If I were to give a piece of career advice to my younger self, starting out on a career, it would be to try to enjoy job interviews. To say they filled me with dread is an understatement.
I treated them like going in to an exam. I would be nervous, tired, over-prepared and desperate for it all to be over. If I was asked a question that I wasn’t ready for, I would die inside and it was obvious to everyone in the room. Game over.
But job interviews aren’t meant to be fun...
These are just my thoughts but, yes they are. You’ve already supposed to have outlined your expertise and experience in the application form and you’ve passed that test which is why you are there. This stage is about showing some character and you can only do that by opening up and relaxing.
They make don’t make it relaxing
Nobody controls your feelings better than you. The onus is as much on you as it is on them to create a constructive atmosphere.
How do I control sheer terror then?
By changing your outlook. It’s not an interrogation, it’s a conversation about whether you are a good fit for the organisation. Try imagining you already have the job. What would you be wearing? How do you enter the room? How do you come across?
Smart. Confidently. Friendly.
Good. Then they will instinctively reciprocate and you’re off to a good start
Thank them for seeing you and make it clear you’re excited. I don’t buy the theory that you should go in with the attitude that ‘they need you as much as you need them.’ They need someone but they don’t yet know that’s you. They are also on home turf and have you outnumbered. They are at a clear advantage and if you don’t acknowledge that in some way, you will appear arrogant which will completely kill your chances.
I don’t want to appear desperate either though
Agreed, so you need to get the balance right by channeling the person you will be in that job which is an equal, nothing more and nothing less. You’re all on the same side.
Who do I focus on?
There will be someone who has the casting vote on who gets the job and you need to know who it is before you go in. Don’t alienate everyone else as a result though; any one of them could make things difficult for you. Involve them all in the dialogue and if anyone looks bored then ask them a question to fire them back up.
Should I rehearse my answers?
That’s an interesting one. You don’t want to come in pre-loaded with scripted responses because you will appear robotic but you do need some thoughts ready to go. It’s a good idea to interview yourself beforehand which will throw up most of the questions you are likely to be asked. Develop a thought for each response you would give which you can develop during the interview. Don’t fill your mind with information because you will lose your all-important spontaneity.
What if they don’t like me?
It’s not about being liked, it’s about being respected so don’t worry about that. Just try to be yourself and show some personality.
What, like, crack a joke?
Well if it’s ‘Knock, knock. Who’s there?’ … then, no. But using humour is a great way of connecting with people and being remembered, as is showing you care about what you are saying. Revealing your passion is as endearing as it is bold.
What if they ask me where I want to be in 5 years time? How do I answer that honestly?
Good question. Who knows where any of us will be? What you don’t want to do is threaten the position of the person asking the question so don’t tell them you want their job. Explain how you want to strengthen the department perhaps and lift everyone up with it.
If you told them exactly where you wanted to be in five years, they wouldn’t believe you because careers don’t work like that. Try just to demonstrate a firm sense of direction and drive.
What if they ask me a question I can’t answer?
Again, it’s not a test, it’s a conversation and you can steer it in whichever direction you choose. When I am asked a difficult question on TV, I may acknowledge the ‘great question’ but then move on to what I want to talk about; ‘What I can tell you is…’ or ‘Before I get on to that, let me say this…’
You do have a duty to answer the question eventually but you can buy some time while you compose your thoughts. If you’re really stuck, take a look at my blog on ad-libbing.
What if they pick up on that gap in my resume
You know your weaknesses better than anyone so be prepared to explain them. If you really want to endear yourself to the panel then bring it up before they do. If you changed course in your career, that’s not something to be ashamed of. An accountant applying to be a zoo keeper doesn’t have to appear inconsistent if they explain their lifelong fascination with animals. Liars will always be found out but picking out elements of your story that line up into a narrative is perfectly legitimate. If you genuinely want the job you are applying for, you will have experience that speaks to it somewhere.
What if I don’t really want the job?
Then you don’t deserve it and you’re wasting everyone’s time.
Ouch. Thanks anyway.