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How to interview well and get your dream job

By Debbie Cosier

Young woman interviewee shakes meets interviewer

Interviewer/Potential Boss: If you wrote an autobiography now, what would the title be?

You: Ummmmmmmm, ‘Can I go Round Again?’… ‘Blame My Parents’… ‘I Came, I Saw, I Reconsidered, I Turned Back and Bought Myself a Chocolate’…?

This actually was one nightmare question asked in a job interview of a friend of mine. This question – and the answers – highlight the biggest complication when it comes to interviews:

  1. Interviews can sometimes throw up unexpected questions, and
  2. How can you present your life and experience in the best possible light for this role?

When seeking a new job you will almost certainly go through an interview process, but, scary as interviews can be, there’s really no need to panic. Everyone applying for the job will go through the same process as you, and while you may feel like you’re the one under a microscope, the spotlight is actually on the interviewer to find someone for the role. So concentrate on making their job as easy as possible.

Presumably, you researched this job when you applied for it and the interviewer can see some potential in you from your Curriculum Vitae (or resume), which addresses, at least in part, their criteria for employing someone in their organisation. Change the focus – to the interviewer and what they need, not yourself. By skewing your attention away from yourself and on to what the company requires, you can more easily navigate your way through the interview with the right amount of emotional distance and find the best way to show your expertise.

In doing so, you make your interviewers more confident and relaxed. If you’re not the right person for the job, you will probably arrive at this conclusion together. But in the case of several people I know, while they have not ended up with the job they applied for, other jobs have come out of interviews because they have demonstrated their particular expertise in considering the issues that the organisation has.

Follow the following 6 tips to help you interview well:

  1. Make sure you’re well prepared

First and foremost, if it not provided already, make sure you ask for a position description and selection criteria. If possible, it’s a good idea to pick up the phone and talk to the contact listed on the advertisement prior to submitting your CV. You would be surprised at the additional information you can glean. It also helps with name association when your CV lands in their inbox along with a hundred others.

Make sure your CV specifically addresses each of the selection criteria, by creating a tailored version of your CV and cover letter for the role you are applying for.

Do you have multiple error-free copies of your CV to hand out to your interviewers? Does it address the organisation’s specific criteria?

Have you researched the company well, and brushed up on the post that you have applied for? Make sure you are able to answer questions about how your experience addresses the selection criteria they have detailed for the position.

Don’t assume that all of your interviewers (if there is a panel) have read your CV and know – or remember – it. You were selected for interview because you met certain criteria, but don’t be shy about repeating what’s on your CV because when interviewers see a large number of potential employees, they can easily forget the details.

Most interviewers go a step beyond your CV. They want to know how you would deal with certain problems, what your biggest achievements are, what tools you have in your arsenal that you can bring to this role. Make sure you’ve thought about how each aspect of your prior employment and qualifications will fit this new job.

If you took off to raise a family or care for a sick family member, this does not make you inexperienced. The same for voluntary work in sports organisations, churches, or any other community service. You learn skills in roles like these that can translate to paid work.

Of course, it goes without saying to know the address and route to your interview, arrive punctually and dress appropriately. (Neat, business attire is usually the best option for any interview.)

  1. Use positive body language and be attentive

As soon as you enter the room, shake their hand confidently. Show them a relaxed, pleasant smile and maintain eye contact. Keep an ‘open’ posture when you take a seat by not crossing your arms over your chest. Stay attentive and nod to show that you agree or understand what the interviewer is saying.

Yes, you will be asked many questions, but do your fair share of listening also so that you fully understand what they are asking. Clarify details, they will appreciate the fact that you are double-checking with them. While long pauses should be avoided, you do not have to rush to come up with an answer. A considered reply is better than a haphazard guess.

  1. Prepare your responses for common difficult questions 

Re-read the information you’ve researched regarding the company background and the responsibilities of the job that you are applying for, then prepare responses to common difficult questions that interviewers often ask applicants. Some of the most common questions are:

“Why do you want to work for our company?”

“Why should we hire you?”

“Can you tell me a bit about yourself?”

“What are your weaknesses?”

There is no need to lie when coming up with answers for potential questions – honesty is important. Focus on the positive side of things though, even when it comes to describing your weaknesses. Always highlight your strengths instead of your weaknesses.

  1. Practice with a friend

Practice with a friend. This is invaluable because when you hear yourself answer a question for the first time, you can suddenly feel very shy. Stay in the moment. Even if your answer is not as good as you hoped, never break off, get flustered or apologise. Even although it’s not the real interview, breaking off and starting again in the middle of a question will only get you into a bad habit. Keep pushing through to the end with an answer. Practice this until you can answer questions smoothly and completely. Ask your friend to give you pointers once you have finished the mock interview.

  1. Prepare questions to ask about the company, team and role

Your interviewer won’t be the only one asking questions. During the latter part of your interview, he/she will generally ask if you have any questions. This is the time to bring up details you want to know about the company and the responsibilities that come with the role. Ask your interviewer at least three of the following types of questions during your interview:

“What traits and values does the company look for in an applicant?”

“What strategic plans does the company have for the coming years?”

“What are the biggest opportunities and threats that the company is facing right now?”

“Can you describe an applicant that you hired for a similar role?”

“Based on our earlier conversation, do I seem like a potential candidate for this role?”

  1. Never initiate a discussion regarding salary in the interview

While you should know what you are worth, you should also consider what you are willing to accept as a final offer. Wait until the interviewer brings up the issue, then negotiate with them. In some cases, they will not bring it up at all during the interview. In this case, wait until they approach you with an offer – but be prepared.

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Interviews are an unavoidable fact of life and most people win some and lose some. Back yourself. Realise that you have real experience and expertise to contribute to the right role: interviews are simply where you get to show that fact. Be confident and prepared.

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