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How to excel in a job interview – top tips from the recruiters

Interviews are an essential part of working life. A great interview can springboard you into landing your dream role. But what makes a great interview?

Presenting a positive impression of yourself during an interview is the most important part of the application process. You may look great on paper but this is usually not enough to convince an employer to take you on board. If you fail to achieve this, you may lose out to someone that did…and perhaps, to someone less qualified.

Our recruitment team regularly coaches our candidates on interview techniques to ensure they are fully prepared. We caught up with Lorena Garmendia, Lorraine McDonald and Laure Meriaudeau for their top tips for success.

Before the interview

Be in a good frame of mind

An interview is your time to shine, so you want to make sure you are your most sparkly! You need to feel prepared, be calm, well rested and energised in order to present the best version of yourself. Eating well, staying hydrated and getting a good night’s sleep are very important. Try to avoid stressful situations so that you can focus on your task to hand – undertaking your preparation and getting through the interview with confidence!

Do your prep

Research the company

This is so often overlooked and it can be the make or break of a great candidate. We have seen so many qualified candidates missing out on a role simply because they skipped this important step.

You may be the most experienced candidate for a role, but if you have not researched the company this will suggest a lack of interest, and could put you at a disadvantage when it comes to securing the job.

Remember that in addition to searching for a skilled candidate, organisations also want someone aligned to their company structure, working environment, culture and values. If you don’t know why you want to work for that company, how can they be confident that you would be the best fit?

Prepare questions that demonstrate that you have researched the company in depth. Make it clear that you understand their history and company goals. Try to gain insight into what it is like to work for the company – look for learning & development initiatives, awards, events, blog posts, testimonials. This level of research can also really inform whether you want to join their team.

Be confident about your CV and how it relates to the job description

This is a given, but it is important to refresh yourself on your unique offering. Why should they hire you? Reminding yourself about your achievements in and outside of the workplace will give you a solid platform to talk about yourself in a convincing and holistic manner.

Review the job description in detail and draw multiple parallels between the essential / desirable criteria and your own experience. Discuss a broad range of your experience, including but not relying exclusively on your current role. Include examples of worthwhile, skill-building activities such as volunteering. Variety is key!

Prepare some potential responses

Interview questions will vary company to company, however there will often be similarities. You may be asked about your suitability, your strengths and weaknesses, what you know about the company, what you want out of the role, and why you are leaving your current situation. Prepare solid responses to these in case they come up – without preparation it can be easy to provide loose and unimpressive answers. When discussing your strengths, ensure that you align these closely to the job description. When explaining weaknesses, be honest without raising red flags about your ability in the role. Always discuss your proactive efforts for improvement.

Situation based questions are very common in interviews, and it is important to practice your approach to these. The internet is a great source of potential questions. Prepare your answers using the S.T.A.R. Methodology:

  • Situation
  • Task
  • Action
  • Result

Some examples of situation based questions:

  • Can you give me an example of a time when you had to meet strict deadlines? How did you deal with it?
  • Is there a situation in the past in which you took the initiative?
  • Have you accomplished something you didn’t think was possible?
  • Can you think of a situation during your career that was particularly embarrassing? How would you handle the same situation today?

Speak logically and clearly about the situation, what was required to resolve it, what you specifically contributed, and what the outcome was. It is very important to highlight your own actions and unique contribution to a situation… overusing ‘we’ can suggest a lack of autonomy and initiative.

The specific questions you prepare for may not be asked in your interview. However, the process of analysing your CV in this way will draw out some of your most interesting stories. It is likely these can be adapted as a response to other questions. Preparing responses will put you in the right mindset and help you recall relevant experience and examples for your interview.

Dress appropriately

First impressions are everything. If hired, you would be a representative of the organisation and the way you dress at your interview may impact your interviewer’s opinion of your suitability – even if subconsciously. It may be dress-down day at your workplace, but arriving in smart business attire is always the safest option, unless you have been told otherwise. Remember, it is always better to be over dressed than under dressed. You should avoid anything that could potentially work against you, so that you can focus on your skills, experience and personality. If this would raise eyebrows at your current workplace, take a spare set of clothes to change into.

Shine at first interview filters

Prior to your final interview it is likely you will have had a first interview either with a recruitment agency or directly with the HR department of the organisation. You should take this interview as seriously as you would if meeting the hiring manager. Their impression of you counts – they are the first filter towards landing your dream job and the opinion they feed back to the hiring manager will often be factored into the final decision.

During the interview

Be early

Giving yourself 10-15 minutes to relax prior to your interview is always a good idea. You want to appear calm and in control of the situation, and this is difficult to achieve if you are flustered! Take this time to regain your thoughts, consider what you want to learn about the role / organisation and what you want to highlight about yourself. Breathe!

Arriving late is a major red flag for an interviewer. Regardless of the reason behind being late, it will raise concerns about your attitude, work ethic and your genuine interest in the opportunity. Make sure your route is fully planned in advance, including setting aside time for any parking requirements.

Create a great first impression

Greet your interviewer in a positive manner…professional, confident, with a warm and enthusiastic smile, and a strong handshake. A handshake is a reflection of your self-confidence and can play a key role in the first impression the interviewer has of you. Make it a good one!

