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10 Ways to Nail Your Interview

Advice, Interview, Job hunting September 16, 2007

10 Ways to Nail Your Interview

10 Ways to Nail Your Interview

Interviews are one of the most important parts of any recruitment process. We hammer home how to prepare for them properly. Here’s what to avoid…

"I usually get 80 applicants for four or five posts," says one employer. "People who haven’t bothered to research our company get discarded straight away." According to Ron Miller, author of Promoting yourself at Interview, there is simply no excuse for not swotting up as much as you can on your interviewer’s firm. "Being asked, ‘What do you know about us?’ and replying ‘Not a lot’ indicates that your interest in the company is insufficient," he stresses. So get to grips with the company’s products and services, its structure, and the role for which you are being considered. Equally important is researching the industry – major players and key events. Use the internet, libraries and trade magazines. Nothing beats an insider’s perspective and if you don’t know anybody who works in the specific or related field, use your careers service – they might have contacts with recent alumni working in the industry.

Many people make the mistake of not reflecting adequately on their motives and qualities. So, just as you investigate your employers, look at your personal reasons for applying (take note – "I need some money" won’t do you any favours), what interests you about the company. Ask what your strengths are (have examples at hand) and define your long-term career goals. It’s the interviewer’s prerogative to direct the flow so don’t interrupt him, but by the conversation’s end aim to have conveyed what makes you the one to hire.

"People don’t practise enough," says Dr Peter Hawkins, author of The Art of Building Windmills – Career Tactics for the 21st Century. "Have a look at the company website to look at key words and terminology so you’re speaking their language. You need to present yourself in a way that they’ll understand. I’d even advise people to video themselves to see how they come across." Ask family friends who work in business or related fields to give you a mock interview and always get feedback. This will eliminate the risk of waffling and provide an opportunity to see whether you express yourself with good diction and grammar.

"Interviewing can be an imperfect way of assessing somebody. A lot of interviewers make up their minds in the first two minutes and spend the remaining 28 re-enforcing their judgement," continues Hawkins. First impressions count. Appearance is not more important than what you can offer as a person, but attend your job interview in shorts, shades and flip-flops and you can kiss employment goodbye. Every company will have its own clothing culture, so if in doubt pay a visit to their offices to see for yourself. But even if the industry is casual, err on the side of smartness. On the big day, take a comb or hairbrush, an umbrella should it rain, and a handkerchief. Forget about excessive make-up, jewellery or cologne and don’t stink of cigarettes or that pre-interview shot of whiskey that you wouldn’t have swigged had you properly prepared. Oh, and don’t forget to wear a smile.

Ouch! It’s hard to imagine a worse way to start. If you can’t be relied upon to be punctual for a first meeting, what hope is there for the long-term? Even if you were kidnapped by aliens last night or your dog ate your car keys, get to your interview on time. Plan your journey well in advance and leave home with extra time, bearing in mind traffic, weather and the state of our nation’s transport system. If you’re early it will be a good opportunity for some relaxed preparation and tidying up your appearance. But at the same time don’t get there too early or you might find yourself stewing in reception for half an hour. If this happens, grab a coffee at a nearby cafŽ.

It might be a while since you wowed potential employers with tales of leadership and teamwork, and in all probability you will have sent half a dozen application forms off, tailored to different companies. So re-read your form and be in a position where you can elaborate upon it. The same applies to your CV. Take a spare copy with you and be prepared to be asked about why you took that gap year after school, or got those poor results. If you are asked about a negative area, finish on a positive note: how you turned a failure into a success, the lessons learned and how you have matured since then.

Don’t slouch or avoid eye-contact (especially important when being interviewed by a panel). Also, practise the art of the handshake with someone you know – too limp is yucky and a bone-crusher is just offensive. Body language should be positive. Ask for feedback in practice interviews – you might not be aware that you fidget with clothes or scratch body parts. Don’t forget to thank the interviewer before you leave.

Okay, you’re nervous, but nerves needn’t inhibit enthusiasm – a quality that might set you apart from the rest. Big attitude mistakes include appearing overly desperate for the job, too cocky, too laid-back or even too modest. "You need to be somewhere in the middle," says Hawkins. "Being too brash is a problem, but under-confidence can be bred especially after one or two rejections. So build up feedback at interviews. If you fail it might not be because of bad interview technique, it could be that the job just didn’t suit your interests." If it’s any consolation, many experts feel that interviewers aren’t a very competent bunch anyway.

You can never be sure what you will be asked but certain stock questions are more likely to arise than others and you should be ready for them. Go through practice questions we have included here. Bear in mind classics like: "Why do you want this job?", "What are your weaknesses?" (it’s no good saying you haven’t got any) and, "What other companies have you applied to?"
You might be asked to deal with killers like: "Sell me this product!" (pointing to a glass of water), or situational questions ("What would you do if…?"). These are best prepared for by creating tricky scenarios yourself and practising how to cope with them. Listen carefully to the questions. "You’re allowed to pause," says one graduate recruiter, "But more than 15 seconds and it looks like you can’t think on your feet." The solution is practise, practise, practise. Put yourself in the interviewer’s shoes and make a list of 20 questions you could be asked. However, beware giving memorised responses, especially as you’ll probably forget parts in the process. If you don’t know the answer to a question, say so and offer an educated guess, rather than launching into an elaborate web of lies.

One sure-fire way to goof is to answer "What questions do you have?" with:"Nah, I think we’ve covered it all." Turning the tables is one of the most feared interview situations but failure to pose relevant questions makes you look unenthusiastic, unimaginative or both. As the old clichŽ goes, "an interview is a two-way process." Make sure you’ve prepared a list and try to find questions you’d really like answered. But never ask: "How much do I get paid?" n



1) When the applicant arrived for his 12.30pm interview, he pulled out a sandwich and milkshake, which he proceeded to eat and drink – because, after all, it was lunchtime.
2) Rather cheekily, the applicant asked to see the interviewer’s CV to see if the interviewer was suitably qualified to interview him.
3) Totally inappropriately, the candidate wore a tracksuit for an interview with a financial organisation.
4) To illustrate multi-tasking abilities the applicant wore an iPod, saying she could listen to the interviewer and music simultaneously.
5) When asked by the hiring manager about his career goals, the candidate replied: "To work the least amount of time possible until I can get your job."
6) Halfway through the interview, the applicant’s phone started ringing. Rather than apologise and switch it off, he decided to answer it and engage in a five-minute conversation.
7) The applicant bounced up and down on the office carpet and told the interviewer she must be highly thought of by the company to get such a thick carpet.
8) When the candidate was asked if he could have dinner with anyone, either alive or dead, who would he choose; he answered he would prefer someone alive.
9) During the interview, an alarm clock went off in the applicant’s briefcase. He took it out, shut it off, apologised, and said he had to leave for another interview.
10) Asked why she wanted to work for a company, the candidate said: "That’s a good question. I really haven’t given it much thought."

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