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The first interview

The first interview

The short time you spend at a job interview could have a dramatic effect on your career and your ambitions. This advice combined with the guidance provided by our Consultants will equip you with valuable information on how to conduct yourself at interviews with prospective employers.

Remember that the interviewer is trying to fill a vacancy. They are not there to knock you out of the process, they are hoping that you will be perfect for the job. They will want to ascertain your skill set in detail but they also want to know how well you will fit in with the existing team.


Preparation

• The advantages of advance preparation for interviews are numerous. Naturally, if you know what you want to say ahead of time, you can usually articulate it more effectively.
• The first step in your preparation is to identify your skills, interests, and career goals before you arrive at the interview. This will help you answer the interviewer's questions about your goals and desired direction within that organisation.
• The next step is to study your prospective employer. The purpose of research is to learn about the company's services, or products, the number of employees, the financial situation, competitors, problems, the management style and employee benefits.
• Impressions are formed during the first two to six minutes of the interview. Therefore, what you wear can affect your chances. Dress should be appropriate for the organisation with which you are interviewing. You should aim to convey an image of professionalism, authority, and competence.
• You may wish to carry a briefcase or a professional‐looking notebook with your questions written in advance. It is often helpful to take a portfolio to a job interview. This folder of materials adds to your credibility. Generally, a portfolio includes additional resumes and letters of reference. Used appropriately, a portfolio can put you ahead of other job candidates and make the difference in getting a job offer!


Arrival

• Always allow ample travel time in order to be punctual. You should arrive 10 to 15 minutes before the interview.
• After you have informed the receptionist of your arrival, select a chair that will allow you to sit upright and alert. While you are waiting, read any organisational literature that is available.


During the Interview

• Expect to be nervous at the outset. Interviews most often begin with what's called an "open‐ended icebreaker" ‐ the interviewer's invitation to "tell me about yourself." If you anticipate a lead‐in opener, you will have ready answers and should find yourself beginning to relax.
• First interviews normally take about an hour during which time that candidate's accomplishments are reviewed. Under the best circumstances, you should leave the interviewer with the impression that you can do the job. Often, however, you won't know whether you want the job until you've met with the company representative for the second interview.
• To build a good rapport you should speak clearly, listen closely, and show by gestures and facial expressions that you are receptive to the interviewer's thoughts and questions.
• In answering questions, pause to give yourself time to compose an answer that is concise and thoughtful.
• If you feel you haven't communicated your reply clearly, try again until you are sure that your message has been received correctly.
• Feel free to refer to your notes in answering questions. Listening to the interviewer is as essential as speaking honestly and forthrightly about your abilities.
• Concentrate on what is said rather than how you are doing, and you will most likely create a good impression.
• Listening to the interviewer's questions and statements will help you formulate your responses and obtain a better understanding of the organisation's views and work environment.
• The interviewer may give you the first sign that the interview is coming to a close when he or she asks if you have any further questions.
• At this point, you should ask questions that will reflect both the insight you've gained from the interview and your professional values. Be careful not to ask something the interviewer answered earlier, although this is the perfect time to ask for clarification on anything you're not sure you understood.
• You might choose to bring up one or two additional strengths or skills that further match you to the organisation ‐ again, brief statements only.


Interview Styles

Many employers are well‐trained to interview potential employees. Others, however, may not be skilled in the art of interviewing. Maintain your professionalism and use effective interviewing techniques, whatever the skill level of the interviewer. Interviewers adopt different techniques for each interview and it is valuable for the job seeker to recognise these styles in preparation for interviews.

• Directed ‐ A directed interview has a definite structure. The interviewer will usually have an agenda and a list of specific questions.
• Non‐directed ‐ A non‐directed interview tends to be less structured. The interviewer may ask broad, general questions and not take charge of the interview. The applicant is nonverbally encouraged to present qualifications.
• Stress ‐ A stress‐styled interview is not as common as other interview styles. It is used to determine how the applicant reacts under pressure. There are many possible forms of stress interviews, which may include timed and problem‐solving tasks.
• Group ‐ A group interview is one where several candidates are interviewed at once. This style is often used to determine how candidates interact as team members, or may be used if the organization hires in large numbers.
• Board ‐ A board‐style interview involves more than one interviewer questioning a candidate. While similar to the directed interview, it is necessary to establish rapport with each interviewer. Direct eye contact is extremely important.

