Want to arrive at your interview feeling confident and well prepared? Follow a series of progressive steps, including talking to the mirror!
No, I’m not endorsing narcissism. I am, however, a proponent of ensuring you put your best foot forward.
Let’s face it: some of us are comfortable walking into an interview, be it with the CEO or a five-person panel. Others among us consider interviews among the most daunting forms of torture, and their entry to an interview room can be a self-imposed gauntlet; once inside, it may be only the clenched grip on the table or arm of the chair that keeps them from sliding under the table, hoping to disappear.
Some otherwise good candidates don’t interview well
A few years ago, I spent some time helping a friend (let’s call her Jen) who was firmly in the latter camp. Jen had good office skills and was among the most gracious, helpful people in her office; she also very much needed both the benefits package and the confidence that came with the success of landing a full time / “permanent” position. Despite all her attributes, she consistently failed to secure anything other than temporary positions in various departments within her organisation.
Why? Interviews frightend her, and she didn’t adequately prepare for them.
Finally, after being shortlisted, interviewed and rejected yet one more time, she was open to some supportive coaching.
Anyone who is willing to work at it can improve their interview skills
With a specific job opportunity in sight, a couple of friends arranged to have informal get-togethers with Jen. We emulated an interview panel; having read the job description, we tossed a few questions her way. It soon became clear that, rather than focusing on the questions we posed, Jen was relying on her resume to speak to her skills and attributes. Her discomfort with the situation was evidenced in the way she prefaced her responses with an “Um … “, or inserted phrases such as, “Like …” or, “You know …”
Don’t rely on your resume to speak for you; that was only your entry to the competition
Put yourself in the interviewer’s shoes
When we asked about her education in relation to the qualifications required for the role, Jen spoke about her professional development (PD). While it was good to know about her PD (which was a subsequent question we’d drafted), Jen was missing the point: interviewers may be locked in to a system in which – in the interest of fairness – they treat all candidates similarly, and allocate points for each interview question.
Depending on the organisation, managers and supervisors might be required to refrain from making allowances for nerves; they may well have an observer in the room, who is tasked with observing and confirming that all candidates are treated in the same manner.
These principles apply to in person and pre-screening, telephone interviews
Different organisations have different interview practices
In some environments, those people sitting near you at an interview table may be working from guidelines on how to score candidates’ interview responses. Those guidelines may include point allocations for responses that reflect specific information, or whether a candidate has the insights, skills and capacity to succeed in the role. If a candidate doesn’t touch on those specifics, or speak effectively to questions posed, there’s potential that the candidate’s point score may be reduced from the maximum potential.
In other environments, you may be meeting with only one or two people. Whatever the situation, keep in mind the good news we offered Jen: walking in to an interview needn’t be a gauntlet. We’d identified opportunities to help her improve. All that was required was good, old fashioned hard work.
Interview practices have evolved
These days, technology is likely used in not only the application process but also for preliminary assessment and initial shortlisting of candidates. You may be applying for a role in which the first interview is conducted by phone.
If you have the opportunity, ask for an overview of the recruitment process. Knowing what to anticipate can be helpful in itself. From there, it’s up to you to prepare and practice.
How to prepare: roll up your sleeves
Research: Read and analyse the job description or posting. Understand the position, the desired and required competencies, and map out how you bring those attributes to the table.
Anticipate: Anticipate behavioural questions; the manager needs to know how you have handled circumstances that may arise in the position for which they’re recruiting.
Build your confidence: Do all you can to support your confidence before you walk into the interview. Research not only the job, but the department/division and the organisation. Ask if it’s appropriate to release the names of those who will be conducting the interview. Then, learn what you can about those individuals’ professional roles in relation to the position you’re seeking. The bottom line is that, the more you know, the more comfortable you can be.
Emulate the best: Emulate the best, while never losing sight of yourself. This goes to my early days, when I identified someone I recognised as a superior assistant. I observed her ways of conducting business, how she dressed, and how she treated people from all levels of the organisation. An important hint: she treated everyone with the same level of respect. Lesley was, to me, the consummate professional and she still represents a standard of excellence in my eyes.
The fact that she was the President’s right hand was secondary to my impressions; she was, simply put, a pro. Identify an assistant whose professionalism you admire, and ask yourself what it is s/he does well.
Develop questions you will ask: Beyond identifying the questions you think you may be asked, consider that you will have the opportunity to ask some questions of your own. See my article, Interview Prep: What Questions Should an Assistant Ask? This portion of the interview, usually toward the close of your meeting, is your additional opportunity to stand out from the crowd.
Practice: Nothing beats good old fashioned hard work. If you don’t invest the effort in researching the position, the people, the organisation and their needs, why should you expect them to invest in you?
Talk to the mirror: This goes back to Jen. I encouraged her, after each of our informal get-togethers, to go home and practice talking to the interview panel … in front of her mirror. The point was for Jen to see herself as interviewers perceived her. My premise was that, in order to expect an interview panel accept her, she should first be able to face and accept herself as a candidate.
Jen struggled desperately with this the first few tries; she was a busy mother of teens, and she resorted to locking herself in her bathroom with a list of anticipated interview questions. She sometimes broke into giggles in front of the medicine cabinet; at other times, she’d mentally beat herself up for inappropriate grammar or responses. After three weeks, though, she made it past a hurdle she’d never yet surpassed; Jen faced her interview panel with a better sense of preparedness and confidence than any she’d brought to any previous interview, and landed the job.
It’s up to you; do your homework, find a mirror, and then shine in that interview.