Considering most of us love talking about ourselves, very few people actively enjoy interviews – the pressure can get to even the most eligible and eloquent of candidates. But it pays to remember that it’s a mutual fact-finding opportunity, not a cross-examination in the dock.
The trick is to put in just the right amount of preparation and practice so that in the moment, you have the presence of mind to showcase your best self. Follow these top 10 tips to nail that all-important interview and grab the next rung of the career ladder.
Tip #1 – Do your homework
With so much information available online, it pays to dig deeper than a company’s ‘about us’ page. Use Google Alerts to keep up with corporate news from a prospective employer, and see if the company has a page on LinkedIn or other social media to monitor their community interaction. Find out their strong suit, their financial health, who their competitors are and where the company is headed – not just to impress, but to reassure yourself it’s somewhere you want to be part of.
Tip #2 – Pre-empt touchy-feely questions
Interviews are an opportunity for the employer to do two things: establish your competence for the role, and determine whether you and the company are a good mutual fit. You may be surprised to know that by the time you’re face-to-face, it’s typically more about the latter. So don’t be knocked off balance if you’re asked how you handle stress, or how your three closest friends would describe you, rather than about your ninja-level pivot table skills.
Tip # 3 – Don’t over-rehearse your spiel
An interview is an exploratory conversation – it should flow naturally. You know your stuff, otherwise you wouldn’t have been shortlisted for interview, so while you should never entirely wing it, don’t try and memorise a script. Be authentic, so your prospective boss can get to know the real you: after all, if the interview goes well, you may end up spending eight hours a day in one another’s company!
Tip # 4 – Prepare to relax
Nothing will put you on the back foot more than turning up late, frazzled and apologetic. Plan how to get to the venue with plenty of time to spare, and consider public transport as a more relaxing alternative to sitting in traffic. Bring a copy of your CV in case the interviewer doesn’t have it to hand – it has been known to happen! Concentrate on your breathing to keep you in the present moment and if you’re not offered any refreshments, don’t be afraid to ask for a glass of water before you begin.
Tip # 5 – Anchor success
Use an NLP technique called ‘anchoring’ to access a positive state at will, even under pressure. An anchor uses a powerful combination of a gesture, a phrase and a visualisation that help you relive a moment you felt calm, confident and capable – the context isn’t important. Once established, ‘firing’ your anchor just before your interview will summon up your desired state. Learn how to set up an anchor here.
Tip # 6 – Be aware of your body
What you say is only a fraction of the content of your communication. Build rapport by smiling and if you find it difficult to maintain eye contact, rotate your focus around the ‘triangle’ of the interviewer’s features – first one eye, then the other, then the mouth – for about five seconds each. Keep your posture alert but not rigid, and demonstrate reflective listening by nodding. Don’t betray nerves by fiddling with hair, jewellery or clothing, and while hand gestures can be expressive, be careful it doesn’t turn into semaphore!
Tip # 7 – Remember it’s a two-way street
Asking insightful questions is a good way of communicating that you’re genuinely interested in the job. But equally importantly, it’s an opportunity for you to find out more about the working environment, team, company culture, and your boss-to-be’s expectations. Now is the not the time to be asking about salary, perks or promotional prospects, though – focus on what you can do for the employer, not what the employer can do for you!
Tip # 8 – Be honest, credible and discreet
Don’t oversell yourself or embellish your achievements – blagging a job will only land you in trouble when you inevitably under-deliver. Don’t worry if you don’t have immediate answers to every question – it’s better to be honest or ask to come back to the question than to bluff your way through a response. If you have gaps in your CV, be prepared to show how you positively filled that downtime with non work-related activity. And if asked why you left a particular role, be candid and concise, but never badmouth a previous employer or manager.
Tip # 9 – Tell a compelling story
Your CV is not your life story. Present yourself in a more human context by talking through memorable events and turning points that shaped your career and who you are. Try and organise ‘chapters’ by time periods or jobs, and uncover themes in your story, such as passions or strengths that emerged. Reflect on your career trajectory: how you got where you are now, choices you made, your motivations and anyone who helped or inspired you along the way.
Tip #10 – Practice for virtual interviews
A growing number of organisations are using video interviews to filter candidates at an early stage. While the conferencing technology should make the process as lifelike as possible, make sure your device, webcam and mic are set up correctly to prevent technical glitches from creating a bad first impression. Practice with a friend to get comfortable with the dynamics of presenting yourself on-screen instead of in-person.