How to Win at Interviews

Three women interviewing

By John Reilly        

You may be an experienced executive but it could be some time since you’ve applied for a new role and it’s always a good idea to do a little revision so I hope you won’t mind if I suggest a few ideas to how you might approach your next job interview. I’ve been helping candidates to secure roles up to board-level positions for over twenty-five years and there are a number of principles that have guided me which I think may help you land your dream job or at least take you one step nearer to it.

Think of it as a 'meeting'

The first helpful principle, I think, is to drop the word ‘interview’. What we’ve learned from political correctness is that words matter enormously; they can have a very significant emotional impact and colour our thinking and approach to people and situations. Whilst using the word ‘interview’ won’t offend anybody, I don’t think it’s helpful. The very sound of it is enough to make some people nervous and unhelpfully from the job-seeker’s perspective, it suggests a re-active process where questions are merely asked of you. I prefer the word ‘meeting’, which suggests a more pro-active approach, similar to seeing a client for the first time. After all, as the employer will be appraising you, you will be appraising them also, so the meeting should be a more inclusive process with you probing and asking questions of them as they do of you. 

Tell of your achievements not just responsibilities 

Like seeing a client in a business situation, a job meeting has a persuasive element. Essentially, it’s a ‘pitch’ situation. Although some people don’t like the term (words matter, again), applying for a job is a sales situation. You will be selling something, and that something is you. Here we come up against some limiting cultural conditioning we have in the UK. For many brought up in Britain, ‘blowing-our-own-trumpet’ is something traditionally frowned upon but if you’re trying to win a job in a competitive situation, it’s a hesitation you’ll have to overcome. You’re going to have to put your best case forward, not in a boastful way, but outlining to the employer your professional achievements not just your responsibilities. Never assume the employer can see how good you are or work out all you’ve achieved. They can’t. You have to tell them. Only then can they fairly appraise you. This is key. More of it later.

Prepare thoroughly 

Your first task is to get thoroughly prepared. Look closely at the employer’s website and social media channels. Consider who their competitors might be and look at their websites also. Have a detailed read of the Job Description and prepare your thoughts of how your experience and achievements match the employer’s requirements. Now consider how you’d like to structure the meeting if no set structure has been outlined or is evident. The employer may have a set structure they work to; they may not. Have the meeting prepared in your head if not and be prepared to provide the energy of the meeting. Sitting back and waiting for it to come your way is not a tactic designed for success.  

The three key elements of any successful hire and the questions employers are asking themselves are:

  • Chemistry (do I like this applicant and would we work well together?)
  • Ability (can the applicant actually do the job?)
  • Motivation (do they want this job or just any new job?).

Meeting structure

So addressing Chemistry; Ability and Motivation, a suggested meeting structure would be (and it is only a suggestion):

·        Introduction - build rapport well and try to generate some smiles, no-one hires anyone they don't like. 
·        Presentation - demonstrate ability by telling (and showing evidence of, if possible) your relevant achievements - blowing your own trumpet, if you like. This is essentially a sales process and you must be prepared to show off your achievements, ideally with numbers: managers love metrics. Demonstrate motivation by bothering to get really prepared with your own research about the hiring company, its market situation and probable competitors. If you don’t know much about the company, they won’t believe you want to work there.
·        Close – “And do you have any questions for us?” Here are some suggested closing questions; you can choose the most appropriate and put them in your own words: 

Closing questions

  1. Is there any reason you can see why you wouldn't be prepared to put me through to the next stage? This is should probably be the final one and is not a question for the fainthearted but it’s a very powerful one giving you the chance to respond to doubts and objections.  
  2. How do you think I’d fit with the team?”
  3. How will my performance be evaluated?
  4. What do you expect me to achieve in my first three months?
  5. If you were taking this role, what would your priorities be?
  6. Who are the main stakeholders that I need to influence?
  7. Are you expecting some quick wins?
  8. If you were me, where would you focus your attention?
  9. What lurking surprises could detonate and push me off track?
  10. How is the job likely to change over the next couple of years?

 This is a formula with a proven success rate and will help you if you follow the steps. You can adapt it to your own style and use only some of the elements if you prefer. It’s rare that applicants succeed in 100% of the job applications they make but if you follow these ideas, hopefully your average will increase. I hope you find the information useful and I wish you all the best!

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