Whatever the interview situation or style, remember to:

• Be articulate.
• Demonstrate confidence.
• Avoid "yes" or "no" responses.
• Show enthusiasm.
• Respond to nonverbal cues such as nodding and smiling.
• Avoid excessive mannerisms and fidgeting.
• Avoid bringing up negative information about past job experiences, co‐workers, or former employers.
• Always present the best of your background or qualifications.


Closing the interview

Do not accept or decline the position on the spot. You need time to think about and consider the implications and options – Thank the interviewer for their time and ask what the next stage will be. Express your interest by saying something like: ‐

“After hearing more about your company, the position and the responsibilities at hand, I am certain that I possess the qualities that you are looking for in the (title) position. Based on our conversation and my qualifications, are there any issues or concerns that you have that would lead you to believe otherwise?”

You have a right to be assertive. This is a great closing question because it opens the door for the hiring authority to be honest with you about his or her feelings. If concerns do exist, this is a great opportunity to overcome them. You have one final chance to dispel the concerns, sell your strengths and end the interview on a positive note.

A few things to remember during the closing process:
Make sure you answer the following two questions: “why are you interested in the company?” and “what you have to offer?”

Once again express thanks for the Interviewer’s time and consideration.


Follow Up

As soon as you have finished write down the key issues uncovered in the interview. Think of what will qualify you for the position and match your strengths to them and conversely think of the potential concerns the employer had and how you would overcome them – and get in touch with your Merit Consultant!
Our follow up now is critical.


Top 10 Interview Mistakes

1. Lying

Although it's tempting, it doesn't work. By all means gloss over the unflattering things. But out‐right fibbing
NEVER pays. Mark Twain said: "If you tell the truth, you never have to remember anything." Think about it. They will catch
you out later.

2. Slating your current company or boss

Fed up with your current job and would give anything to leave because they've treated you badly? Your job interview is NOT the time to seek revenge. Bear in mind that the interviewer will be listening to your answers and thinking about what it would be like to work with you. Ask yourself: do you like working with people who constantly criticise others? Isn't it a bit wearing? The trouble is that the interviewer draws massive conclusions from your answers. So your throwaway comment about your boss or employer may be interpreted to be your "standard" way of thinking. It makes you look bad, not your employer.

3. Being Rude

If you find you were accidentally rude, then apologise calmly and genuinely. Then leave it behind you and get on with the rest of the interview. If you dwell on it, it will affect your performance. What's "rude"? Well, that depends on your audience. As a rule of thumb, avoid cracking jokes about potentially sensitive topics and beware of being too "pally" with the interviewer: polite and friendly is enough. After all, you're not in the pub with them. So stay professional. Also bear in mind that everyone you meet could be involved in the selection process. So blanking the receptionist or talking down to the junior members of staff could cost you the job.

4. Complaining

Ok, so your train journey might have been a nightmare and maybe you thought the tube would never arrive, or the tailbacks on the motorway were endless. But your interviewer doesn't want to know that! Complaining, even in jest, is not a recommended icebreaker. It may be completely harmless, or it might simply make the interviewer switch off. Don't let complaining set the tone for the interview!

5. Talking about people you don't get on with at work

These days, it's common to be asked how you deal with conflict. Companies realise the importance of interpersonal relationships in the working environment. So if they ask you about difficult people or situations make sure you hold back from character assassination and blaming others for problems because it won't do you any favors! If you accidentally do "break" this rule, apologise and explain what you "really" meant.

6. Not being prepared

Re‐read the relevant version of your CV and the job advert, just before the interview. You'd be surprised how many people can't remember what they wrote on their CV. And if you remember what type of person the job advert was looking for, it's easier to demonstrate that you have those qualities.
Make sure you've brought with you anything you were asked for. It's fine to bring a note‐pad and pen, but make sure they're tidy. It's even ok to bring notes with you; particularly if you have any questions you want to ask. It shows you're taking the job application seriously. Ill‐prepared candidates rarely get job offers.

7. Appearing to be too nervous, or too confident

If you appear too nervous they'll think you're not confident enough to do the job. However, appearing too confident will make them think you won't fit into the team. If interview nerves are an issue for you, it's worth getting practical help from a professional, such as an interview coach.

