So you’ve scanned the job market, submitted your application form and been invited to the next stage. Preparing well for an interview will pay dividends. You’ll walk into the room with a confidence and competence that will set you apart from other candidates.
An interview is a not-to-be-missed opportunity to meet your possible future colleagues. They’re not the only ones making decisions – you’ll also be sizing up whether you want to work with them. An interview is the first real opportunity you’ll have to start to build a relationship with people who may be pivotal to your career success for many years to come.
Psychologist Sarah Rozenthuler, shares her top 10 tips on how to interview.
"I’ve coached hundreds of people over the last 10 years to perform at their best during high stakes interactions. I’ve learnt that there are some small things that make a big difference. Here are my top 10 tips."
1. Create a “to be” list
Entry is everything so think about how you want to “show up” at the interview. What qualities do you want to demonstrate? Decide in advance how you intend to come across – for example as confident, reliable, dynamic.
Write a “to be” list and identify ways you can transmit the qualities you want to broadcast. For example, to show confidence, make sure you can talk fluidly about your strengths and successes without bragging.
2. Make it more of a conversation
The more you can make the interview a two-way exchange, the more likely you are to relax. Make the most of this opportunity to gather information, get to know your prospective colleagues and catch a glimpse of the way they do things.
Come to the interview with some insightful questions prepared. Don’t trot out the same old questions that every candidate is likely to ask (such as what the opportunities for promotion are). Read the company’s website and research their performance, whether on the stock market or the league tables, so that your lines of inquiry are on point.
3. Be comfortable talking about money
Even if the job comes with an advertised salary, you may be asked what your salary expectations are. Anticipate this question and, off-line, practise saying your answer out loud. If you want to be paid more than the ad suggests, be prepared to give your reasons as you’ll need to justify your request.
Do some market research and find out what the going rates are. Check out how much equivalent jobs at other organisations pay by looking at job adverts or online salary surveys. Having this data at your fingertips will increase your confidence at striking a deal that feels good to you. It will also help you to come up with an original response to that interview classic – “Why do you want to work for us?”
4. Know your strengths
Be prepared to articulate your “unique selling points”. Give this question serious consideration. Think about your own combination of strengths – for example, are you that rare individual who is creative, proactive and reliable.
Before you go to the interview, complete this sentence, “I am someone who…” Write down your answer and reflect on your response. Think about feedback you’ve had from friends, family and other people who have affirmed your sense of who you are.
5. Be prepared to talk about your weaknesses
Anticipate being asked about your shortcomings. This is a sensitive subject that needs a careful response. Don’t be insincere, such as saying you're a perfectionist if you’re not.
Be honest about your areas of development. If attention to detail is not your strong suit, say so and then indicate how you plan to address this. For example, you could say that at times you might ask a colleague to check over a critical document to make sure that you’ve attended to all the detail.
6. Value the non-verbals
When you talk face-to-face, it’s not just about the words you use. We’re social animals so body language, eye gaze and gestures all play their part. If you find it hard to look someone in the eye, you risk being judged as untrustworthy or as having something to hide.
Sit in an upright posture without leaning forward - you don’t want to come across as a people pleaser. Do your best to sit still without fidgeting as this will make you look nervous. Hold the other person’s eye gaze until just before they look away to send the message that you can hold your own without being aggressive.
7. Tailor how much you talk
It’s easy to fall into the trap of talking too much during an interview. Sometimes a question needs only a short response. Develop the ability to be concise.
If a longer response is needed, you could structure your answer by indicating, for example, that there are 3 points to consider. Help the other person to follow what you say by using some signposting such as “firstly..”, “secondly…” and “finally…”
Varying the length of your input will help to make the interview more of a conversation. Listen carefully to what the interviewer has to say and, if needs be, check your understanding before answering.
8. Have a get-out line
Think through how you’ll respond to a question you don’t know the answer to. Instead of fudging it, have something prepared. You could say, for example, “Please can we come back to that question as I’d like a little more time to gather my thoughts?”
Do your best to stay composed. If you suddenly freeze, take a couple of deep breaths and ask them to repeat the question.
9. Ask for feedback
Towards the end of the interview, say that you’re keen to get some feedback on how you did (if this hasn’t been offered). Find out how who to follow up with and get their contact details. Do this in a respectful way so that you come across as keen to learn without being pushy.
10. Cultivate an attitude of “You win some, you lose some”
Have the intention to get the job without having the expectation that you will. Go into the interview with some degree of humility - arrogance is a big turn off for any employer.
Decide ahead of time that you’ll accept the outcome, whether you ‘re successful or not. If you get turned down, be philosophical and resolve to reap the benefits of the experience next time you’re faced with an interview. If you do get offered the job – congratulations! – time to go out and celebrate!
Sarah Rozenthuler's new book: Life-Changing Conversations, 7 strategies for Talking about What Matters Most, is available to buy now.