[Updated] Secrets for Interview Success

You have one objective in your forthcoming interview and that is to receive an offer.

This guide is presented to you, the customer; to ensure you have the best chance of promoting yourself in the most positive manner during your interview and to provide insight into the things that interviewers are looking for when they interview you.

This preparation will show in your attitude and composure in the interview and greatly enhance your ability to secure the role.

*The ideal employee

A company’s most important and valuable asset is its’ staff and as such it is important that you ensure that the interviewer believes that you are a valuable addition to their team.

*Flexibility

A business can’t compete in today’s markets if your employees are unwilling to accept change. Companies will continue to have turnover, change strategic direction, change product lines, and get in and out of different technologies. If you can’t demonstrate an ability to deal effectively with change, you won’t be very happy in today’s corporate climate.

*Being a team player

Just keeping your head down and doing your job is not enough these days. You must make an effort to be more involved with your colleagues. This means forcing yourself to get out of your office and interact. No one likes to be misunderstood, but if people don’t get the opportunity to work with you, and thereby get to know you, it will be your own fault if you don’t get their support in critical situations.

*Breadth of Skills

As organisations flatten, career growth will be found horizontally, not vertically. You must be willing to work outside of your respective niche from time-to-time to broaden your abilities. Having a specialisation is fine, but being able to help out in others areas will make you more valuable to the company and more marketable as a candidate.

*Being Aware of the BIGGER Picture

Employees that understand and show an interest in the bigger picture of the business itself, as opposed to only their area of focus, aren’t as likely to be blindsided by change and tend to better understand and cope with the associated turmoil.

*Presentation Ability

If you think only sales people and “kiss-ups” should be concerned about presentation skills, you’re WRONG. Improving your ability to give effective presentations on any subject, to small or large groups, is a skill that you must make a priority if you want to be more than just a role player.

Remember a simple checklist prior to Interview:

  • Read your CV from top to bottom all the way through and make sure you know what exactly you have written down.
  • Practise interview questions with a member of the family, friend, and/or girlfriend — anyone who will listen!
  • Read this preparation guide fully. Most of it you may think basic, but if you get the basics right then your foundations will be strong for a strong performance.
  • Make sure you know exactly where you are going, have a map and leave much earlier than the journey time suggests. Don’t leave anything to chance.
  • For most people interviews are not enjoyable. The way to make sure we have the best chance of success is if you ask your recruiter everything you need help with to prepare properly.
  • If you want to cancel your interview. Please don’t take the ‘turn your phone off’ approach.

Section 2 — Answering Interview Questions

Interviews vary tremendously, from very informal to formal. However, some questions can be anticipated, as can the subject matter. If you are well prepared, then the majority of problem questions should not arise. You will know about the company, you will know about yourself and you will a have a good idea of the demands of the job — these questions will not be a problem to the well prepared interviewee.

A few general rules:

  • Speak up when answering questions
  • Answer briefly, but try to avoid yes or no answers
  • Don’t worry about pausing before you answer, it shows you can think and are not spitting out the sound bites you learned!
  • Don’t embellish answers or lie! Be as honest as possible
  • Be prepared for hypothetical situation questions, take your time on these
  • Be prepared for the unexpected question, that’s designed to see how you cope with the unexpected

If you ask questions keep them brief during the interview, remember you’re the interviewee.

At the end of the interview ask your questions in an open manner. Questions which cannot be answered yes or no e.g. tell me about…? What is…? Why…?

Don’t let your guard down regardless of how informal or casual the meeting may seem. If you’re not sure that the job is a fit, at least try to get to the second round of interviews. The professional contacts that you make during the process will come in handy whether you get the job or not.

Thank the interviewers for their time when you leave quietly and calmly, and smile, even if you know you hate them.

Interview Questions

Question: “Why are you leaving your current position?”

AVOID:
  • Company lied to me about how things would be
  • Compensation is too low
  • Too much overtime
  • Poor benefits
  • Not enough vacation
  • Management doesn’t know what they are doing
  • I am not unhappy
  • I am just shopping the market
  • No promotion potential
  • Avoid using negative language. Better to say; “current position lacks opportunity to grow and learn professionally.”
HELPFUL:
  • Limited opportunities to learn
  • Company lacks a vision of its future
  • Commute is too far
  • Bored / Been there too long
  • Need new challenges (For candidates with 4–5 years at one company)
  • Remember; don’t bash your current company or position. You want to be perceived as someone that makes intelligent career decisions.

