Many people cling to the belief that an interview is a terrifying, anxiety inducing experience, something to be simply endured and survived, rather than embraced as an opportunity. After all, it is just that: an opportunity. An opportunity for you to shine and be viewed as someone who could be a real asset to the company you’re interviewing for. It’s an opportunity to bring the information on your CV to life and to showcase your positive, intelligent and friendly personality.

An interview is a two way process with both parties trying to figure out if each will be a good fit. Sure, in the end it is the employer or interviewer who has the control in regards to hiring you, but this does not mean you should simply nod along, sweating it out, trying not to say something stupid that will damage your chances. Interviewers are not there to intimidate you (unless you’re interviewing for the C.I.A). They too can be anxious. At the end of the day it is their responsibility to hire the right person for the job, and in many cases the hiring process is just one part of their many responsibilities for the company.


Cultural Fit

During an interview, you should be asking yourself, do I want to work here? Will I be happy? An employer is trying to find out the same information. Your CV got you the interview, but the job isn’t solely based on the skills they see on paper. They want to know not only if you have the expertise and experience they require, but also, will you fit in with the rest of their employees and do you have the work attitude they’re looking for? The latter point has become known in recent years throughout the recruitment industry as cultural fit. Cultural fit refers to the candidate’s compatibility with the organization. Yes an employer will want someone who has the skills and experience that match their requirements but they also want someone whose values, beliefs, outlook and behavior is harmonious with the company and its existing employees. A candidate whose propensities match these will likely be a good cultural fit. Skills and experience can become tired and obsolete as technology continues to press forward, but cultural fit is a much more permanent attribute. A good cultural fit candidate will be more productive and engaging and will work comfortably in the existing company environment, someone who will integrate smoothly with the rest of the team. Provided a candidate is a good fit for the company and has demonstrated aptitude for self-development and growth, their skill-set and knowledge can change and grow over time. An employee who fails to fit in will likely leave to find a more suited position. Cultural fit is an important element to an employer and it should be for you too. After all, if you don’t feel comfortable within the organization, you’ll never be truly happy there.


Do Your Homework

Don’t be fooled into thinking you can just wing your way through an interview. You need to be prepared. Research the company you are interviewing for. Know what exactly they do, for how long and who their competition is. An easy and informative way to start is to check out their website and read the “About Us” section.  You’d be surprised how many people show up unprepared for interviews and thus how impressed the person interviewing you can be by the knowledge you have of the company. In addition, this type of background check can help answer some basic interview questions such as “why do you want to work here?” or “what can you bring to the company?” It helps you stand out and shows you have genuine interest in working for them.

Know the name of the person interviewing you and their job title if possible. Ask at reception if you haven’t been able to find out on your own and make sure you bring a copy of your CV.

Certain jobs will require you to bring examples of your work such as original content or blogging work you’ve done to demonstrate your copywriting skills or successful campaign strategies for digital or advertising jobs. Always bring your best work.


First impressions

First impressions are extremely important. It’s most commonly thought that, whether or not you realize it, you evaluate a person within the first five seconds of meeting them. This point has been most clearly demonstrated by bestselling author and journalist Malcolm Gladwell in his highly recommended and thought provoking book, Blink – The Power of Thinking Without Thinking. According to Gladwell, we “thin-slice” whenever we meet a new person or have to make sense of a new situation. This mean that snap judgements occur unconsciously and extraordinarily fast, relying on the thinnest slices of experience. The importance of first impressions in an interview has been known for a long time yet many people are not really sure how to make a good one.

The first point to consider here is to make sure you show up on time. You can show up 5 or 10 minutes early but no more than that as you’ll most likely annoy an employer. The managers or employees tasked with hiring are busy people who have other work going on all day. You showing up 30 minutes early will require them to stop what they’re doing and attend to you.

The second point to consider is your overall presentation. A nice smile can go a long way. It’s welcoming, warming and friendly. This coincides with being polite, not only to the person interviewing you, but to anyone whom you meet such as receptionists or assistants. Organizations have been known to ask these people what their initial thoughts on you were before they start interviewing you.

Along with presenting your best demeanor, your physical appearance is extremely important too, and showing up to an interview well-dressed is essential. You want to look professional and at your best. If it’s a corporate position or any type of senior level job, a nicely tailored conservative style suit or an appropriate length skirt or dress is a good idea. Accompany this with a clean crisp shirt or blouse and simple but professional style shoes. In many jobs nowadays such as those in the world of digital media, a more relaxed attire is acceptable such as smart casual or informal. This could include a smart coat such as a blazer or trench coat or even a buttoned up cardigan with slacks. Basically you need to know what the dress code for each company is, or find out if you don’t, then dress appropriately. Whatever you choose to wear, make sure it’s clean and tidy looking with no over the top or flashy colours and patterns. In addition, you should be well groomed and freshly showered. Make sure you’re either clean-shaven or your facial hair is nicely trimmed, and unless you’re applying for a highly artistic position, stick to a tidy, professional or conservative style haircut. Ensure you have fresh breath and omitting no strong odours such as food or too heavily applied cologne/perfume. Woman should be nicely manicured and without an obscene amount of make-up applied. Just be cleanly and professionally presented.


The Interview Process

Greet the person conducting the interview by title and surname, asking how he or she is.  Maintain eye contact and present a firm handshake. Follow their lead, meaning only sitting when asked to and not babbling out of turn. Resist the temptation to fill an air of silence, however uncomfortable it may seem. You have come prepared so you have nothing to worry about, just wait for the interviewer to re-start the conversation.

