Guest editor Sarah Willingham tells you how to bag that job!
Getting an interview in this fiercely competitive jobs market can be a coup in itself. Unless you want to mess it up by being underprepared, follow Sarah’s tips and you will have the advantage when you walk through that door armed with a big smile of confidence.
Research and preparation
It is the obvious one but it still amazes me how many people turn up to an interview unprepared. It is like in the BBC’s Dragons’ Den (Sarah was an investor in the last two series) when someone comes in to pitch, doesn’t know their numbers and then wonders why they get torn apart! Knowing a thing or two about your potential employer will help you in the interview and show you are keen.
Look at its websites, know the company’s values and its target audience. Have a look at their latest press releases and do a Google search to see what people are saying about them. This is brilliant stuff to arm you with the knowledge to tell them how you can make a difference to their business and what you like about things they are doing. It does no harm checking out their competitors too. Taking the time to learn more about them shows how committed you are to getting the job.
I used to sit and write a mock interview – imagining every single question they could ask and thinking through my answers. Also think about your key messages – what three things do you want to make sure they hear from you – remember them and then find a way of getting them into the interview.
Questions work both ways!
Consider the most likely questions that you are going to be asked. This way you are ready and won’t get stuck for something to say. The ‘strengths and weaknesses’ style questions still get churned out so having a unique and well thought out response to these type of stock questions can help you stand out.
Questioning goes both ways so when they ask if you have any questions, don’t appear disinterested. Make sure you have something to ask, such as where the company sees itself going in the next five years or what it is like to work there are pretty safe options.
Back your claims with examples
An employer doesn’t just want to hear you say that you can do the job, they want to know how you will perform in this role and what makes you the best person for the job. Go through the job description and highlight the key responsibilities of the role and then prepare examples that demonstrate your previous experience and bring them up at interview. Knowing you’ve done your homework and that your answers relate to the role you’re being interviewed for will help you appear confident and professional. For example, if the job is asking for someone who has an interest in ‘green issues’ don’t just tell them that you’re committed to the environment, explain how you have channelled your interest and what you’ve done about it. Instead of saying ‘I have good communication skills’, tell them how you have developed your communication skills through your customer service experience. Being able to demonstrate your skills effectively and concisely will help you stand out from the crowd.
First impressions count
This is such a tricky one as so many businesses operate relaxed dress codes these days and knowing what to wear for an interview can be a minefield.
However, in most businesses looking smart is a given so you can’t go wrong with conventional office wear. If you are sure the organisation has a more informal approach to dress, don’t be afraid to ask for advice from the HR department or recruiter. If in doubt though, err on the side of caution and go for a business-casual look with shirt but no tie, or dress with no jacket.
Before the interview, work out your route and make sure public transport can get you there (or where you are going to park). On the day, allow plenty of time to get there and have the contact details to hand in case there’s a problem and you are going to be late. Don’t rely on your phone either – a printed map of the office is a good thing to have on you.
Once you get there, smile, make eye contact and smile again. Be confident, polite and well-informed but above all show some personality and be yourself.
The end of an interview can feel a bit awkward so take the initiative and thank them for seeing you and say you look forward to hearing from them. It’s always worthwhile sending a note of thanks via email – to anyone who’s been involved along the way. If you don’t get the job, then you should ask for feedback. It shows you are keen to learn more about your skills (there may be another job there) and it can also help you to prepare better for next time.