In the current economic climate, it’s not easy — even with the best of qualifications — to receive a job offer. Often, your interview with a prospective employer is critical in increasing your chances of being hired.
In 2007, one well-meaning website offered ‘88 surefire tips and tricks’ for doing well in a job interview. Many other articles, books and webpages will help you add to that list, so it’s quite easy to look forward to an important job interview with literally dozens of do’s and don’ts either in your mind or in your coat pocket.
Such lists that enumerate the fine points of eye contact, body language, breathing and so on can actually be dangerous to the job applicant. The danger is that these long lists can play on the mind, are distracting and (if followed to exacting detail) will often create a false and cosmetic impression. You may be doing everything that these lists tell you to, but what good is that if the manager performing the interview never gets to know the real you? Besides, good interviewers will see through this form of play-acting and, most probably, feel they are not getting a true reflection of your personal traits. The lists, then, could prove to be a disadvantage.
There is another way.
A successful interview is a collaboration that should create a positive impression as well as give the interviewer a clear understanding of the contribution the interviewee can make. You can influence both of these aspects by focussed preparation and by coming across at your natural best in the meeting itself. Concentrate on these three guidelines in your preparation for the next interview.
Too often, people prepare for interviews by memorising answers to lots of likely questions, in the hope they might get asked one of those questions and recite the answer parrot fashion. This is dangerous and leaves you a hostage to fortune. Individuals need to be more proactive in an interview and look at the dialogue from the listener’s perspective.
Clearly the interviewer will not be able to remember everything you have said in the course of your meeting. However, he or she will be able to recall a few key points about you and what you can potentially add to the organisation you hope to work for. Indeed, it is likely that an inteviewer will have to prepare a written or verbal summary of the interview for others to consider as they compare and contrast the different applicants for the open position. You can influence that summary in how you conduct yourself during the interview. To do that, you need to weigh the crucial difference between what someone recalls and what he or she remembers.
If somebody asked me what I recalled about my last holiday, I would come up with a handful of headline points such as the great location, wonderful food and so on. However, if I was then asked what I actually remembered, I would be able to use these headlines to drill down into finer detail with examples and facts that support those points. How can you put this distinction to your advantage?
Before you show up for the interview, work out the two or three points you would like the interviewer to recall: the things that show you are the right person for the job and make you stand out from the crowd. Then, reinforce them with relevant (and memorable) examples from your experience. An applicant who, when asked to list some of his strengths, mentions his ‘determination’ may have given the interviewer something he can recall. But what will he remember? Not much, unless the applicant reinforces ‘determination’ with some memorable details and examples.
List the times in your schooling when you did research above and beyond what was required by the course syllabus. Mention the time you volunteered to stay extra hours at a former job so that your employer could meet a critical deadline. List the many ways you have overcome obstacles that others might have considered dead ends. In sum, rather than preparing a long list of stock answers to likely questions, work out what you want the interviewer to recall at the end and prepare suitable, and memorable, examples to reinforce the point.
People often think that they should conform to a certain style in an interview; but that, again, can be dangerous. It can prevent you from coming across as the confident and relaxed individual that you usually are. Such common myths as maintaining lots of eye contact or talking slowly will just create a false impression that most good interviewers see straight through.
If you maintain too much eye contact in an interview, for instance, it quickly becomes very off-putting for the interviewer. The key is whether you make eye contact, not how much. In relaxed conversation, all of us look all over the place; but, at the end of a key point in the dialogue, we naturally look at the person we are talking to in order to drive the point home and to demonstrate confidence and credibility in what we are saying. If your eye contact drops away as you make the point, it gives the impression you are nervous, unsure and potentially hiding something.
‘Don’t talk too fast’ is another common piece of advice given to those anticipating a job interview. It’s actually quite rare for anyone to talk so fast that someone else cannot understand what is being said. More likely is the situation in which someone is throwing ideas out too quickly, making it hard for the listener to focus on the key message. There is a balance between the rate the words come out of your mouth, which is where the impression of energy comes from, and the rate you throw out ideas, when your credibility and commitment can be demonstrated.
By all means speak quickly, as you would in any conversation, but pausing occasionally gives you time to marshal your thoughts and deliver a crisp and concise answer to an interviewer’s question. It also gives the interviewer time to think about what you are saying and, so, to remember the point you are trying to drive home. The combination of both an energetic rate of word delivery and a clear rate of idea presentation shows you are enthusiastic, in control and not nervous or rushed.
You only have one opportunity to make a first impression. Keep that at the top of your mind, and it can make the difference between being hired or placing second in the selection process. Individuals are all too often reactive in an interview when they should be proactive.
Interviewers will often encourage so-called small talk in order to put the interviewee at ease. Then again, there are often unavoidable tangents and digressions that can make an interview seem like a less than coherent process. A good dialogue can often include some quantity of extraneous comments.
This is why you must be in charge of yourself at all times. Be confident and steer your interview towards the key points you have prepared in advance. When asked a question, of course, you must answer it, not evade it; but use it (when you can) as an opportunity to bridge to one of your key points. Be brief, and don’t over-answer. Be memorable, leave the right impression and drive home the key points you want the interviewer to know. This will leave your ‘imprint’ on the interviewer, and make you stand out from the crowd.