I have interviewed many people over the last 20 years for a variety of roles from developers and designers to accountants and customer support agents. The one thing that always strikes me is the way that people prepare for interviews is changing and not for the better. If you are one of the people who I have interviewed and didn’t get the job, some of this article might give you an insight into why. Not just because there was someone better or that was more suited to the role, but maybe it was your interview technique that let you down.
Do your homework
My father always said that “prior planning prevents p*ss poor performance” or the other quote from Benjamin Franklin “If you fail to plan, you are planning to fail”. Both have the same meaning, you need to do some planning and some research before you go to an interview.
What I have seen more and more over the years is people turning up to an interview with nothing prepared. No notes, not even a pen (in a digital age we don’t use pens as much but at least look like you might take a note, jot something down if something useful or interesting is said) you need something to show that you did a little research and planned for the interview, not just turned up.
I once had feedback that although I was prepared for the interview I had treated it like I would any company and didn’t seem to be invested in the business. All my answers were generic and didn’t talk directly about how I could affect that particular company rather than what I could do in general. That stuck with me and I wouldn’t make that mistake again. It also showed the level of interest anyone should have when they go to an interview and not just read the homepage of the company’s website and wing the rest.
Too many candidates recently, when asked the usual question of “what do you know about our company”, started the response with “obviously you do…”. Whilst it might be obvious what the business does what we are looking for is beyond the obvious, how much more research did you do, how much do you want to work here and how much do you just want a job, any job, not specifically the one you are being interviewed for.
Make an impression
I am often as guilty as anyone of picking a favourite interviewee from the CVs and the impression that you get as to the suitability of the person for the position. I don’t tend to interview people that I wouldn’t give the job to, so everyone has a fair crack, but you can have an idea of who would be the best candidate based on their skills from their CV and of course the job specification.
It is fair to say that some of the time the best person on paper doesn’t perform in interview and therefore the job goes to someone else, that happened recently when the person who I thought would be better bombed and the other candidate blew me away.
The contrast between the two candidates couldn’t have been more stark. One was fully prepared, had lots of notes about the business and had delved deep into the company structure and business operations. The other walked in with nothing and answered the question regarding their knowledge of the company with “obviously you do…” but has nothing else, no depth and no real understanding of the business and how it operates. I don’t think I have been more disappointed in a candidate having had high hopes from the near exact match of skills and experience to the job description, to the reality of them in person.
My first impression of both was widely different from my expectations and it can be really difficult to come back, as an interviewee, from a really bad first impression, no matter how good you looked on paper.
Dress to impress
One thing I haven’t done in a very long time at work is wear a tie, I don’t see the point. I know people who work in finance who have no choice as it is often a company policy, but there are few organisations or industries where the wearing of a tie means anything anymore. It is also no longer a sign of a person’s stature or position within a company, I know enough business owners who don’t own a suit let alone a tie.
For an interview you should dress appropriately to the job and industry you are working in. Long gone are the days when you must wear a suit to an interview, unless that’s what is expected within that particular position. I think looking smart and feeling comfortable go together, why come to an interview in a suit to a company where everyone, including the directors, wear jeans and a t-shirt? There is no way of telling what everyone might wear so dressing smartly never goes a miss, but smart jeans and a shirt, especially in design, advertising or marketing jobs where I have worked for the past 20 years are the way to go.
Better to be smarter than scruffy, make an effort, because the way you look and dress will help to form that first impression before you had chance to open your mouth. It isn’t usually a deal breaker, but it won’t help if you look (and smell) like you could do with a good wash. I once second interviewed someone who, after I told them to be a little less formal, looked like they had stayed out all weekend in the same clothes and smelt like they had too!
Know your CV
I have spoken before about the length of a CV, I still can’t understand why universities insist on telling people that the optimum length of a CV is 2 pages – it isn’t. The optimum length of a CV is as long as you need it to be to sell yourself sufficiently to get an interview.
For reference my CV is over 4 pages long and I usually get an interview for the jobs I apply for so if size matters I would go long!
I have started asking a question that seems to baffle some candidates, “tell me something about yourself that isn’t on your CV”. I like this question because it shows how people react to a question under pressure that they haven’t been asked before. It’s an ice breaker, something to put you at ease. The responses I have had range from being asked if I meant personally or something work related to being told recently that this was the problem with having such a comprehensive CV, everything was on it.
The problem with the last statement, not just because the CV in question was two pages long, half of one page was wasted with a list of skills that meant very little to the job they were applying for, is that there was no depth to the skills that this candidate had, everything was on the CV.
I made the mistake many years ago of having every bit of experience I had (which wasn’t much at the time) included on my CV. The problem in interview was the interviewer wanted more, some depth, they wanted me to demonstrate that I hadn’t just done a task once therefore I was an expert but had done something multiple times with different outcomes and could choose the right path for a specific situation.
Doing something once gives you a baseline experience, it doesn’t make you skilled in the discipline nor should you try to use those infuriating scales to show how skilled you are in a subject when you are clearly not. Giving yourself 4/5 for time management, unless you work in time management is just filling space and doesn’t show anyone anything other than you rate yourself highly.
We will be the judge of your skill levels based on the job specification, not on your own handy guide that is usually woefully inaccurate. It can be handy to see the disciplines that you are highly skilled in, maybe just a list, but to rate yourself out of 10 is a little self-indulgent. As with most things this is my own opinion and I am all too aware that other recruiters and employers will find this useful. If you do use these ratings at least make them relevant to the job you are applying for and don’t rate everything the same, be more self aware.
Show me the money
In a results driven world I would like candidates to give examples of how what they have done has made a difference, both on their CV and in an interview. Candidates seem to have forgotten that the reason they are coming for an interview is to show that they can meet a need (the job opening) and that they can make a difference to our business.
Candidates often fail to do their homework not just on the company but on themselves. It can be incredibly difficult working in an agency to know the results and the effect the work that you have done for a client has on their business, but it is important to at least try to get feedback from others within the team or from the client themselves. If you can’t then maybe you should look at how you think it made a difference or why the work was done in the first place.
Too often there is little or no information on a CV about the results, it’s not all about increasing turnover or adding to the bottom line, a piece of copy written might have increased conversion rates, subject lines on an email could have increased open rates, changing suppliers of milk could save a couple of pence per bottle saving the company enough for a night out. Anything is better than nothing when showing what has made a difference.
There also needs to be more importance placed on what a candidate can do and what they can bring to the company they are having the interview at, rather than bringing out standard answers and being told that “clients never tell us the results”.
The other thing that becomes a regular occurrence is saying that “I’m not good at selling myself”. This might be true but that is exactly what you are there to do in an interview and if you struggle to remember points you want to make, write them down before hand and bring some notes with you.
Getting a new job and being good in interviews isn’t all in the preparation, but it will go a long way to helping you to secure you your next position.