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Preparing for and performing at an interview is not as difficult as conventional knowledge would have you believe. Some believe that performing at interviews is a soft skill, others may feel their paper qualifications and experience will sail them though. Believe it or not, doing well at interviews has little to do with what’s on your resume; everything to do with who you are as a person.
In this 5-step guide, I will walk you through the key steps to ensure you leave a deep positive impression on the interviewer.
Step 1: Demonstrate your ability to THINK
Anyone can get online and spend a few minutes ‘researching’ about their potential employer. Understanding what the company does is one thing, but being able to infer how the position fits within the business model and the potential challenges of the job demonstrates a higher level of thinking. To go a step further, to think one level deeper, identifying how you can complement the existing complexities of this job will put you at a huge advantage over most candidates who are simply there to “learn more about the job”.
I cannot stress enough the importance of going that little extra mile. The ability to craft an intelligent opinion based on reasonable assumptions and job information is critical in letting the interviewer know instantly this is a standout candidate of different caliber. It does not even matter if the assessment is wrong so long as your assumptions can be reasonably explained. Interviewers are looking for candidates who can think and question – these are the individuals with the potential to go far!
Step 2: Be clear on your career goals and current abilities
Be clear on what you want from the job. I repeat – be CLEAR on what you want. Nothing turns the interviewer off faster than a candidate with a “try-try-see-how” demeanor. Unless the role only requires a warm body to perform rote menial tasks, not knowing what you want automatically suggests you are merely using this job as a stepping stone until you find your ‘passion’, or something better comes along.
And ‘passion’ is overrated. You would work for no salary if it meant you could pursue your passion for free.
Granted, some people may be unsure of their career directions and are genuinely looking to try something new. However, you should at least identify your core abilities and personality traits before deciding on the type of jobs to try for. Your future employer needs to understand why you have chosen to try for this particular role from the hundreds of available positions out there. What is it about the role that entices you? How can you contribute positively to this role with your current ability set? Understanding your motivations and priorities will help the interviewer (and yourself!) determine whether this job is genuinely suitable.
As such, you need to upsell the relevant qualities that enhance your suitability for the role. Keeping in mind nobody is ever a perfect match, it is therefore important to demonstrate those positive aspects of yourself that will enhance your effectiveness for executing the job. Be mindful that this does not mean simply force fitting yourself into any role; you have to understand your strengths and weaknesses first to guide your selection when applying for jobs.
And there you thought “What are your strengths and weaknesses?” was a cliché question.
Step 3: Have an HONEST conversation, not an interrogation
The best kind of interview is the type where conversation flows freely between interviewer and candidate, much like a dialogue between peers when meeting for the first time. The interviewer simply guides the conversation with a couple of questions, the candidate starts talking from there and information is mutually exchanged. How both parties react to each other’s responses is very good indicator of how well you can work with your future boss. Do not underestimate the significance of this – as the saying goes “People do not leave jobs, they leave bosses”.
Being able to talk comfortably to the interviewer also means little if you do not express your capabilities clearly. During the conversation, be forthcoming with information whenever possible and not wait to be asked questions. You will be able to elaborate on your achievements and let the interviewer know you are genuinely interested in the job.
It is also crucial to be honest. As tempting as it may be to exaggerate your achievements or over promise on your abilities, the truth will eventually come to light. Seasoned interviewers know how to probe for information with indirect questions to determine your capabilities and motivations fairly accurately – it is very common for candidates to end up making conflicting statements as the interview progresses, even more embarrassing when the interviewer calls them out on it.
Step 4: Value Add
Now that you’ve spent some time convincing the hirer you possess the necessary skills for the job, it’s time to seal the deal! Referring back to Step 1, thinking deeper into the job requirements will often provide hints on the bigger picture challenges faced by the existing setup. Use these clues to your advantage to showcase those qualities that can help mitigate these gaps. Nothing screams TALENT more than a thinking candidate with the initiative to go above and beyond to value add to the organization.
This may come as shock, but being able to do your daily job competently simply means you are meeting the company’s baseline expectations – you aren’t hired to do a half-baked job. Being able to go a step further to add value beyond your immediate scope of work is what separates the ‘good’ from the ‘excellent’, and these are the people with the potential to soar with the company simply by being versatile and re-deployable. And before you start thinking of demanding a higher salary, know that you need to first prove that your capabilities can be stretched to absorb a larger portfolio.
Step 5: Attitude
When it comes down to it, attitude is perhaps the most critical attribute affecting your interview chances. The willingness to learn, unlearn and relearn apply to all aspects of work (and life) and positive or negative attitudes are easily reflected during an interview. The ability to adapt to changes, the stomach for uncertainty, the humility to put pride aside, and the hunger for continuous learning all contribute to the interviewer’s perception of you as a person. Don’t forget that the interviewer has no idea who you are beyond what is written on your resume.
Avoid exhibiting any of the below behaviors to score positive attitude points!
Overconfidence. You may be a President’s scholar, but regardless of how decorated your resume is, overconfidence in your abilities suggests you have an inflated view of self. Even if you are willing to learn initially, the effort will be piecemeal to go through the motions while constantly expecting to move on to greater things, like your scholarly self deserves.
Know-It-All. You may be an industry stalwart with many years of experience under your belt where your ex-colleagues hung on every word you said. Recognize that you are no longer the subject matter expert when applying for a new job. Every company has its own culture, its own processes, and its own way of getting things done. You now lack the domain knowledge and will need to adapt to the new environment. Being inflexible in this case suggests an unwillingness to adapt and relearn. Or you’re overconfident (see above).
Know-It-None. Conversely please make the effort to understand what the job is about first before coming for interview. If every question is met with a “I don’t know” it is practically guaranteed you are not actually interested in this job and likely just applied for a generic position with every company hoping one would offer a job. In such cases, it suggests you just need a job, any job. It also means you’re likely gone once a better opportunity comes along.
Complaining. It is fine to share the pitfalls of your previous job(s), but recognize that this is to allow the interviewer to learn more about who you are as a person and your motivations. It is not an invitation to whine about not being recognized, being treated unfairly, bemoan you got backstabbed, or lament over some hot-shot high flier snatching the promotion you were gunning for. Complaining is a classic trait of narrow-minded people who feel the whole world owes them a living. Not someone I’d want on my team.
Calculative. Look, we all love money. Everyone hopes to command the highest possible salary for their work. But when you start asking questions like “can I claim off-in-lieu?” it shows a very warped perception of your priorities. You have not put any value on the table yet but already nitpicking over compensation. There is nothing wrong with clarifying the benefits offered but believe me when I say calculative candidates are the easiest to spot.
Inappropriate dressing. Always dress appropriately for the interview as the first impression is crucial. The interviewer is already assessing you based on your appearance even before uttering the first word. Proper dressing is a first cut indicator of your situational awareness, your understanding of the job role and even personality. Being dressed inappropriately is indicative you are likely interviewing for the wrong job.