Mastering the art of the interview
Techniques to ensure you excel at interviews
Navigating the maze
After weeks of perfecting your CV, networking and circulating your CV, you have finally come to perhaps the most crucial part of any recruitment process; the interview. You may have successfully negotiated all the other stages in the recruitment process, but the interview could be the final nail in the coffin or the icing on the cake. The final hurdle; the difference between acceptance and rejection!
Most of us are familiar with the anxiety and the nervousness associated with interviews, but some very simple workarounds can help transform that nervousness into excitement. How you may ask? Well, the short answer is: preparation, preparation and some more preparation!
The very first step is knowing; knowing your self and knowing your (potential) employer¹. While the former may seem easy, on the contrary, it is one of the hardest to do. The purpose of an interview is to highlight your achievements and your passion for the position in question. So it is of the utmost importance that you think about your skills, your aspirations, your strengths and weaknesses. These will help you frame answers to possible interview questions, and you can even come up with ways to highlight particular skills that match the job description.
Knowing your employer involves a lot of research — an effective approach is to start broadly and narrow your search parameters. Essentially, begin by researching the field that you are applying to, and the required skills then narrow your search to the specific organisation, its goals and vision, the work environment etc. and finally research your supervisor/interviewer, their career trajectory and their interests. All of these will help you build a repertoire with your interviewer and ease into the interview with appropriate small talk. Second, preparing your responses to some common interview questions gives you an edge and helps you ease any unnecessary anxiety. Some questions are common throughout the interview process regardless of the field you are applying to, and some are common throughout the field you are particularly applying to. The trick is to find these questions and modify the suggested answers to suit you. Some common interview questions include:
Preperation, preperation and more preperation!
The third step is finding an appropriate outfit that reflects your professionalism and is comfortable at the same time. While one should not judge a book by its cover, it is, more often than not, precisely the case. A large portion of your impression is how you are dressed because your outward appearance is the first thing your interviewer notices². Comfortable clothing helps you remain at ease physically, despite any anxiety you may be battling internally. So as a rule of thumb, dress to impress!
Then comes the actual day of the interview. Now, this goes without saying, but you should arrive at least 15 minutes before your scheduled time. Once you have arrived early, let the receptionist know and use the 15 minutes before your interview to get in the zone. Take deep breaths to ease any nervousness and remind yourself that it’s nothing more than a conversation.
During the interview, the most important thing is to stay calm. Take your time answering questions – one of the most common mistakes made by rookie interviewees is launching into a response without considering the meaning of the question, and the response options and style that put you in the best light. Also, don’t be afraid to ask an interviewer to repeat a question, or clarify its meaning, if you feel this will allow you to tailor a better response. Be sure to highlight your skills using appropriate examples. Remember the three As of selling yourself; Assignment – a particular situation/problem you faced, Action – your strategy to deal with it and Accomplishment - the results of your actions³.
An interview is a two-way street; both parties can affect the outcome. Good interviewers have been trained to phrase questions in a certain style, i.e. “give me an example of a time when you…” rather than “what would you do if…”. They do this because the best predictor of future behaviour is past behaviour. So have some concrete examples at the ready, and be prepared to adapt.
You also want to make sure you ask a few relevant questions during the interview to show your interest and to find out more about the organisation or the role. To conclude, if you want the job, be sure to make it obvious⁴. While this may seem odd, to an employer, your enthusiasm for the job could leave a lasting impression.
In the end, practice makes perfect. Don’t be disheartened if you don’t succeed the first time. It may take a few attempts before you hit your stride as an interviewee. This is one skill that will stay with you for a lifetime and can help you achieve your career goals faster. You never get a second chance to make a first impression, so why not make the best possible one?
¹Schilling, Mary. 1994. Taylor & Francis Journals 1 (2): 20-23. doi:10.1080/10724117.1994.11974882.
²Bain, Christina. 2005. Art Education 58 (3): 49-53. doi:10.1080/00043125.2005.11651543.
³Schilling, Mary. 1994. Taylor & Francis Journals 1 (2): 20-23. doi:10.1080/10724117.1994.11974882.
⁴Mathieu, Jennifer. 2007. Journal Of The American Dietetic Association 107 (4): S12-S13. doi:10.1016/j.jada.2007.02