In our last blog we talked about the avoidable mistakes most commonly made by interviewees.
In this blog, we're going to reflect on lessons we can all learn from the better interview practice we've seen.
So without further ado, here are some of the things you can do before, during or after interviews that can help to give you a little bit of competitive advantage.
1. Rehearse these three things
There are (at least) three things you can rehearse that will stand you in good stead at an interview.
The first of these is confidently delivering a brief overview of your own career, beginning with your education or any early experiences that had an impact on why you chose your particular career path. This is your opportunity to provide a career synopsis - a sort of verbal version of your CV. But keep it upbeat and concise.
Many of the best candidates really excel here and are skilled at tying together all of their experiences and training, weaving a common thread through everything they've done – even where, on occasion, there may not be one.
They often appear to do this effortlessly, and while some of these people are naturally gifted orators, the majority of candidates who do this well have practised it – so you can, too!
A really good, concise, interesting overview of your career to date that shows a degree of forethought (in how you shaped your career) can be very impressive to an interviewer and set you up well at the start of an interview. So practise, practise, practise.
The second thing you can rehearse for an interview is a response to some basic competency-based questions. Of course, you don't know what questions you'll be asked, but typically, competency-based questions will require you to talk about a time when you had to deal with a difficult situation at work, or win over a difficult customer, or deal with a delicate personal matter with a member of your team, or lead a project – whatever is relevant to the skills and person specification for your role.
So, depending on the role you'll be interviewing for and the skills you know will be required, write some of these down and practise delivering them (to a partner, parent, friend, pet or mirror!).
There's a third thing you should "rehearse": the trip to your interview! As per our last blog, make sure you take a trip to site of your interview beforehand so that you know exactly where it is. Don't forget to take traffic into account if your rehearsal run is a different time of day to your interview.
2. Know the company and, if possible, the interviewer
As we said last time, naturally you should research a company website and seek to understand as much as you can about the company and the role you'll interviewing for.
Don't try to make friends with an interviewer, but you can find some common ground with them before your interview by checking out their LinkedIn profile. You might find out something that you can relate to, perhaps about how they've grown their career or helped shape a company, and you can use this as a conversation piece. Few interviewers would fail to be impressed by this, but you need to draw the line somewhere. Keep it professional, and restrict your research to LinkedIn and the company website.
3. Practise good post-interview protocol
We need to make a careful distinction here. If you're working through an agency (like us!) and the agency sets you up with an interview, it's important to respect their relationship with the client and therefore channel any feedback through the agent. In that case, providing detailed, useful feedback about the interview, culture, what you liked and didn't like about the experience is very helpful, both to the end client and to the recruiter. It will be appreciated.
However, if you're reading this blog because you happen to be seeking advice and are likely to have an interview completely independently of any recruitment agency, then it is good practice to write to the interviewer directly afterwards and thank them for their time, point out some of the things you liked about the company, and tell them you look forward to hearing from them.
Remember, direct hirers and recruitment agencies alike both thrive on and appreciate interview feedback from candidates. A good recruiter will channel your feedback to their client, who will still benefit.
4. Have something in your bag!
Depending on the role you're interviewing for, it's good to bring something with you (apart from your CV) that showcases your talents and ability. It's not always possible, but there are more opportunities to do this than may initially be obvious.
It's clear that a graphic designer would bring their portfolio with them to an interview in case it's needed, but event marketers and general marketers can do the same with articles, content, advertising, screen shots of social media, events portfolios and so on.
But what about the less "shiny" roles? There are still more opportunities for candidates to show their wares! Accountants can review any publicly-available company accounts or statements and comment on them either in a favourable light, or when they are given the opportunity to ask questions of their own: "I noticed in your annual statement for last year, your accounts show such-and-such, why is that?" is one way to show you've done your homework and know your stuff.
So be creative about ways you can demonstrate your resourcefulness and knowledge, and recognise that just because your role doesn't necessarily demand a physical portfolio, you still have a portfolio of tricks you can show people.
I know a marketing manager who once interviewed a young candidate seeking their first job in social media. The candidate hadn't yet gained the professional experience that would allow him to develop a portfolio, but that didn't stop him carrying out his own audit of the company's social channels and providing an impressive analysis – one that got him the job.
5. Remember that appearance is still important
First impressions still count. Beyond finding out about the appropriate dress code for your interview (as we mentioned in our last blog) there are still parameters to observe and it's a good idea to dress on the formal side of whatever dress code is suggested.
Even in very relaxed cultures interviewers will want to feel that you've made an effort that respects the old rule about first impressions.
A marketing director in a wacky creative agency is still capable of thinking "I know I said not to bother with a suit, but those torn jeans and the face jewellery are a bit much".
