Congratulations - you have managed to secure that all-important job interview. But before you just march on in, do some preparation.
Before the interview
This preparation time is pivotal. In my experience, over 80% of people know almost nothing about the company and the position they are going to interview for. Therefore by just spending a half hour on the company's website, you are going to perform better than many of your peers. A main reason is that you will be armed with key bits of information that you can recall at the interview, highlighting your understanding of the businesses market / needs / customers / culture etc. This in turn highlights your suitability for the position. That little bit more knowledge you are armed with, may be the difference between getting the job and not getting it!
Review your own career experience and qualifications, ensuring you understand all your achievements and skills that are relevant for this position. You must go into the interview and 'sell yourself' to your full potential. Anything less and you are letting both yourself and the employer down.
Have a strong understanding of what the employer is actually seeking in a candidate is vital. In most job advertisements and position descriptions, there is a section entitled 'personal specifications / characteristics'. This section is the key to interview success and is what you need to target. Knowing the skills and experience the employer is after will help you to 'mirror' examples of these competencies, and will make you appear as a 'solution' to their employment conundrum, rather than just another applicant.
If possible, try to find out what sort of interview you will be going into prior to turning up. It becomes really hard to focus if you are expecting a one on one interview, then find you are being grilled by a panel of six.
During the interview
One of Europe's leading career specialists, Daniel Porot, studied candidates in job interviews and found that to be successful, you should generally try to make your answer last between 20 seconds and two minutes. Anything too short does not give enough information to the interviewer; anything longer just drags the interview on and starts to make you look too long-winded.
For me personally, someone who is genuinely enthusiastic and friendly usually stands out above the rest. Don't be afraid to show that you are really excited about the opportunity. While you may not be the best candidate on paper, a lot of the time the employer goes on 'gut feel' and your enthusiasm may well be the key aspect that pushes you to the top of the pile.
Try to understand the question behind the question. In the end, it all comes down to, "Why should I recruit you?" Be sure that you attempt to answer that underlying question completely.
Be your authentic self - professional, yet real. You do no one any favours by pretending to be someone you are not. Even if you get the job, everyone will see that you do not match their expectations.
Remember the interview is a two way street. You are there to 'sell' yourself, however the interviewer also has a duty to 'sell' the opportunity and company to you too! Ask good questions about the organisation, and ensure this really is the right place for the next stage of your career.
Q & A
In most interviews there will be common questions that will keep cropping up. Typical questions include:
"Tell me about yourself."
Before you go to the interview, write a brief account of your achievements, work history and education. Make sure that this answer relates to the position for which you are applying and don't be afraid to sell yourself!
"Why do you want to work here?"
This is a vital question, as the employer is attempting to find out your motivation for their organisation specifically. Share your knowledge of their business and comment on how your skills, experience and education would fit so well with their company.
"What are your strengths?"
As you have done your research on the job as well as the company, you will be able to visualise what they are looking for. Phrase your answer in this context as well as give an example of each strength.
"What are your weaknesses?"
Choose a weak area prior to the interview. Only state one weakness and say what you are doing in order to overcome it. Overcoming a weakness is actually developing a strength!
"What remuneration / salary package salary are you after?"
Try to do some research prior to the role and look at what the industry is offering for similar positions. It's a waste of time being in an interview for one hour and then find you and the recruiter have wildly differing salary expectations.
After the interview
Always ensure that you follow up the meeting with an appropriate thank-you email. This is another opportunity to sell yourself to the employer and will only improve your chances. This email usually involves three to four lines thanking the interviewer for their time, touching on a couple of key points you discussed and again highlighting your interest in the position.
When someone says to you "don't be nervous", this advice is contrary to reality. You are presumably going to an interview for a job you want to be successful in getting. You have something to lose and you are exposing yourself to potential rejection from the interviewer. Therefore it's okay to be a little nervous - just try not to let it show.
If you get the 'butterflies' (sick feeling in your stomach), don't panic! They are a sign adrenaline is rushing through your body. This actually means you are becoming more alert and attuned to your surroundings. 'Butterflies' are a good sign that you are mentally ready.
Remember - the job hunt is a race. But unlike the Olympics, there is no prize for coming second - only disappointment and wasted time. Therefore, work hard on becoming the employer's solution at the interview, and you will gain your next role in record time.
Interview to win
First impressions are vital. Many interviewers will reach a decision about you in the first five minutes.
Write out responses to typical interview questions and practice these with a friend.
Remember that you are selling the most important product you own - yourself! It's up to you to communicate to the employer what makes you stand out as a candidate.
Write a brief thank you letter after the interview, highlighting your interest in both the company and opportunity.
* Tom O'Neil is a leading international career specialist and author of Selling Yourself to Employers - The Essential Job-Hunting Guide.