Searching for a job is dull, difficult and downright depressing. It's frustrating to spend hours honing an application only to have nothing but radio silence in return, so when that much prayed-for email does come saying thanks for applying and hey, you don't seem so bad, we'd love to meet you, it pays to make sure you're not going to let down a red hot application with a damp squib of an interview.
1. Know your value and state your suitability
Impressing in an interview relies on more than a clean outfit, good manners and taming your nerves - as important as these things are. What's below should better set you up to take on your interview but note what threads them together: preparation. There is no performance trick or sleight of hand that can be learnt - quite simply, you earn your position in a company and the way to do so is by putting in the hours and the effort (worst luck).
We've all heard someone say 'I don't think they liked me' after an interview. A few of us will have said it ourselves. But while 'team fit' will always matter somewhat, no interview is a test solely of your charm. As the interviewee, every moment should be spent demonstrating your suitability for the role and making clear what value you possess.
Remember, though interviewers are often not professionally trained, they're looking for a specific thing with every question asked - and that thing is usually whether you're capable of meeting the demands of the role. Make your answers are thorough, finding some way to show why your experience ties in to what you'll be doing should you land the role.
2. Plan for the classic questions
One needn't be clairvoyant to know some questions are likely to come up in an interview. After all, after a few new enquiries, everyone always rolls out the greatest hits - and your answers should be appropriately well rehearsed.
Take, as an example, 'Where do you see yourself in 5 years?' This question and its variants are trying to establish, among other things, where and how you'll fit within the company, your ambition and your confidence in your future. It might seem like a mere formality of interview - something that has to be asked almost for sake of tradition - but your answer will be telling. Focus on professional aspirations, not personal ones, be ambitious but realistic, and mention what responsibilities you hope to have - and not about what salary or title you covet.
If you're serious about the job (and you should be - it's foolish to waste time applying for roles you don't really care for), head to LinkedIn and look up some current employees to get an idea of what roles exist outside of the one you've applied for and how far you could feasibly go in a few years.
Though with such clichéd questions, there might seem little room to stretch your legs in your answer, in fact you can reveal an awful lot: what career plans you've made, how confident you are in your abilities, how well you know the structure and hierarchy of the business you're applying to, what success means for you (are you simply working for a pay cheque, or do you want to the satisfaction of a job with responsibility?)
A few other questions it would be wise to prepare for:
- What are your strengths and weaknesses?
- What attracted you to our business?
- Tell us about yourself (really do prepare this. Though it is not necessarily to be treated as a sales pitch, if you get nervous and trip up on this, it gives a terrible impression. After all, if there's one thing you should be an expert on, it's yourself, no?)
- Why do you want this role?
- What makes you stand out from other people?
- What are you career goals?
3. Expect strength-based questions
...not, not like that.
We're all depressingly familiar with the problem: we've got degrees but little experience. And though some employers can't reconcile this, others accept if they want the best and brightest the British education system can turn out, concessions need to be made. Unable to ask about previous work, top businesses rely on strength based questions to get an idea of where your interests lay and whether you'll suit the role and the company.
Fundamentally, strength based questions are about finding out who you are as a person and establishing if you're a good fit for the role - it's a company not only wanting to find what you're good at but being sure that if they take you on, you'll do more of what you're good at.
Strength based interviewing has been around for a while but as the questions can seem like they're there to trip you up, or test how quick you are, this style of interview catches many out.
Do your best to stay relaxed and prepare by asking yourself the below:
- What do I like most about my current role? What do I like least?
- What kind of things do I learn quickly? What do I find difficult to take on board?
- What do I consider a successful day?
- Are there enough hours in the day?
- What inspires me?
- Do I prefer to start things or finish them?
- What are the favourite things that I enjoy doing? Which tasks do I dislike or avoid and why?
- What makes me happy? What makes me unhappy?
Be honest with yourself. There are no right or wrong answers here - it's just about who you are. This means you can't come out with something clichéd, fortunately, but it is still worthwhile preparing so you aren't lost for words - awkward silences feel terribly heavy during an interview. A positive of strength-based questions is that should you not get the role, you may have a better understanding of why not - after all, if it wasn't going to make you happy, this will out in the interview.
4. Aim for a conversation - not a monologue
No-one is expecting Wildean repartee, of course. Still, a stilted question-answer session is unlikely to establish you as a confident, capable character and it hardly shows the independent, enterprising spirit businesses tend to look for. Ask questions where you can, take an interest in what's going on, pick up on what they say and respond to it - at the very least, it shows you're engaged and actually listening. There's nothing worse, either, than answering the question you think you've been asked, rather than the one that's actually been asked - pay attention to what's being said.
If you can relax and chat freely - while still being professional - it's easier for a company to imagine you as part of their team.
5. Avoid any rudeness - especially about old bosses
Sure, you may have worked for an absolute terror before - but never say so. It positively screams 'nightmare employee' and worries anyone... after all, if you leave, what will you say to someone else? Suck it up and move on, keeping whatever grievances you bear to yourself.
Also, it pays to make sure you avoid using jargon or business slang from your previous/current employer. It may not be familiar to the interviewer and may just confuse matters - and furthermore, it hardly shows you as an eloquent, articulate individual.
6. They need to know you really, really want this
Bear with me - I know this sounds painfully obvious. But so many people apply for jobs listlessly, simply sending emails to companies they aren't that keen to work for - after all, a job is a job, right? Make it as clear as you can that you aren't that person and that you really want this.
Telling a company straight out won't suffice: demonstrate it. Demonstrate your knowledge of the company, know its history, what you know of the industry, how they are a part of it, so on and so forth. And though it's likely you'll be asked 'why do you want to work here?', be certain to make it clear in every question. Someone who has clearly thought about why they want to be a part of the team and the business is going to do better than someone disinterested or indifferent - which, after all, comes across as a little rude.
7. Ask. Questions.
There is little worse than a candidate who doesn't ask questions - especially if prompted to do so. It shows they clearly haven't thought about the role, or the company because, frankly, the moment any of us think about anything, a question is bound to arise.
Pick up on something the interviewer mentioned earlier in the conversation, showing you've obviously engaged with what has been said. Ask about work culture, promotional opportunities, how your performance will be measured - get into the guts of the role. It shows you're taking it seriously and have thought a lot about it.
It's a good idea to avoid talking about salary, benefits, holiday time and so forth. This can be discussed if you do decide to accept a job offer, should one be forthcoming. Though you've every right to be well informed on what benefits there are, it rather distracts from your keenness to be part of the team and to ask about holiday sends all the wrong signals - you're looking for a job and all you're thinking about is what time off you can get? It doesn't look good.
As ever - best of luck!
This article originally appeared on Student Money Saver, and is re-printed here with permission.