6. Ensure your CV and LinkedIn profile tell the same story
However you choose to describe your career, make sure that your CV matches your LinkedIn profile. I know of several people who have been caught out in this way because of a questionable mismatch between their online and paper profiles – something that can make prospective employers nervous.
On that note, people are more likely to scrutinise your online persona today than in the past, and that persona could be more visible than you realise. Be careful who you "friend" on Facebook and do be aware of where these people work and who they might know. This is also true of personal Twitter feeds – anyone can follow you and see how you're behaving on social media. If you share content publicly on social media and are actively seeking a job, ensure that content is working for you, not against you.
7. Have intelligent and well-formed answers to the four questions below
- What achievement/s in your career are you most proud of?
- What are your greatest strengths?
- Why should we hire you?
- What are your weaknesses (or areas for development/improvement)?
Knowing the answers to these questions and being able to provide verbal evidence (i.e. examples) will mean you have thought about your career and yourself, and learned from your experiences.
It's useful to have a few achievements you're proud of in your locker, and knowing these will help to keep you calm.
Meanwhile, how you answer the questions can reveal quite a lot about you. You should be honest (we'll talk a bit more about this shortly) but also try to avoid sounding too boastful. A good way to do this is to acknowledge the support you had from others and the part your peers, manager or subordinates played in your successes.
And while it's rarely great to sound arrogant, you are in an interview, so don't let your natural modesty get in the way of the second question. If you have strengths but have never been good at singing your own praises, practise talking about them in a way that you're comfortable with.
The third question gives you an opportunity to deliver your well-rehearsed elevator pitch – which may echo elements of the "profile" section in your CV or LinkedIn page. Don't forget those neglected "soft skills" too – they're more important than ever, hence the adage "give me someone with the right attitude and I can teach them the skills". Whilst many people can offer the same skills on paper, you can really differentiate yourself with how you apply yourself to a role, champion a company, support a team and so on. Remember that an elevator pitch is about more than hard skills.
Many people don't expect question four and are completely stumped by it.
Some fear the question and assume that to admit any weakness is a sign of...well, weakness. But actually, this question is a good opportunity to show something that most interviewers love: self-awareness - not to mention proactivity in dealing with your weaknesses. You're not perfect, and pretending you are probably won't help.
It's all about how to answer this question. If you can show an awareness of your areas for development, and that you've taken steps to address them, more often than not, you'll look good. An example is below:
"Although I was promoted twice by my last Director, she and I agreed that I was lacking a little in self-confidence, which sometimes resulted in me being slow to volunteer to lead projects although I was perfectly capable of doing so.
So we agreed a development plan where I took on a challenging project whilst, at my own request, being mentored by a senior member of a different department who I had singled out as being particularly strong in this area.
I learned a lot from the experience and am now more confident. At times I still need to employ some tricks I picked up from my mentor, but I can now manage my confidence and any natural reluctance I may have to stand up and be the person who everybody is looking at doesn't show at all".
This candidate treated a "weakness" as an area for development, and so turned it into a strength. In doing so she displayed admirable self-awareness, attitude and proactivity.
8. Be yourself
While you should be on your best behaviour in an interview, there's little sense in pretending to be something you're not. It's easier said than done, but try to relax and have fun with it. You're not auditioning to be a stand-up comic, but there's nothing wrong with showing your personality. If you're not a match for the company, you'll get found out eventually anyway. So be yourself.
9. Think about what it might take to keep you in your current role
Would you stay in your current role if you received a counter-offer from your current employer? If so, you may be interviewing for the wrong reasons.
Think about why you're looking for a new job. Are you happy enough in your current role but simply frustrated at the lack of progression or salary increase? It's a good idea to understand why you're looking for a new role, and, if it's just in the hope of receiving a counter-offer from your employer, it's worth exploring avenues for progression before you leap.
Although it undoubtedly has worked for some, simply going for a job in the hope of a counter-offer from your current employer isn't the healthiest of reasons to apply for a job – it can backfire. It can also create bad feeling with an employer who makes an offer, only for it to be declined for no good reason.
If your employer were to offer you a £3k pay rise and a step up, or more training, would you stay? Then that's the conversation you should be having, and it should be with your manager.
10. Be positive about the past
We'll be brief on this point because we dealt with it in our last blog, but if things didn't work out for you in a previous role, it's good practice to be honest about it and as positive as you can about the experience. If you can show that you've learned from it, even better. Nobody likes to hear someone badmouth their previous employer.
11. Have some questions of your own
This is an important point, which we also dealt with in our last blog, which we suggest you read next!
If you need more interview advice, please don't hesitate to get in touch with the team at 1-1 Recruitment!