If you’ve secured an interview slot with a recruiter or employer, congratulations! You’ve already reached a significant milestone. The fact that someone wants to see you is a win!
The vast majority of people applying for jobs speculatively, will either have their application eliminated by CV filtering technology, or will receive a polite email decline. You may even hear nothing back. With so many applicants for jobs, line managers and human resource professionals can’t possibly hope to manually select a spot-on ‘long list’ of candidates in the time available for most job searches. Machine read CV’s may be a quick way to slim down the candidate pool, but ultimately somewhere along the way they are programmed by people and this means if the parameters are off in any way, your perfectly aligned application might get kicked into touch. It’s a complex and evolving field and one where in the future, ‘chat bot’ interviews are likely to become the norm. While there are exciting developments in this field, accepting that unconscious bias will always exist (even in the perfectly programmed robot) is an occupational hazard.
So, let’s assume you’ve made it past the technology or reviewing manager/recruiter and you are due to be interviewed.
How do you ensure you make a good impression?
Here are 7 top tips:
1. Be prepared – for recruiters
If your first interview is with a recruitment company, it’s important to make a good impression. Unfortunately, not all recruiters are built the same. Some will care about your experience as a candidate because professionally, ethically and commercially they recognise that every prospective employee is a potential ‘client’ and recruiter of the future. Bizarrely, this notion seems to have passed others by. It doesn’t make sense, it’s all wrong, but it is an unfortunate truth.
Hopefully you’re going to be in front of a competent ‘candidate-focused’ recruiter. What do you need to prepare?
- Firstly, know a little about the recruitment company – the type of sectors they work in. If you can, find out about recent hires they have placed (look on their website).
- Find out about the interviewer. How long have they worked there? What’s their specialty? You can always look them up on LinkedIn.
- Ensure you have been given or ask for a candidate profile outlining the job you are applying for – however brief.
- If you know the company you are ultimately interviewing for (you might not if it’s speculative or confidential), read up a little on the business.
Then complete the personal prep below.
2. Be prepared – personally
Whether you’re talking to a recruiter or an employer, it’s good to be personally prepared. Your CV, online profile and social media presence might have got you this far, but for the next step, the words will be coming straight from your mouth rather than off the page. Be mindful of the following:
- Make sure you are able to talk about what’s on your CV without looking at it. If you’ve chopped and changed your CV multiple times or sent out ten different versions of it, the content can sometimes get lost in translation. Be clear on the essence of what it says.
- Be ready to ‘tell your story’. This doesn’t mean just tripping out a list of all the jobs you have done in the past. It means concisely summarising who you are. Be prepared to have a 2-minute, 5-minute and 15-minute version of this story, ready to roll off your tongue. If you struggle with this kind of storytelling, have a go at completing our ‘Getting to know me better‘ Notebook Mentor. It’s great for helping you to nail down exactly this kind of narrative.
- If the recruiter asks you for a 2-minute summary of who you are – give them just that! Do not go on for 15 minutes or longer, providing a chronological history of your life. You reveal so much about yourself in how you answer this one question. While it’s great to see someone’s passion, if you’re overly verbose it shows poor listening and awareness of others. Your job is to listen well, be savvy, sharp and impressive. If the recruiter wants more detail – they will ask for it!
- As well as being able to tell your story, which will clearly say something about your professional skills and competence, be able to summarise your character. Think of character as key personality traits. For example, you might say that you are a Human Resources professional with twenty years’ experience. If you were talking about your character, you might add that you’re energetic, driven, insightful and persuasive as a leader. So what five or so key character traits describe you?
- Have a clear reason for your interest in the role, even if you’re not sure this job is right for you (and during a global pandemic, let’s face it, many people are looking for ‘a close fit’ rather than the ‘best fit’).
- Finally, put yourself in the shoes of the employer. Why out of all the people who might apply for this job, could you be right for it? Why should they take a chance on you? What talents will you bring to the organisation? What value might you add in the future? Doing this is a great way to acknowledge that you know employers/recruiting managers have choices. Help them recognise that you might be a good choice.
3. Be prepared – for an employer
If you’re talking to a prospective employer directly, please do all of the above. In addition, do a little bit more homework on the business you are looking to join. The internet is an extraordinary source of information. Here are just a few things to consider:
- If you are looking to join a private limited company (i.e. one where shares are NOT traded on the stock exchange) go to Companies House and check out the company’s history.
- Find out information on the company’s financial status, accounts, directorships, share ownership and Board filings. If you are unsure about the financial solvency of a business, this is the best place to look.
- If you are looking to join a bigger organisation who have listed shares, you can do the same, however, in addition to this, look at the Investor pages on the company website. Here you will find quarterly trading updates, annual reports and other key information.
- Research the company’s purpose, mission, goals and values. Do the words written resonate with you? When we are eager to find work, sometimes we dismiss these things as ‘unimportant’. As you’ll probably already know from experience (we’ve all made poor choices), no amount of money can compensate feeling at odds with your employer, line manager or team. Being deeply unhappy at work is like being unhappy in an important relationship. It drains you of energy and optimism.