Question: “What do you like about your current position?”

AVOID:
  • Flexible work schedule
  • The amount of vacation I am getting
  • Company benefits
  • The vast amount of resources available to me
  • Not having to deal with the nitty gritty details
  • Having my own office
HELPFUL:
  • The high level of responsibility I have been given
  • Continuing learning experience
  • The juggling of multiple projects
  • Visibility of the position
  • Calibre of people I get to work with
  • Complexity of work

Question: “What do you dislike about your current position?”

AVOID:
  • Bad manager
  • Too much detail
  • Too much overtime
  • My job is too unstructured and chaotic
  • Too many interruptions
HELPFUL:
  • Lack of challenge and responsibility
  • Pace is too slow
  • Not learning anything new
  • Company’s culture is very rigid and lacks an entrepreneurial spirit

Question: “What are your career objectives and why are you here talking to us?”

This is your opportunity to:
  • Separate yourself from the crowd by demonstrating a unique connection between you and this company and its employees.
  • Demonstrate a high level of maturity and confidence by articulating a clear vision about where you are going with your career. Why are you talking to us?
  • I have always respected and heard/read goods things about your products or services
  • I have known people that work or have worked for your company
  • Your opportunity helps me meet some or all of my career goals
  • Career objectives: These days you must have functional career objectives that are not necessarily tied to specific job positions.

Section 3 — Preparation For Interview

Research the company

An interview is not a time to “wing it.” Prepare as you would for any high level presentation. Find out as much as you can about the company through annual reports, newspapers, etc.

This effort demonstrates your resourcefulness, sincere interest and curiosity. If possible, bring a recognisable piece of this research (ideally an annual report or sales brochure) to your meeting and make sure the interviewer sees that you have it.

Self-assessment and personal areas that you would like to Improve

Know yourself, your strengths, weaknesses and accomplishments. Try to get insight from people that won’t pull any punches. To make you more credible, you should plan on giving the interviewer some areas that you would like to improve upon.

Good ones that most interviewers won’t hold against you are: time management, being too much of a perfectionist, being impatient with unmotivated employees. Remember, your references should mirror anything you say in an interview so make sure you are both on the same page, preferably before the interview.

Know your three best interpersonal strengths and your three best technical strengths.

Be prepared to discuss each for 1–2 minutes, in detail, with examples. The interpersonal examples should confirm your ability to work with others, be flexible, proactive and results oriented. The technical examples should confirm that you have above average abilities, relative to your peers, in these specific areas.

Be well dressed and groomed

Being well dressed and groomed is your best and easiest opportunity to impress someone. Never dress down regardless of how casual you perceive the circumstances to be. Stick with conservative styles. If you need a job and you have to make a choice between new clothes and food, buy the clothes.

Be early to your interview

Whatever you do don’t blow this one. If there is even a remote chance of being late then let your recruiter and interviewer know as soon as possible.

Be involved and curious but don’t ramble

The most effective interviews are those where an active two-way conversation prevails. Not the typical question and answer type. Begin early in the interview to interject your own inquisitive and probing insight. When it comes to responding to questions, make sure you monitor how much you’re talking. Remember, 1–2 minutes at a time MAX.

If one person is going to talk more than the other, it should be your interviewer, NOT YOU.

Be enthusiastic and friendly to everyone you meet

First impressions, positive or negative, can dramatically affect the ultimate evaluation. Smile and say “hi” to everyone. If an interviewer is unsure about you he or she may poll others that only shook your hand or passed you in the hall. It may not be fair, but it is a common practice.

Communicate concisely and listen carefully

Thoughtful and concise communication is the key to successful interviewing. A maximum of 1–2 minutes at a time of well-prepared discussion provides insight into your intellect and supports your contentions. Remember, don’t ramble. Listen very closely and make sure that you let your interviewer finish their thought before responding. No one likes to have their words anticipated or their conversation spoken over.

Provide examples with details

Support statements about yourself with specific examples. These stories provide legitimacy to your claims and without them the interviewer is less likely to accept them as valid.

