STRATEGIES FOR SUCCESS
Job interviews are one of life’s most stressful situations. Here careers strategist and leading British careers author, John Lees, offers his advice on how to succeed at interviews.
‘Selection procedures have got more complicated and more extended, so preparation is key. Because most graduates don’t have good CVs there is far more trawling that goes on. The first ‘sift’ or rounds of interviews are very much a case of just looking at people and if you are not getting positive messages across and you are not coming over as enthusiastic in the first five minutes you are probably never going to get there.’
- ‘If someone has an interview and is panicking, my normal reply is to take two steps back. First thing to do is find out what you have already done right; what information you have already submitted has got you that all important interview? A lot of graduates have no idea what is already working for them.
- ‘The second thing is to do twice as much homework as you think is necessary on the company and the role, so you have a working checklist in your head of what you think this employer is really looking for.
‘These are the only two bits of preparation that really matter, the rest about what to wear, or how to sound, is really the polish. The core is what are they looking for? And have you got short, readily available answers and examples that match what they are looking for, with some real evidence of achievement.’
THE APPRENTICE TRAP
‘Too many graduates concentrate on their behaviour and not on the content of what they are presenting. All you ever see on The Apprentice TV series is people telling Sir Alan Sugar "I am the greatest", what they never show you is people saying "and here is evidence of something I have actually done that proves I’m the greatest. Let me tell you how I did it and what I actually achieved." So The Apprentice Trap is where you get people coming up with a fantastic list of adjectives, whereas what is much more important is talking about actual experiences, that is what employees really want to know.’
‘All the graduates I see make the mistake of underselling their work experience; they usually park it on page two of their CV. Most employers want to know what you have actualy done and even if it was just a Saturday job, talking about what you learned, and the skills you used is information you should lead with. What most employers are looking for is demonstrated motivation, because every graduate says "I am highly motivated and a self-starter", but that is meaningless. What they are realy looking for is evidence of you actually doing something. Whether it is voluntary work, or organising a trip abroad, or earning money from a holiday job, it does not matter. Just being able to say "I decided to do something and occupied my time fruitfully," that’s the difference between an average and an above average candidate. They want to know you can think and organise your time well.’
‘Get someone to run through an interview with you, asking the kind of questions you know will come up: "why did you take a gap year? Why did you decide to study this subject? What did you do in your holidays?" Park short, positive responses to them all at the back of your mind so you can answer immediately. If you know what you are going to say you can concentrate on getting on with the people in the room and building a relationship with them. Most definitely think about what you will answer if they ask what your weaknesses are because making it up on the spot can be very dangerous. The best answers are about weaknesses that are allowable in a work context, such as being a perfectionist. That’s just another way of representing a strength.’
‘You should go into every job interview as if it is the most important in the world; throw yourself into it 100 per cent. If you don’t get it remember there are lots of arbitrary reasons why employers make decisions that have nothing to do with your interview performance.’
John Lees is a leading British career coach and author of the best-selling books, How to Get a Job You’ll Love, Take Control of Your Career, and Why You? CV Messages to Win Jobs. He is a regular contributor to The Times and Guardian and is a columnist for People Management from the CIPD. He is also co-author (with Matthew J. Deluca) of Job Interviews: Top Answers to Tough Questions (McGraw-Hill, £9.99, July 2008).