Pay attention to your mannerisms during the process. Nervous ticks, tapping your fingernails, slouching in your chair and endless fidgeting are all turn-offs.

Generally, an interview will begin with a look over your CV or questions such as “tell me about yourself”, or “why do you want to work here”. Practice the answers to these, along with answers to the most commonly asked interview questions, making them sound natural and unrehearsed at the time. This rehearsal will not only enhance your confidence during the interview, but will also help you analyze and understand your own strengths, weaknesses and qualifications.

Keep an eye on timeframe of the questions asked. If the employer is moving nicely from your past – schooling or recent jobs, to your present – the kind of job you’re looking for, to your future – where would you like to be in five years, it is generally a better sign than if they’re just asking about you history. It shows that they are interested in you and want to know more. Employers look for so much more than what is on your CV, regardless of the job you’re applying for. They want people who are creative & problem solving, self-motivated, punctual, and well organized and can be a strong team player, amongst others. Basically they want people who will be part of the solution rather than part of the problem, and the interview is the place to demonstrate as many of these attributes as you can genuinely claim.

Bad mouthing a previous employer is never a good idea. It demonstrates a lack of respect and professionalism, which are qualities that no employer would want in their members. Since we’re on the topic of things not to do in an interview, turning up drunk or with any signs of alcohol is at the top of the list. Even if an employer takes you to lunch for an interview, stick to coffee, water or a soda. In addition to signs of alcohol, the smell of cigarettes is a turn off so avoid smoking right before entering the interview. Other no no’s include: turning up with food or a beverage, any kind of tardiness or laziness, showing a lack of courtesy to people such as receptionists, secretaries or waiting staff, or constantly complaining and blaming other people. And for the love of god people, do not answer your phone during an interview. In fact turn it off before going in.

It’s important to stay calm throughout the interview. We all get tense and nervous but just remember, the person interviewing you is exactly that: a person, a human just like you. It is perfectly acceptable to pause and take a moment or two when asked a question to compose yourself and frame your response correctly. Just don’t go overboard with the answer. Keep it as concise and as brief as possible bearing in mind that too brief an answer might come across as if you lack effective communication skills. Anywhere from 20 seconds to two minutes is generally a good amount of time for an answer. Listen carefully to what’s been asked of you and always emote a positive body language such as sitting upright, not shuffling your arms or feet and staying alert. Try to be as charismatic and personable as possible.


Confidence over Arrogance

An interview is about portraying confidence and ability, not arrogance. You definitely don’t want to beg for a job, coming across as a desperado with the attitude of “I don’t mind what work I’ll be doing, just hire me”. But you also don’t want to come across as cocky and arrogant, entering the interview with the perception that the job is practically yours. If you have followed the points above and done your homework, then you should feel a level of confidence. However, you should realize that there is always room for improvement and there are always those with more knowledge and expertise than you. You have your own skills and experience to offer, but recognize that other people can teach you things, and an ability and constant hunger for learning are highly desirable qualities to an employer.

Definitely do not act as if you are above or more qualified than the person interviewing you, even if you truly believe it, and never argue. You need to stand out, sure, but you want the employer to lead this process. There is an interview strategy concept known as the 50/50 rule. It was a study carried out by an M.I.T researcher, which showed that in general, people who get hired are people who maintained a fifty-fifty balance between speaking and listening during the interview. Too much talking can come across as self-involved or arrogant, someone who will neglect or ignore the needs of the company. Too little talking may be perceived as if you have something to hide or you simply don’t possess the necessary communication skills.

Confident candidates are relaxed, assertive and fully aware of what’s going on around them. They acquire a certain satisfaction in the knowledge that they have come prepared and have a lot to offer. Knowing how to compose and conduct yourself during an interview is extremely important. Establishing proper etiquette and being aware of what your boundaries are could be the difference between you and several other candidates who are just as qualified for the role.


Sealing The Deal

Towards the end of the interview, you will surely be asked if you have any questions of your own. You should have some questions prepared to ask the employer. Along with demonstrating your interest in the company and showing engagement, this is a chance to find out anything that has not been addressed and get a better feel if you’d like to work there. You could ask for a more detailed description of the role and what exactly your responsibilities would include. You could ask what a typical day/week is like, what the company’s management style is and whom you’ll be reporting to. You could ask about future growth opportunities or even the relocation possibilities. You could also inquire about any company news or changes such as acquisitions and if it will affect the company or your role within it. Use your judgment here and don’t be afraid to ask questions. Upon conclusion of your interview, thanking the employer is extremely important. Sincerely thank them for their time and for giving you the opportunity to interview. You should briefly echo your enthusiasm and skills for the position, cementing your profile in their mind, even if you feel the interview did not go so well. Ask politely what the next steps are in proceeding and when you might expect to hear from them. Make sure you leave with a smile and a firm handshake.

One of the most overlooked yet simplest procedures in interviews is sending a thank you message. This is an absolute must. It shows you have good interpersonal skills, it will refresh an employer’s memory of you and it reiterates your interest in the company. Plus it’s just polite. Lastly, even if you feel the interview did not go so well, you should still follow these steps. Who knows, maybe if an employer did not feel you were right for this particular position, he may suggest you or put you forward for another. In addition, interviewing can be a way of networking. The people you meet along the way, at all levels of employment could make great contacts so never burn your bridges. You just never know what may come of any given situation.

A job interview is an art rather than a science as each organization and employer differs from the next. It resembles dating. Everyone is just trying to find their perfect match. Hopefully these tips and pointers will help you find your perfect match, and convince any potential employer that you are in fact the right person for the job.

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