To sell yourself, you have to be yourself
Interviews can be one of the most unnatural situations we find ourselves in. They are seen by many as a necessary evil to securing a job in most organisations. They come in many shapes and forms but typically involve you sitting across the table (or looking through the screen) at your prospective employer and telling them why YOU are the person they are looking for. While your objective is obviously to secure the job, you can’t be successful every time. Therefore, it is good to arm yourself with some tools to enable you to enjoy the process and come out feeling positive – whatever the outcome.
The key to feeling comfortable when you walk into an interview is knowing that you have all the answers. While this is not strictly possible, you can certainly take the time to get to know the organisation and the role beforehand. Being familiar with the position description, expectations, and other relevant details will offer you a level of security you wouldn’t have going in cold. Its good to focus on three things:
1. The organisation
What do you know about them? Never go into an interview without having visited the potential employer’s website. Get a feel for their brand, what they offer, who they are, who they employ and whether they are someone you want to work for. While, generally speaking, the website will be geared towards customers or clients, you will often find information about the structure, the people and how they operate in the ‘who we are’, ‘about us’, ‘careers’ or similar sections. Ask around your network and see if there is anyone you know who works for, or has worked for, the organisation. They may be able to provide you with some insight into the culture of the organisation and sometimes the role you are applying for. While you are familiarising yourself with the company, note down some questions or comments you have about the organisation that can demonstrate your understanding and awareness and that you have done your research. For example, you might comment on a recent piece of news in the website’s media page and ask how a particular project being talked about is progressing.
2. The role
Wherever possible, get yourself a copy of the position description for the role which you are being interviewed for. Often this is provided up front – sometimes you will need to request it. If it’s not available, make sure to study the job advertisement and make contact to ask for any further details you need that are not clear from the ad. Make yourself as familiar as possible with the job requirements. Your understanding of the role in an interview conveys to the potential employer your interest in THIS job and that you are a serious candidate. Having some insightful questions about the role will help to demonstrate your understanding and your consideration of how the role operates. i.e. ‘I see the position is responsible for reporting on sales – how is this currently delivered?’
3. How you see yourself in the organisation and the role
Once you have gathered your information about the organisation and the position, take some time to picture yourself should you be successful in being appointed. How do you feel about the organisation and what it stands for, its products or services and its brand? Does the role feel like one you could be successful in? What aspects are you excited about? What aspects of the role challenge you and give you opportunities for development? Create for each role you apply for a statement answering, ‘why are you applying for this role?’ This question, in one form or another, will arise in practically every interview, and being comfortable and confident in your reasons for applying will translate to you appearing confident and comfortable in the interview. You also want to prepare some examples from your previous experience that you feel are relevant to the role you are being interviewed for. Practice talking about your experience to a friend or family member so that you feel natural sharing your examples and feel confident explaining why this experience will help you in this new role.
It’s always good to make notes about each role you are applying for and keep them handy in case you are contacted by the recruiter and asked questions on the spot about your application. It is easy, particularly when you are applying for a number of different roles at the same time, to confuse details or draw a blank on a particular job you have applied for, especially if some time passes before the recruiter contacts you. By having notes available on each application, you are able to sound informed and interested and it confirms your enthusiasm for the role in your interactions with the recruiter.
Often, we feel like we have to put on an act when we go to an interview. Typically, quite formal interactions, we dress in attire and act in a way that is not entirely natural to us. This can lead to feeling uncomfortable and the way we come across being inauthentic. Almost everyone gets nervous before an interview and recruiters understand this. When someone is not used to conducting interviews, they can be nervous themselves and the whole experience can be a little awkward. Anything you can do to make the situation feel more natural to you is encouraged. At the end of the day, an interview is a way for a potential employer to decide if YOU are right for the job. So, it is YOU who should show up for the interview.
While once upon a time, we would feel the need to wear a suit, tie or other formal attire to an interview, it is more acceptable and recommended today to wear something more aligned with the role you are applying for. As a general rule (unless the role requires a uniform or other job specific clothing) it is a good idea to present yourself in similar clothes to what you would wear if you had the role. Make sure your clothes are clean, tidy, in good repair, and – most importantly – comfortable. No high heels if you can’t walk in them easily. Nothing ill-fitting or revealing when standing or sitting. And choose something that makes you feel good – a favourite shirt, your ‘lucky bangle’ or a scent/aftershave that makes you happy. Without going overboard, show your personality in your appearance.
Leading up to the interview, do the things that you know put you at ease. If it helps you to do a ‘drive by’ the day before so you know exactly where you are going and where you are going to park – do it. If you like to review your notes before an interview – make sure you take them along and read them in the car before you go in. If it helps you to get some fresh air, park a little further away or get off the bus a few stops early and walk a few blocks before going in. Whatever puts you in the best frame of mind before an interview – do that.
Generally, once you are in an interview and it is underway, time goes very quickly and there isn’t much time to worry or be nervous. If you are asked a question that catches you off guard or that you haven’t prepared for, pause, breathe and take a moment to think about your response. Say to the interviewer, ‘That’s a great question, I might just need a moment to think about that.’
Make sure to make good eye contact and thank the interviewers for the opportunity to meet with them at the end of the interview. You want to leave them with a positive impression of you so smile and be confident when you say goodbye and that you look forward to hearing from them.
Be ready… for next time
Once the interview is over, take a little time to reflect on the experience. How did you feel leading up to, during and, after the interview? Are you happy with your preparation or are there things you think you could have done that you can do next time to feel more prepared? Did you feel confident in the interview – would you wear something different, present something in another way or answer a question differently in future? Reflecting on an interview is a great way to ensure, if you are not successful this time, you might well be the next time.
If there were questions that you were asked that were difficult for you to answer, take a note of them. Take some time to think about examples from your experience that you could use in answering the question next time you are asked it. And practice those answers so they roll easily off your tongue.
If you are unsuccessful in the interview, and you have the opportunity, ask the interviewer for some feedback. Was there a particular reason why you were not the preferred candidate in this instance? If it is not possible to get feedback from the interviewer, and you are finding that you are not having any luck securing a job after an interview process, talk to someone who can help you. Share with them the examples you are using from your experience, how you discuss your strengths and weaknesses, and generally how you are presenting yourself at an interview. This could be a trusted family member or friend, or a career professional. Get some honest feedback from them and ideas of how you can better present yourself in future.
Be kind to yourself
One thing to remember though is that an interview process allows the interviewer to choose the person (or people) they see as being the best fit for the job on that day. The whole process can be very subjective and relies on individuals making a decision, based on criteria that you may not even be aware of. Sometimes, you will have what feels like your best interview ever and they will still choose someone else. And an interview where you might not feel you have done as well will be the one that secures you the role. As long as you come away feeling like you have done all you can to present your best self, you should feel positive about the experience regardless of the outcome.
Article by Anne-Marie Dolan – bestfit HR