Let’s face it; an interview is a search for negatives

Positives are screened through your resume and are what get you to the interview.

Negatives are screened in the interview and usually determine who gets the job. With this in mind, try to stick to responses and opinions that are more neutral or hedged until your interviewer gives you some clues about what characteristics constitute a successful employee.

If you have a tendency to do all the talking, resist it. A candidate that uses a rambling “shot gun” approach in presenting themselves will never get an offer no matter how golden they think their tongue is!

Be positive and practice your responses to all the typical questions. How poised you are when you respond to these questions makes a bigger impact than what you actually say.

Avoid slang and dead air fillers like “ummm” and “ahhhh.”

Don’t talk salary — do talk salary

Try to avoid talking compensation until the second or third interview. Overworked screeners use salary as their number one weapon to eliminate candidates from consideration. If you must give them something give a range. If you are going through a recruiter, let them do the negotiation. If you do get pushed for specifics, give in. Better to be accommodating than difficult.

Tell them you want it

Make it clear that based on what you have heard so far, you would be interested in going to the next round. If things have gone well, try to close on a specific date and time for the next interview BEFORE you leave their office.

If you get the second interview set up, you may want to ask them if they would like to be notified in the event that you receive an offer from someone else.

This may give you an indication of their interest level and help speed up the process at the same time.

Calling is always better than mailing

If you think you can “word-smith” your way into a job with gold embossed resumes and cover letters you spent three hours writing, you’re wrong! Put together a basic chronological resume, preferably without fancy executive summaries and objectives, and get on the phone and sell yourself.

Try to discipline yourself to send resumes only to companies that you have had some verbal contact with. I know you want to respond to every ad on the web, but try to restrain yourself.

Calling to confirm titles and name spelling counts, but it is better to actually get someone affiliated with the hiring process on the phone.

Also, don’t over analyse who you are going to call. Almost everyone you reach should be able to add some value to your search.

If you are not working, ten quality ‘over the phone’ presentations a day should be an achievable and productive goal.

Probing questions to ask…

  • What are the core values of the company? What are the company’s objectives?
  • What kinds of changes have taken place at the company in the last few years? Management, culture, financial, etc.?
  • Do you foresee any imminent changes with the company or management that may affect this position?
  • What are some fair criticisms of the company regarding; it’s use of employees, general business practices, competitiveness, management, etc.?
  • Why is the position available?
  • What defines a successful person within your organisation? Has this changed over time?
  • What should be the most important objectives for the person filling this position?
  • Is there a formal performance evaluation process?
  • What kind of person would not be happy in this position? Company?
  • What is the most common reason used for leaving your company?
  • What departments or individuals will I be working with outside of my immediate group?
  • How does the rest of the organisation view what this department or business group is doing? Does it fit with the company’s core objectives?
  • Assuming the success criteria for this position is met, what will be the opportunities for growth?
  • Is there an opportunity to move to other projects, business groups or divisions within the company?
  • Don’t be timid about asking these questions. Asking tough questions demonstrates that you are prepared, genuinely interested, and respectful of the interviewer and the interview process. Also, it is perfectly acceptable to bring a list of questions to your interview and take notes.

Section 4 — Tough Interview Questions

Personality

  • Do you generally speak to people before they speak to you? Depends on the circumstances.
  • What was the last book you read? Movie you saw? Sporting event you attended?
  • Talk about books, sports or films to show that you have balance in your life.
  • What is the toughest part of a job for you? Be honest; remember, not everyone can do everything.
  • Are you creative? Yes. Give examples
  • How would you describe your own personality? Balanced.
  • Are you a leader? Yes. Give examples.
  • What are your future goals? Avoid, “I would like the job you advertised.” Instead, give long-term goals.
  • What are your strong points? Give at least three and relate them to the company and job you are interviewing for.
  • What are your weak points? Don’t say you have none. Try not to cite personal characteristics as weaknesses, but be ready to have one if the interviewer presses. Turn a negative into a positive answer: “I am sometimes intent on completing an assignment and get too deeply involved when we are late.”

