Win the interview

Win the Interview

Interview nerves affect us all. Even seasoned ‘professional’ interviewees have the odd stomach churning, heart pounding moment. Whether you generally take interviews in your stride, however, or whether your hands start to sweat at the very thought of the dreaded event, take a walk through our guide and pick up a few ‘top tips’. And feel free to ask us for further help, advice and perhaps even some practice.

Here’s our version of what to do before, during and after the interview process to survive – and win.

Before the Interview
It sounds so obvious but planning is absolutely crucial. You absolutely must plan what you are going to say and what qualities you will emphasise.

In many ways this is not as hard as it might first appear because interviews are, in part at least, predictable. If you think about it, every employer is looking for evidence of qualities such as:

  • a ‘can do’ attitude
  • communications skills
  • a real interest in the company and the position
  • high standards of performance
  • a stable work history

Demonstrate these, and you are already half way towards winning the interview!

Most interviews boil down to a few key questions that essentially have to be asked (although they may be dressed up in slightly different forms). These are:

  • Why did you leave your last job / why are you thinking about leaving your present employer?
  • Why do you want to work for this company /why do you want this job?
  • What can you do for us/ how will you do it?

Prepare straightforward answers to give in response to these questions (see below) and practice what you will say, again and again. The best way to do this is to practice in the mirror, or in front of friends or by recording yourself, ideally on video. Listen to your voice and watch your body language. Your words need to sound lively and animated rather than monotonic and flat. Learn to adopt an open posture: sit up comfortably and look alert and attentive by leaning slightly forward.

A useful mnemonic here is ROLE:
Relaxed Open Leaning and Eye contact.

Visit your potential employer’s Head Office or stores before interview. You need to be dressed in a similar manner to your next boss. If in doubt, aim to be smarter or a touch more formal.

Remind yourself that you are going to a two way interview. In fact a meeting with another Manager broadly on the same level as you. You are there in your own right. He/she wants to know about you; you need information out of whoever it is that you meet.

Plan your route to the venue for the interview and allow plenty of time. For every interview we arrange, we’ll give you a map link within Progress Report, so you’ll always know where you’re going.

On arrival be nice to everyone you meet. Especially secretaries and receptionists.

Don’t forget the fresh breath mints!

During the Interview
Your approach will be relevant to your personal circumstances, but guideline responses to the ‘inevitable’ questions are:

  1. Why did you leave your last job / why are you thinking about leaving your present employer?
    The basic rule of thumb here is don’t lie. Have your (well rehearsed) version of events ready if you have not worked for a while. Never be embarrassed about redundancy. Your position was made redundant, not you. Be positive about ‘new doors opening’ and never be rude about your last employer or bitter about your personal circumstances. If there was a clash of personalities, say so.

    If you are in work, be clear as to why you are/may be looking to leave your current employer. There’s nothing wrong with being ambitious and it’s generally accepted that, given the demise of the ‘job for life’ culture, employees these days are less faithful than they perhaps were and are more inclined to be mercenary. It cuts both ways.
  2. Why do you want to work for this company /why do you want this job?
    Describe what you know about the business (research beforehand) and the position. Give basic information as to why you appear suitable, but ask for more details on the role. For example, you could ask, ‘Are there any particular requirements of the job it’s worth talking about now?’ You need to gather as much information about what problems this employer may have and what sort of person they are looking for so you can tailor your responses and feed back what it is they want to hear - demonstrating relevant skills, abilities and achievements in the process.
  3. What can you do for us/ how will you do it?
    Here your answers will depend on the seniority of the position applied for and your personal circumstances. Central to your responses, however, should be an ‘on tap’ verbal list of your main skills, your management style and how you manage. Use your achievements and commercial success as evidence of what you can do - ideally quantified.

One way of responding to these sorts of questions (and others linked to your CV) is to have a number of illustrative anecdotes ready showing your practical approach to problem solving and the results you’ve delivered. Each anecdote should detail:

  • the Situation you inherited or the circumstances that arose
  • the Task you therefore needed to undertake
  • the Action you took (this is the most important bit)
  • the Result or benefit (ideally financial) for the company you can lay claim to

Use the STAR mnemonic and you can bring your anecdotes ‘spontaneously’ to life. Remember to highlight the points where you took action. You want your interviewer to remember what you did, and by implication what you can do.

Ask as many intelligent questions as possible. Encourage the interviewer to talk. You may not always get a straight answer to the rather obvious question ‘so, what sort of person are you looking for to do this job?’ but simple requests for more information about the position, responsibilities, criteria for success and so on will usually enable you to build up enough of a picture for you to frame your answers and statements in the most effective and positive way.

Remember that an interview, by definition, is a two way conversation. Seize some control and ask questions of your own.

A great question to ask at or towards the end of the interview is ‘do you have any doubts about my ability to do this job?’ You can then head off any objections before the end of the interview, or finish on a really positive note with you looking forward to the next step – and of course finding out what this is.

And if the interviewer is full of tough questions – ask some of your own. Keep this one up your sleeve: ‘what is the best or toughest question I could ask you to find out about the worst aspects of this job? How would you answer it?’


After the Interview
We recommend going to the nearest pub and ‘unwinding’. With an orange juice or two. You deserve it.

While you are there, write up some post interview notes on what was said, what was not said, and your view of how you performed. The main purpose of these notes is to ensure that you learn from any tactical mistakes for next time, and so that you can write a thank you note to your interviewer.

Write that thank you note and post or e-mail it within 24 hours. Most other candidates won’t bother. A thank you note could just give you the edge in a competitive selection situation. It can reinforce how much you want the job, how suitable you are for it (include any positive reasons for this you may have forgotten to mention at the interview) and of course how much you enjoyed meeting the wonderful person who interviewed you.

If any objections were voiced at the interview as to your suitability, this is your last chance to counter them and to reinterpret any negative connotations with a positive perspective if you legitimately can.

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