Despite the fact that we have now entered the twenty first century, we have still not come up with anything more effective than sitting one person in front of another and asking them a lot of questions.
The interview is a game, albeit one of the most important you will ever play, it has its own rules and techniques which must be mastered if you are to make the most of all your hard work and study.
Although the current recruitment marketplace is very buoyant, it is vital that thorough preparation takes place to ensure you have the advantage over other suitably qualified candidates.
Before an interview, you may be asked to complete an application form even if you have already submitted a Curriculum Vitae. Although this may seem like bureaucracy or evidence that the interviewer cannot read a CV or has lost your papers, treat the form with respect.
Few things make a worse impression than an otherwise blank form with ‘see CV’ scrawled across it. Presentation and attention to detail are vital to make a good early impression. Apply the same principles to a form that you would to your own Curriculum Vitae. If you are faced with such open ended invitations as ‘Tell us something about yourself’ or ‘What are your most important achievements to date?”, write clearly and concisely, ensuring that you keep the target vacancy and company at the forefront of your mind.
No matter how they are phrased, these questions really mean ‘How would you fit into this company and be good at this job?’ You must sell yourself!
It is crucial to do as much background research into the company and the job as possible. Any serious contender in today’s market should have a general knowledge of the business world. Consequently, it is well worth setting up your own files on major sectors as part of your job search, cutting information from the Financial Times, The Economist etc, so that you are up to date with developments in a particular area when a relevant interview arises.
Once an interview is arranged, get hold of an annual report and any brochures or product information that is available. Morgan West will be able to provide these for you along with a job specification, if a formal one exists, on most occasions.
Part of the reason behind all this is to make the interview a more pleasurable and rewarding experience for your potential employer. In these days of stiff competition and up to 50 first interviews for any one job, an interviewer is going to be much more impressed by a candidate who appears informed and interested than one who seems to have wandered in off the street by mistake.
Be prepared but not over-confident; no one likes a ‘smart Alec’. Remember the interview is a two-way meeting and it is important to listen as well as ‘sell’ yourself.
First impressions are, as the song says, lasting impressions and consequently vital. It is human nature to ‘sum someone up’ in the first few moments of meeting them so it is up to you to set the tone for the rest of the interview. Make sure you arrive on time. We all know the state of the roads and the public transport system so set off in plenty of time, even if it means arriving early and going somewhere for a coffee. However good your excuse – ‘Derailment at Watford Gap’ – it will undoubtedly leave a negative impression.
Dress the part, appear enthusiastic and confident and give a firm handshake. Be polite and pleasant to secretaries and receptionists as a word from support staff in the right ear can sometimes tip the balance either way.
For those of us with clean examination records, a first from Oxbridge and straight A’s at A Level, the topic of qualifications is straight forward. For lesser mortals with the odd hiccup or downright disaster in their academic career, the area can be a little trickier.
If you have had a problem in the past, bring it up and deal with it yourself before the interviewer uncovers it and puts you on the defensive. If there are genuine good reason for a failure, such as a bereavement or serious illness, then mention them, but lame excuses such as ‘the paper was very difficult that year’ or ‘I was very busy at the time’ are a waste of breath.
If your results were due to complacency or lack of study, then admit it but try to show the experience in a positive light by emphasising that you have learned and matured from it. Likewise, even a really bad exam record can be presented as evidence of your persistence and stamina.
Whatever the nature of your experience, it needs to be sold as a commodity to your prospective employer and related, as far as possible to the job for which you are applying. Make sure that you mention any relevant exposure in such areas as staff supervision or systems development, no matter how brief. At the same time, resist the temptation to ramble on about a one week secondment, which will have the interviewer reaching for a pillow or the number of a good psychiatrist. Show an interest in the company as a whole, and exploit opportunities to talk about future career developments. Do not, however, spend half the interview extolling the virtues of management accounting if you are being interviewed for a financial accounting position.
Your reason for leaving your last or present job will tell the interviewer much about your motivations for changing career direction and need to be presented positively. Phrases such as ‘I’m bored’ and ‘I don’t get on with….’ are definite lead balloons.
At the end of the interview, you will usually get the opportunity to ask questions about the job and the company. These should develop from your preparation work and the preceding discussion and between two and five is a reasonable number.
Make sure the questions are reasonable, relevant and businesslike. They can legitimately be quite tough, e.g. “Is there any truth to the adverse rumours in the FT about the Group?” but not frivolous, e.g. “How long do we get for lunch?” or “What is the sick leave policy?” (always a good one to get the alarm bells ringing). If you have taken the time to go to an interview then see it through to the bitter end. You may decide in the first five minutes that the interviewer is a tedious bore and the job on offer would be about as stimulating as watching paint dry, but do not show it and do not switch off.
In the majority of cases, it will be your first impressions that will be correct but, very occasionally, it will materialise that the tedious bore will be leaving and the company is recruiting for another position which suits your experience exactly and which you would sell your Grandmother to obtain! Unfortunately, if you have already started to show your disdain and contempt, there will be little you can do to salvage the situation, so always play safe.