- Try and find out about the hiring manager. What’s the scope of their role? Have you heard anything about them through other people? Can you find out something about their hobbies, likes or dislikes from any of their social media? Discovering you like the same sport or being able to talk a little about their passion for craft brewing is always a great icebreaker!
4. Be prepared – for technology
In this day and age there’s a good chance your interview will take place over technology – Teams, Zoom, Hangouts, BlueJeans, WhatsApp, WeChat – whatever it is.
Research suggests that video calls create challenges and opportunities in equal measure. Certainly, you can connect safely from the comfort of your own home, to almost anywhere in the world. You can chat day or night as little or as long as is needed. On the flip side, there’s nothing quite like being in a room with someone. Over thousands of years of evolution, our brains have learned to automatically read subtle physical cues given off by others – tiny facial movements, movement of the hands or feet. Over technology, our brains have this hard-wiring disrupted. Instead, we must look at someone from the chest up, working doubly hard to understand what’s ‘not said’ as much as what is. When you sit opposite someone in person it’s easier to tell if they are getting bored or have tuned out. It’s easier to pick up a sense of irritation, admiration or indifference. These subtleties are largely lost over technology but please still give them some consideration. In addition to this:
- Ensure you interview where the broadband or mobile signal is strong. Voice and video eats bandwidth – so you need plenty of it!
- Try and set your camera to look onto a blank wall. While our politicians might like to out-do each other in regard to their background book collections, you want your interviewer to be focused on you and you alone!
- Make sure you look presentable. Yes, the days of being suited and booted have almost disappeared – being yourself is very acceptable thank goodness. That doesn’t mean you should look like you’ve just gotten out of bed, have forgotten to brush your hair or are still wearing your pyjama bottoms – you know who you are! Turn up unkempt and perhaps your prospective employer will think that they are not important enough for you to have made an effort. Don’t ruin your chances with something so much in your own control. If you wear any hair, face or body covering like a Hijab, Burka, Khimar or Chador, the same still applies – and remember your eyes and/or face are going to be a super important focus of attention.
- Let the interviewing person take the lead – listen carefully to the questions asked and answer as succinctly as you can, while impressing with your credentials.
WARNING: What to do when your interviewer is unskilled or poorly prepared for the interview!
Yes, the above can happen! There you are, all prepared, groomed and ready to go – your interviewer is late, doesn’t ask many questions or worse still seems disinterested!
Don’t take it personally, don’t get irritated – simply behave professionally and with dignity. You could also have some questions up your sleeve to help things move along.
- “I guess you’d like to know why I’m interested in this role?”
- “I’m sure you’d like to know why I might be a suitable candidate for the role? Why don’t I talk you through my experience, plus I could tell you a little bit about my character or style?”
- “Would you like me to start with a two minute summary of my CV?”
- “Would it be helpful if I told you what I understand about the role?”
- “Can I tell you why I think I might be able to help your team/the organisation?”
Being poorly prepared to interview someone is a waste of everyone’s time. Unfortunately, it’s more common a problem than you might think. Sometimes when this situation happens it can be an ungracious tactic or lazy way out, because the hiring decision has already been made. Don’t let it fluster you. Think about your preparation and gently guide the process through in the allotted time.
5. Be prepared – for disappointment
It would be lovely if everyone could land their dream job in one shot. Unfortunately, this is real life and often you have to deal with multiple disappointments. If you see each ‘no’ as a learning opportunity (or practice for the next interview) rather than a ‘rejection’, then this will help to diminish feelings of low self-esteem, frustration or anxiety. Answer these questions each time you receive a ‘no’:
- What did I do well that showcased my skills and abilities?
- What should I keep for the next interview?
- What could I have done better?
- What did I learn from the experience – about me, or about the recruiter/employer?
- What do I remain proud of about my experience, skills or character?
- What feedback can I use going forward?
6. Be prepared – to ask for feedback
So often candidates get fobbed off with bland, nonspecific feedback – or no feedback at all! By bland and non-specific we mean:
“There were other candidates who matched the brief better” – really, how?
Or “they really liked you, but didn’t think the fit was quite right” – really, why?
You need feedback that will help you.
“They felt you lacked experience in dealing with difficult customer problems” – this you can either answer better next time or know you need to add to your experience.
“You didn’t have the Project Management qualification. Another candidate with similar experience did” – perfect, you know you can correct this.
People often dislike giving what might be perceived to be difficult feedback. Perhaps they worry about a negative response, push-back or even an accusation of bias. Either way, you should see constructive criticism as useful. Don’t argue with it. Take it on board as someone’s view of you – correct or not.
7. Be prepared – to go again
Sometimes a few days break from job hunting can help reset your mind. Job hunting and interview technique is so much about mindset. Be brave, keep going, take breaks and maintain realistic self-belief. Your time will come.
Elisa Nardi is Founder and CEO of Notebook Mentor – journaling workbooks and online tools ‘to help ordinary people manage, develop and be happier at work’.