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Interview Advice

After going through the various stages of a selection process, you will hopefully be invited for an interview. This is a major obstacle for many job applicants. Although they may have the qualifications, experience and a proven track record, they may lose out to a candidate who 'interviews well'.

So what does 'interviewing well' actually mean? It can be summed up by the candidate being well prepared and confident. A candidate who can answer questions in a way which is acceptable to the interviewer (but not necessarily right); someone who knows about their potential employer's business and what the role will entail. There are, undoubtedly, other aspects employers may look for in relation to specific posts - having their own ideas, being articulate and able to think on their feet - aspects which will be related to the job and to the company's preference in employees.

The employer looking to fill a post will often look beyond the job specification - in other words they will be looking for other personal aspects besides the experience and qualifications that can be put down on paper.

Good preparation instils confidence.

The basic approach to an interview is to be well prepared. This means two things - preparing yourself practically for the interview, and gathering knowledge and information you can draw on during the interview.

The worst nightmare for an interviewee is rushing around at last minute, arriving late, hot and bothered for an interview. This shakes the confidence. Your mind is not on the interview and your personal presentation will have suffered.

If you don't look good and feel good you'll interview badly.

So get the practicalities sorted out first! Plan and be organised!

Be sure you know the time, date and location of the interview and name of interviewer where appropriate. Check out how you will get to the location and when you need to set off to be there in good time - do a dummy run if necessary. Plan to get there no earlier than half an hour before the interview time and anticipate delays. Have what you are going to wear ready in advance.

Do not go to the interview laden down with baggage - psychological as well as physical. Take the bare minimum of belongings necessary. Concentrate on the interview at the interview - nothing else.

If you are asked to bring certificates, references, etc, get them ready before the day. Take your interview letter. On arrival ensure the receptionist knows you are there, visit the toilets to tidy up etc.

If you are well organised and have planned for the day your confidence will increase.

The interview is a chance for you and the employer to get to know one another. It is NOT the time to get to know about the post or the employer's business.

Do gather information about your employer before you are interviewed - what do they do? What are their current projects? What other interests do they have? Ask staff - many companies will offer you the chance to talk about the vacancy with someone; use the opportunity to find out more about the company.

Bigger companies will have PR departments; smaller ones will provide you with some information. Go and have a thorough browse through the client's website.

Make sure you know what the job entails - get a job description, ask someone in a similar post and ring the company to clarify if unsure.

Remember the employer is interested in you as a person, your experiences and your opinions (in most cases). Do take the time to sit down and think about yourself; who you are and what you've achieved. It can be highly embarrassing to know more about the employer than yourself.

Sit down with your CV and make notes about your work record and what you've achieved. Look at yourself as a person in employment - how you see yourself, what have you done, what ambitions you have. Make notes and prepare and rehearse sound bites about yourself. Remember that one of the most common interview questions is 'Tell me about yourself'. Prepare an answer for this in particular, but not a life history. Usually interviewers want to know about personal qualities not achievements - though examples can be included to support your statement.

There is always the opportunity to ask them questions at the end of the interview - remember the interview is a two way process; you need to be sure you want to join them too!

Try to concentrate on issues which are both important to you and combine an apparent interest in the company; leave issues like terms and conditions of employment until the very last, even if they may feel the most important to you. Write your questions down prior to the interview and take them with you. Never mention salary in an interview unless you are invited to do so.

Wear what is appropriate for the post and the company. It may vary from smart, formal wear in some instances to very formal dress in others. Try and get an insight into what the company would expect from other employees or through observation.

Be well groomed and clean. Try to look calm and confident; simple things like deodorant can boost your confidence but do not wear too much perfume or aftershave.

Once you are ushered into the interview room there will usually be a short exchange of pleasantries and ice breaking. Don't be fooled by this time - it really is designed to put you at ease in most circumstances, but these initial moments are the most formative - don't go over the top being exceptionally friendly or alternatively going rigid with fear feeling that your handshake was too limp!

A pleasant natural smile, a firm handshake and a brief exchange of words in a natural manner are sufficient.

Some simple but frequently broken rules

  • Sit comfortably with both feet on the floor, lean slightly towards the interviewer.
  • Don't play with your hair or your hands. Keep them out of pockets! Try not to create defensive barriers between you and the interviewer, like a briefcase on your knees, folded arms or crossed legs - even if you feel you need to. No one will attack you!
  • Maintain natural eye contact with the interviewer - but don't stare.
  • If there's more than one interviewer, look at who's talking.
  • When you're talking, shift your glance from one to the other.
  • Don't over use your hands, particularly if you are a natural gesticulator.
  • Don't squirm and fidget.
  • Do nod to show you're listening to them.
  • Above all try to be yourself and try to be natural.
  • Obeying these rules will allow the interviewers to concentrate on you, and not what you're doing in the interview.
  • Body language conveys all sorts of messages, and the right body language will convey the message of a well balanced and confident individual.......even if you're not!

Interviews vary tremendously, from very informal to formal, although some questions can be anticipated, as can the subject matter. If you are well prepared then the majority of the problem questions should not arise - you will know about the company, you will know about yourself and you will a have a good idea of the demands of the job - these questions will not be a problem to the well prepared interviewee.

A few general rules

  • Speak up when answering questions.
  • Answer briefly, but try to avoid yes or no answers.
  • Don't worry about pausing before you answer, it shows you can think and are not spitting out sound bites you learned!
  • Don't worry about admitting you don't know - but keep this to a bare minimum.
  • Don't embellish answers or lie! Be as honest as possible.
  • Be prepared for hypothetical situation questions and take your time on these.
  • Be prepared for the unexpected question, that's designed to see how you cope with the unexpected.
  • If you ask questions keep them brief during the interview, remember you're the interviewee. At the end of the interview ask your questions in a open manner.
    For example: tell me about....? what is....? why.....?
  • Thank the interviewers for their time when you leave quietly and calmly, and smile.
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