Your Work Habits and Style

  • If I spoke to your previous manager, what would s/he say are your greatest strengths and weaknesses?
  • Emphasis on skills — don’t be overly negative about your weaknesses; it’s always safer to identify a lack of a skill as an area for improvement rather than a shortcoming.
  • Can you work under pressures, deadlines, etc.? Yes, it’s a way of life in business.
  • How have you changed the nature of your job? Improved it … of course.
  • In your present position, what problems have you identified that had previously been overlooked? Keep it brief and don’t boast.
  • Don’t you feel you might be better off in a different size company? Or Different type of company? Depends on the job, elaborate slightly.
  • How do you resolve conflict on a project team? First you discuss the issues privately.
  • What was the most difficult decision you ever had to make? Try to relate your response to the prospective employment situation.

Salary Questions

  • How much are you looking for? Answer with a question, i.e., “What is the salary range for similar jobs in your company?” If they don’t answer, then give a range of what you understand you are worth in the marketplace.
  • What do you know about our company? Do your homework before the interview! Spend some time online or at the library researching the company.
  • Find out as much as you can, including products, size, income, reputation, image, people, skills, history and philosophy. Project an informed interest; let the interviewer tell you about the company.
  • How much do you expect, if we offer this position to you? Be careful; the market value of the job may be the key answer, e.g., “My understanding is that a job like the one you’re describing may be in the range of £______.”
  • What kind of salary are you worth? Have a specific figure in mind … don’t be hesitant.

Career Goals

  • If you could start your career again, what would you do differently? Nothing … I am happy today, so I don’t want to change my past.
  • What career options do you have at the moment? “I see three areas of interest…” Relate those to the position and industry.
  • How would you describe the essence of success? According to your definition of success, how successful have you been so far?
  • Think carefully about your answer and relate it to your career accomplishments.

If You Are Leaving a Job

  • Why are you leaving your present job?
  • Refine your answer based on your comfort level and honesty. Give a “group” answer if possible, e.g. Our department was consolidated or eliminated.
  • How do you feel about leaving all of your benefits? Concerned but not panicked.
  • Describe what you feel to be an ideal working environment. One in which people are treated as fairly as possible.
  • How would you evaluate your present company?
  • An excellent company that afforded me many fine experiences.

General Questions

  • Tell me about you!
  • Keep your answer to one or two minutes; don’t ramble. Use your CV summary as a starting point.
  • What do you know about our company?
  • Do your homework before the interview! Spend some time researching the company. Find out as much as you can, including products, size, income, reputation, image, people, skills, history and philosophy. Be able to demonstrate an informed interest; let the interviewer tell you about the company.
  • Why do you want to work for us?
  • Don’t talk about what you want; first, talk about their needs: You would like to be part of a specific company project; you would like to solve a company problem.
  • What would you do for us? What can you do for us that someone else can’t?
  • Relate past experiences that show you’ve had success in solving previous employer problem(s) that may be similar to those of the prospective employer.
  • What do you find most attractive/least attractive about the job offered? List three or more attractive factors and only one minor unattractive factor.
  • Why should we hire you?
  • Because of your knowledge, experience, abilities and skills.
  • What do you look for in a job?
  • An opportunity to use your skills, to perform and be recognised. (The position for which you are being interviewed). Keep it brief — give a definition related to actions and results.
  • Please give me your definition of a….
  • How long would it take you to make a meaningful contribution to our company? Not long at all — you expect only a brief period of adjustment.
  • How long would you stay with us?
  • As long as we both feel I’m contributing, achieving, growing, etc.

Section 5 — Likely Interview Questions

Work History

  • Name of company, position title and description, date of employment
  • What were your expectations for the job and to what extent where they met?
  • What where you’re starting and final levels of compensation?
  • What were your responsibilities?
  • What major challenges and problems did you face? How did you handle them?
  • Which was most/least rewarding?
  • What was the biggest accomplishment/failure in this position?
  • What was it like working for your supervisor? What were his strengths and shortcomings?
  • Why are you leaving?

