An interview will typically take an hour or two, but those hours might be some of the most important in your working life. If you go in to it with a good mindset, a first-rate interview could land you that job that determines your career, professional outlook and financial status for years to come.
The fine details always vary from position to position, but some blanket qualities sought by the majority of employers are:
Failure to prepare means that you are preparing to fail. The more information that you go in armed with, the better the chances of your interview being a success.
Research the company. At its most basic, research will give you a good idea of whether the company might be for you; during the interview itself, research will better enable you to ask relevant questions. On top of your own research, your consultant may also provide useful details, and a brochure can be obtained from the company directly. Recruitment consultancies have access to vacancies that have not been advertised, so you may need to do more in-depth research. Trade magazines are another source of information, and your library may be able to provide you with such directories as Kompass, Dunn & Bradstreet and Kellys.
Know where you are going. It might seem basic, but timing is always a factor. Make sure to plan a reliable way of getting to the location of your interview that will allow you to arrive a few minutes early – take into account that you may be delayed in reception, or when travelling around the building.
Dress appropriately. Are you well dressed, in a way that follows the conventions in this job sector? You can ask the consultancy what the client’s dress code is, but a dark business suit, white shirt, conservative tie, neat hair and polished dark shoes are always a safe bet. You should also consider hygiene and body language. First impressions count, and all the research in the world might not save you if the interviewer suspects that you got out of bed five minutes prior.
Prepare extra copies of your resume. You can also take something to make notes on, as long as it isn’t too bulky. This demonstrates interest and organisation.
Prepare a presentation binder and take it with you. You will be remembered if you can show good sales figurers, contacts that you have that are relevant to this position, letters and certificates of commendation / qualification. If applicable, brochures of some of the products that you have sold may also be useful, as might examples of the types of projects that you have been involved in.
Review anticipated questions. Prevent stumbling over your words by having a good idea of how you would answer interview questions. The most common questions are listed in our ‘Interview Response Strategy’ document, and a more in-depth list can be found below.
Who are you? Think about your skills, competences, qualifications and experience. How are you perceived? Don’t be afraid to talk to present or recent colleagues about their view of you as a team member, and what kind of first impressions your CV leaves.
What are your objectives? What job function(s) can / should you do, and in what sector or environment? Remember, getting to an interview is not the objective, but a stepping stone to it.
Who are your targets? Once you have been offered an interview, what else might you need to know about the company? Things like products, size, locations, style, and reputation as both an employer and supplier are all important factors in knowing the sort of targets that you might be expected to meet. If applicable, you can phone the company and ask them to send you an annual report and product brochure.
First contact. Never carry anything in your right hand, as this is the hand that you will shake with. Give a firm handshake, an appropriately enthusiastic greeting, and a good amount of eye contact. Such a self- introduction should make a good impression.
If you can, avoid sitting down in the reception area, reading magazines or using your mobile. This way, you are on level terms with the interviewer, and avoid showing any nervousness or disinterest. If you are in the reception area for some time, make sure to stand promptly when greeted.
Be polite to any support staff you meet, including those at the consultancy. They count too, and may influence a decision in your favour.
Break the Ice. In most interviews, small talk will fill the small gap before getting down to business.
Respond enthusiastically and pleasantly to the interviewers’ remarks.
Never smoke. It is also usually safer not to accept tea or coffee, as it can get in the way.
Let the interviewer lead the conversation early on, but try to establish or clarify the role and the duties involved. This way you can aptly apply your previous experience and skills to the position.
Try not to monopolise the meeting. Let your interviewer talk, and avoid overbearing, overaggressive or egotistical behaviour.
Show confidence and poise. Avoid nervousness.
Show tact, maturity and courtesy. Sit up straight, maintain a good posture, and keep good eye contact.
Keep an attitude of ‘what I can do for the company’, not ‘what can the company do for me’.
Build a rapport. People like to hire those they are comfortable with.
Stress positive, relevant points. These are likely to lead naturally into sales records, awards won, business developed, etc.
Always keep a positive emphasis. Do not say ‘ I can’t’ or ‘ I haven’t’; say, for example, ‘That sounds good. It is something I am sure I would be able to do.’ Relate answers to the position – show you have done some research, but don’t be contrived.
Stay positive even when things appear to be going bad. A genuinely interested interviewer may be testing your reactions by making the interview appear to be going badly for you.
Do not discuss salary at the first interview. If the interviewer insists, consider a neutral response such as ‘ I will consider any reasonable offer’, or state your current or previous salary whilst stressing that you’re more interested in a position than a salary. Furthermore, do not discuss holidays, bonuses etc. until you are sure of being offered the job.
Talk about what appeals to you about the company, and what you can offer.
Keep your replies simple. Offer positive information – don’t give bad news unasked, and don’t harp on problems or criticise previous employers.
Never make unnecessary or derogatory remarks about current or former employers. If the interviewer starts to make derogatory remarks about your current/previous employer, stay neutral – they may be trying to test you.
Enthusiasm is infectious. Let them know that you’re enthusiastic about the position, and why.
Clarify what the next step is. When would the next interview be, who will you be hearing from, etc.?
State that you can do the job. Show confidence in your ability to fill the position.
Remember to ask questions. A lack of questions can be taken to demonstrate a lack of interest or involvement. Many of these you may already know from your research: