we" or "the team" did, otherwise it sounds like you were just along for the ride. Interviewers will try and ask open questions (i.e. ones that don't require a "yes" or "no" answer) but sometimes fail - so, if appropriate, try and make sure you answers are also open. The interview is an opportunity for you to sell yourself and the best ones tend to turn into conversations instead of interrogations. We remember the candidates that were extremely hard work as much as those that were a breeze to talk to.
ACCENTUATE THE POSITIVE
It's much easier to talk about things you do well than those you don't, but you can make even faults sound less objectionable. For instance, instead of "I'm crap at X" (yes, I have had that response!) try "An area I could improve is..." or "X is an area that I would like to develop more...". Being able to identify your weaknesses is easy - showing how you plan to improve them is the real skill and shows both self-perception and motivation.
A fair bit of time will be set aside for you to ask questions of your interviewers. Remember - you are just as entitled to probe, investigate and gather information to find out of the role suits you as the other way around. That means you will need to prepare some questions in advance, ideally based on the homework you did before you arrived. A few well judged and thought out questions (i.e. not ones asked just for the sake of asking them) will impress, and, ideally, lead naturally to any follow-ups. This would be a good time to confirm the next steps in the process if this hasn't already been explained.
Do remember to thank your interviewers for their time, and, if appropriate, consider a follow-up e-mail. Recruitment can sometimes be a fairly lengthy process, often interrupted by business critical issues and the difficulty in arranging dates for other candidates, so try and be patient. Trust me when I say that you are not being tortured deliberately! As an organisation we tend to act fairly quickly whatever the outcome, but not all companies follow good practice. If the answer is unfortunately negative, it is entirely appropriate to ask for feedback on why you were not selected or put forward to the next stage.
THE FINAL WORD
Being interviewed can be a stressful process, but the more prepared you are, the more confident you will be. In short, be on time, be prepared and be yourself. If you're reading this before going to one, I wish you the best of success.
© Hishyeness 2009
Summary: Tips from "across the table" for surviving interviews