The importance of creating a great first impression also extends to every other employee you meet before, during and after your interview – regardless of their role or seniority. Feedback from the team is often used to help inform hiring managers. Any negativity or lack of engagement may work against you…not to mention these could be your future colleagues!

Stow away your belongings and remove distractions

When you enter the room, you should ensure all potential distractions are removed from the situation. Turn off your phone (including silent-vibrate mode!). Keep all belongings in a non-visible place and never on the table. Avoid bringing anything unnecessary with you as this could appear unprofessional.

Bringing a notebook and pen is acceptable and could be useful for noting down key information gained through the interview. However, use this sparingly and only as appropriate and required.

Should I bring my CV?

There are mixed opinions on this one, and our advice is generally not to bring your CV. It would be unusual for an interviewer not to print a copy, as they will use this as a reference throughout the interview. You should know your CV well enough not to need it in front of you, and should never use it to respond to a question. This would definitely raise alarm bells for the interviewer. If in doubt, print a few copies but keep them stowed away in your bag, bringing them out only in the unlikely case that the interviewer has come unprepared or was expecting you to provide a copy.

Be engaged in the conversation

Your body language is important throughout your interview. It reveals your confidence, along with your interpersonal and communication skills. Your body language will allow the interviewer to gauge insight into what you would be like as an employee or teammate.

Maintaining an appropriate level of eye contact and an open, receptive posture will show you are engaged in the conversation. Be animated whilst remaining conscious of your gestures – using too many can be distracting to the interviewer and can draw attention to your nerves. You should always keep the focus pointed towards what you are saying, as opposed to how you are sitting.

Be engaged in the conversation from the outset. A two-way conversational style interview can be far more effective than the traditional Q&A, and is now the mode adopted by many organisations. If it feels appropriate, ask questions and contribute your thoughts throughout the interview. However, never interrupt your interviewer!

Show your personality

Employees are not robots and hiring managers want to understand what it would be like to work with you, as a person. Everyone understands that interviews can be nerve wracking, but try to relax and be yourself. Showcase your personality whilst maintaining the appropriate level of professionalism… this includes before and after the interview. Remember, you are still being evaluated outside of the interview room.

Highlight your unique value through your achievements

Calmly approach each question with examples that establish your experience and worth to the company. Using the S.T.A.R. Methodology detailed above, substantiate your responses with specific information to allow the interviewer to really appreciate the value and legitimacy of your achievements. Be self-confident but never arrogant… a fine line, and a very important one!

Through your responses, highlight what you are like as an employee, a colleague, and a representative of an organisation. Highlight your work ethic, your positive attitude, confidence, integrity, team work and commitment to a task. These will differentiate you from another equally experienced candidate.

Stay positive

You may be asked about past mistakes. Do not let this phase you. Be honest about your mistakes…we all fail sometimes. The interviewer will want to know what lessons you learned, so be sure to talk positively this.

Avoid negative commentary or criticism of previous roles, colleagues or employers. This could raise questions about your attitude towards the workplace. When asked about your reasons for leaving a company, always focus on the positive motivations behind the change, such as career growth or the advancement of skills.

Ask real questions

When researching the company, prepare a set of genuine questions you want to ask. An interview is as much about you finding out about the company / role as it is about them finding out about you. You need to be confident that this is the right working environment for you.

Throughout the interview you may be able to ask counter questions as topics are raised, which can give a good flow to the interview. Alternatively, ask these towards the end of the interview if it feels more appropriate. Make sure that all of your questions have been answered to a level that adequately informs your final decision should you be offered the role.

Be cautious of asking generic questions for the sake of it – these are not helpful to you and may suggest you are not 100% interested. However, do make sure you always have questions to ask. Radio silence at this stage of the interview is not attractive to an employer.

Finally, remember you are selling yourself

We are not all sales people and this aspect of the interview can come as a challenge to those who prefer not to stand in the limelight. However, you are selling yourself from the moment you arrive in the reception hall to the moment you leave the building, as well as in any communications that take place via other means. You must exhibit the best version of yourself to the interviewer. The interview is your main opportunity to draw attention to your achievements, whilst showcasing your experience, relevant skill-set and ability to be an excellent addition to the team. Prepare well and give it your best shot!

Reflect!

After the interview, always take the time to reflect on the research you have done and the insight you gained through the discussion. Consider whether you want the role, if offered. Consider where this position would sit within your wider career goals and assess whether it would be an appropriate move. Are the working environment and company culture right for you? In order to feel motivated in a role, it is important that both the company and role are aligned to your aspirations.

If there are red flags or you have additional questions, take the opportunity to discuss these with your recruiter who may have further insight or advice. If you applied directly to the company, do not be afraid to discuss your queries with your contact there. It is important that all questions are answered prior to signing a contract, so that both you and the company are excited by the new appointment.

Reflect also on the interview itself. What went well, and what could you improve upon? For many people, interviewing does not come naturally and is a learned skill in itself. Use each interview as a learning opportunity, and if you happen to be unsuccessful, asking for feedback is an excellent way to improve for next time.

Related articles

Need help getting to interview stage? Check out these articles:

How to write a great CV
How to address selection criteria
7 tips to write a great cover letter
LinkedIn guide for candidates – recruitment perspective

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