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Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Interview Techniques

First impressions really count. From the first time someone reads your CV to the first time you walk in the door, every impression either sets you apart or makes you a rejection letter waiting to be posted.

Here's how to make your interview top notch:

1. Be on time.
Apart from force majeure being late is quite simply unforgivable. You can guarantee it will not be forgotten and can only be detrimental. The night before your interview look up the address of where the interview is (especially if the company has multiple offices) and prepare all the documents you need to take with you. Plan your route and know what time you need to leave. Now add half an hour minimum. Travel problems and bad weather can affect your journey so be prepared. If you are early, scout out where the building is, check the time and go for a coffee making a note of how long it took to get to the coffee shop and therefore how long it will take to get back. It may seem like you are planning a SAS mission, but it will be preparation worthwhile.

2. Firm handshake
A firm handshake gives a good impression. It states that you are confident and that you are serious about the interview. Even if you have to wipe your hand because you are a sweating wreck, get it right.

3. Interview them
The most impressive candidates are the ones who not only ask questions but are the ones who are keen to make sure the company is the right move for their career. Don't be aggressive or pedantic but make the interviewer sell to you. This presents a good impression of you and provides you with valuable information for later interviews.

4. Give them everything they need
When your interviewer walks out the door they need to have pretty much made up their mind that you are progressing to the next stage. To help them, make sure your answers are full explanations and not one word answers.
Ask at the end of the interview if they need any other information to help in their decision. This is a nice way of suggesting that they voice any concerns they may have or alternatively if you feel you have built a rapport, ask them straight out if they have concerns. This is a personal decision as you may feel it too bold or that the interviewer will react negatively, either way, when the interviewer leaves the room they need to have all the information you can give them to make their decision.

5. Hunt down your interviewer
This will not always work, however, the internet gives you a massive advantage and may well pay dividends. More often than not the HR department will forward you the name of the interviewer. Use this information! Google, facebook, linkedin are all libraries of personal information. Finding out before you walk through the door that your interviewer has the same interests as you or that they studied the same course at the same university can be a massive advantage. However, this works both ways and it may be worth looking to see what your name brings up - is it the image you want to portray?

6. Dress code
On many occasions I have heard that wearing a suit and tie is the safest bet for an interview. As a rule yes, however, dress code in a company is usually a reflection of the culture there and many now operate casual dress codes. If a company specifically says that you can wear whatever you want, then smart casual may well be the way to go. To be safe, wear the full works for an initial interview and take it from there. Be aware - I know personally of companies that have frowned on candidates walking in to latter stage interviews after already seeing the dress code and being told they can wear whatever they like. If you are not sure, ask in the first interview and gauge the reaction from there.

7. Build Rapport
How you do this is up to you but I would advise against cracking jokes. Be friendly, smile and be open.
Psychological barriers can have an impact - try to have as few obstacles as possible between you and your interviewer such as don't fold your arms and if possible sit on the corner of a table next to an interviewer. This is better than across a boardroom, however, it cannot always be helped.
It is common practise to create an interview panel from different departments in a company and levels of seniority. Regardless of whether they are going to be your peers, your new boss or will never even be on the same project as you, every interviewer has to answer one simple question - Would I want to work with this person? Make the answer a simple one...

8. Documents.
I have never heard of a hiring manager or interviewer refuse an applicant to have their CV in front of them. You should know your CV off by heart, but they may select a particular phrase or section of information, which without context you might struggle to answer. Check at the start of the interview if they mind.
Have a pen and pad to hand. At the start of the interview ask if the interviewer minds you jotting notes down. Every interview is a chance to learn more and taking notes can only highlight your interest.

9. Ask for a glass of water.
Asking for a cup of tea or coffee may result at best in a burnt tongue or at worst turning up in a cup and saucer. Nerves and chinaware do not mix. Having a dry mouth may inhibit your performance and a glass of water can be a great technique in an interview to buy extra time. If you are asked a tough question, a few sips of water and returning the glass to the table looks far more presentable than umming and erring your way through.

10. Be positive.
This includes your aspirations, reasons for leaving jobs, past employers and answers to questions. Interviewers and companies will be reluctant to hire someone that they think will be hard to work with or may be negative. If you have to answer a potentially negative question then at least tag positives on to it. Being able to draw positives from a damaging scenario can make all the difference.