8. Making a weak first impression

Unfortunately, no matter how hard the interviewer tries, a lot of "don't want to hire them" decisions are made in the first few minutes of contact. If you make a strong first impression, the interviewer will be more inclined to overlook "imperfections" in your answers.

9. Not having researched the company

As a general rule, the more famous the brand, the more they will expect you to have done your homework.
Researching the company shows you're serious about the job.
Example from a real interview for a major food brand:
Candidate: "Hello Mr. Interviewer. Yes, I'd love to work for your company. I think your brand is great and I really believe I could make a contribution to your marketing strategy."
Interviewer: "So what do you think about our current merchandising, compared to our competition?"
Candidate: "Oh... Err.... Well, I haven't had time to check it out, really."
Likelihood of getting the job? Low.

10. Putting your foot in it and not noticing

Yes, we know, you didn't mean to put your foot in it. But it doesn't really matter what you intended. What counts is how the other person reacts. So what can you do? Be prepared to simply say "sorry, that's not what I meant!" This requires you to actually be paying attention to the interviewer, rather than your own thoughts and feelings. Once you have apologised, leave it there, take a deep breath to help you relax and move on with the job interview.


What are your weaknesses?

"I'm easily bored, a bit sloppy and you wouldn't like to meet me on a morning before I've had a coffee ‐ I'm an ogre!"
This is not the place to admit your biggest flaws ‐ or crack jokes.
It's also not the time to pretend you don't have any development areas ‐ it would make you look either conceited or unrealistic about your own performance.

So how should you handle this type of question?


Learn how to recognise it

It might not arrive in the format you're expecting. This is the type of question that has many guises. Rarely is it asked so directly. You need to spot it quickly, so you're not caught out.
It might sound something like:

• What would your manager miss about you? And what won't they miss?
• Tell me about a time when a project / objective went badly.
• What do you find most difficult / dislike the most about work?

Being able to identify the question is the first step to giving a compelling answer. When you hear it, take a moment to think about your answer. If you follow steps 2 and 3, you shouldn't have a problem thinking on your feet.


Prepare before the interview

Top tip:
• Claiming not to have any weaknesses is likely to give the impression that you are arrogant or unable to evaluate your own performance.
• So what can you do? You don't want to open up and do a full‐blown character assassination on yourself. Yet you have to answer the question.
• Think about your strengths. This will give you a solid foundation before you think about "weaknesses" and means you'll avoid the temptation to beat yourself up about not being perfect.
• Think about your last appraisal or what your current colleagues would say about you ‐ or even ask your friends. What are some areas you can improve upon? Where do you excel?
• As for weaknesses, it's often better to think of them as "development areas", rather than "faults". Are there any areas where you could improve? Be honest with yourself. The employer is looking for proof that you can identify your areas for development and then do something about them.
• So you'll need to admit that you're not perfect, whilst showing that you are already working on the issues and giving examples of the progress you have made. Have you been on any training courses? Or maybe you've taken on a project at work to increase your skills?
• It's usually a good idea to make the "weakness" something small. Avoid major topics such as "organisational skills" or "time management"!
• If possible, choose a development area that doesn't affect your ability to do the job for which you are being interviewed.
• What happens if one of your development areas is one of the key strengths required for the role? You'll need to think laterally, to demonstrate why it won't be a problem. Or, if it's a big issue, potentially reconsider why you're applying for the job.


Learn how to answer

The key to a good answer to most interview questions is to give examples that back up what you're saying.
Don't expect them to take your word for it. If possible, demonstrate how you're already improving your "weak spot".

It's also a good idea to turn your "weaknesses" around, to have a positive slant. For example:
"Some people call me impatient. That's because I have drive and enthusiasm to get the job done, but I still make sure I plan and don't miss anything."

Make sure your answer is appropriate to the company and role. The example above would work well for a
high‐pressured, deadline‐driven role. But it would be less appropriate for a job that required someone to studiously follow through the same project for five years.

Following this simple 3‐step plan should make answering the dreaded "weaknesses" question much easier. In fact, you'll be able to take a question that terrifies most candidates and turn it around, to use to your advantage

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