About You

  • Describe a typical work week
  • How would you describe the pace at which you work?
  • How do you handle stress and pressure?
  • What motivates you?
  • What do you find are the most difficult decisions to make?
  • If the people who know you were asked why you should be hired, what would they say?
  • Do you prefer to work independently or on a team?
  • Give some examples of team-work.
  • What type of work environment do you prefer?
  • Describe a difficult work situation/project and how you overcame it.
  • How do you evaluate success?
  • The new job and the new company
  • What interests you about this job?
  • What applicable attributes/experience do you have?
  • Why are you the best person for the job?
  • What do you know about this company?
  • Why do you want to work for this organisation?
  • What challenges are you looking for in a position?
  • What can you contribute to this company?
  • Are you willing to travel?
  • Is there anything I haven’t told you about the job or company that you would like to know?

The future

  • What are you looking for in your next job? What is important to you?
  • What are your goals for the next one, three, five years/ten years?
  • How do you plan to achieve those goals?
  • What are your salary requirements — both short-term and long-term?

How to stand-out, do SWOT Analysis on yourself

This is an important first step, just like you were going to plan a new product/service to the market you will need to understand various factors.

Without doing this due-diligence in the first place I am sure you will fail to penetrate the market successfully.

You need to sit down and consider the following:

  • What are your talents? (features of a product)
  • What benefits will you bring to your new employer? (Benefits of the product)
  • What is your focus?
  • Where would you like to be in 2, 5 and 10 years time?
  • What are your weaknesses? How will this impact your effectiveness? How can you turn these into positives?

Develop a Strategy

This is very important; again you would not launch a product and/or new service without developing a strategy. From your point of view you need to sit down and be clear on what it is you’re looking for, you’re areas of flexibility and your dream job!

  • How can I develop a strategy?
  • You should look at the market, are you interested in competitors?
  • Who are they?
  • Do you know the type of company you are looking to join?
  • The type of sector?
  • The culture?
  • These all need to be considered.

You need to decide which potential agencies to engage with, don’t just engage with everyone. Pick suppliers who are targeted to specific markets and have a real knowledge of their sector. Research job boards, make sure you understand which ones offer the most opportunities with your skills and look into networking sites.

The Basics: But forget them at your peril!!

Make sure your CV is 100% accurate in terms of spelling, grammar and punctuation. This is the first way you can turn off a prospective customer. Would you buy a product that looked faulty or the packaging was messy/information was spelt wrong or inaccurate — I doubt it!

Make sure you have your CV proof read by others, the layout is impeccable, to the point and contains killer content that stands out. Not just I did this, I did that etc. You need to make sure it demonstrates real value throughout, like a brochure that would tempt someone to buy a product / service.

What you can do in your current job to help

Make sure that you constantly have a focus and plan as to where you want to go and be. Then you can align your skills towards that route, if you are looking to move in different directions look into training, self development and qualifications.

Additional extra’s to your profile will always help your CV and find out what your customers (potential employer) actually want to see on a CV.

Remember, when you have products and services that people want, marketing to them is easy, it will also mean you will then have more people coming to you as your skills will be in demand.

Be-Proactive

This is key to marketing yourself, as above you can help yourself get found but combine this with a pro-active approach and you will get where you want to go so much faster. Make connections on the job currently (you never know where your boss will end up), facilitate the networking sites, research who you want to work for and go out there and get them.

Don’t rely on agencies and don’t blame them if you don’t get where you want to go — THIS IS YOUR RESPONSIBILITY!

Agencies can help you and use them as a tool, but make sure you act yourself. Remember a multi-communication approach is far more effective than relying on one avenue.

The Sales Stage!!!!

So you have got several interviews lined up — you have managed to market yourself successfully to this point and know you’re really embarking on the crunch stage which will be the interview. This is getting you close closing the sale.

To prepare for this make sure you do the following:

  • Thoroughly research your audience (company & individuals)
  • Practice interviewing with members of the family, friends and/or a professional interviewer
  • Read interview techniques & prospective questions, have all the answers in your head for any eventuality
  • Make sure you are immaculately presented
  • Remember to focus on your impact / initial impression — people form opinions of others within the first 10 seconds of meeting
  • Remember to talk clearly, succinctly, to the point and with examples (your features and benefits)
  • Build rapport and smile — this can go a long way

Hopefully all of the above has given you a useful insight into how you can market yourself to be successful in this tough economic climate — to stand out of the crowd you need to market yourself effectively.

Without doing this you as a product / service may be left on the scrapheap.