Master your interview skills

Everyone has bad interview stories.  Like the story about the candidate who was so nervous that he drank straight from the jug and not the glass.  Or the girl who was so desperate to impress that she wore totally the wrong clothes, and – how can I put this? – the interviewer found himself unable to concentrate on asking questions! 

But some people are really good at interviews.  Annoyingly for the rest of us, they seem to get every job they want, and sail through interviews, emerging relaxed and smiling.  So what is it that they do that others don’t?  And can you learn to do it too? 

The answer, fortunately, is yes.  There are plenty of things you can do to improve your interview technique, and give yourself more chance of getting your dream job.

The first thing that you can do is to practise, practise, practise, and get feedback.  Every time you go to an interview, ask for detailed feedback, and try to get pointers for specific areas to improve.  If your HR department runs training, you could offer to act as ‘guinea pig’ for interviewing courses, on condition you get feedback, or ask colleagues to give you practice interviews.  Alternatively, if you want to keep this away from your job, get a career coach to analyse your interview technique, and give you some ideas for improving.  I have found this helpful for highlighting areas where I’d got a bit lazy in my answers, and was selling myself short.

Which brings me on to item number two.  Preparation.  Try to find out about the job and the format of the interview in advance: for example, is it a competence-based interview?  Then prepare some answers and examples, setting out what you’ve achieved and which of your skills mean that you could do this job.  I know nobody likes to boast, but if you don’t sell yourself to the interviewer, nobody will. 

There are a few specific questions you can prepare in advance.  The first one is the usual opening gambit: ‘Tell me a bit about yourself’.  The interviewer does not want to hear your life story!  They want to hear about your skills and what you’ve achieved recently, with an emphasis on the areas that will be useful in this job.  The second key question is ‘Why have you applied for this job?’.  Again, the interviewer doesn’t want to hear that it’s because you’re bored in your current job.  He or she wants to hear that you have some understanding of what this new job might involve, that you are passionate about it, and that it’s a perfect fit for your skills and experience.  Don’t try to cover everything on the application form, but pick out two or three key points to focus on. This is an area where specific interview coaching can really help, as it enables you to refine your answer.

Another question that is often asked is ‘What’s your biggest failing?’  Personally, when I interview people, I don’t want to hear that they are perfectionist and tend to be over-hard on themselves, because that’s too obvious!  Mostly, interviewers want to know at this point that you’re self-aware, and keen to overcome your faults.  So do think of something original but not weird, and what you’ve done to address it.  For example, you might say “I don’t like doing presentations to big groups, but I’ve tried to improve that by giving presentations to smaller groups whenever possible, and practising beforehand.  I’m pleased to say that I recently gave a presentation to a group of 100+ people, and had some very positive feedback. ” 

And one final point: when interviewers ask if you have any questions, or anything to add, this is not a trick, but an opportunity.  If you don’t think you’ve answered one question very well, or forgot to mention something crucial, you can go back to it.  You can even ask if they have anything they’d like you to clarify.  I’ve heard a lot of interviewers say that they like to be asked some questions, because it shows an interest in the job.  If you’ve done your research properly, you may not have any questions, because someone has already answered them.  In that case, tell the interviewers why you don’t have any questions, and thank them and their team for taking the time to talk to you!  

So you see, there is plenty you can do to improve your interview technique. With a bit of practice, and a bit more preparation, you too could get the job you really want.