Giving an interview can be one of the more stressful things you have to do, and there's so much advice out there it's hard to know where to start or which advice you should follow. The thing to remember is that giving a confident interview is a skill that can be learned, just like making a cracking omelette, driving a car or delivering a presentation. Here are my 5 tips to giving a confident and effective interview.
- Know your subject, but don't over-prepare
Years ago I turned up to an interview for a Project Manager position at a medical logistics company, knowing nothing at all about the company or the industry they operated in. Fortunately it wasn't a job that I wanted, which was just as well because I didn't stand a chance. You need to know your stuff; the company's products, services, market position, opportunities, etc. Read up on the company prior to the interview, but be careful not to over-prepare. It's also a good idea to figure out how you'll respond to some likely questions, but knowing your subject isn't a case of simply repeating memorised information, and if you go to an interview planning on spouting facts and figures there's a risk that you'll sound too rehearsed or stilted. Know what you're talking about but leave room to think on your feet; you don't have to be word perfect, you don't need to know everything or have a slick answer for every question. One more thing here – sometimes the interviewer wants to see how you think on your feet and might throw a curveball question at you. If that happens don't overthink it and don't panic. Buy yourself some time by repeating the question and even saying that you hadn't expected it. Then shoot from the hip.
- Don't sweat it
First of all, whether it's a 1st interview or 3rd interview, always remember that the simple fact that you've been shortlisted means that they're interested in talking to you and think you might be right for the job. That's a good thing. Of course, it's easy to focus on the drama of the interview and loose your cool as a result. A friend of mine was telling me recently about how she panics as she goes through each round of interview, piling on more and more pressure on herself. Focusing on the problem and the drama will only ever give you more drama, and that's exactly what you don't need. Yes, interviews can be nerve-wracking, but it's okay to be nervous. Being nervous makes you give a better interview, because you have to up your game accordingly and can use that nervous energy to demonstrate your enthusiasm and energy. 2 thoughts for you. First of all, how would you approach the interview if there was nothing riding on it personally? What difference would it make if you knew that whatever decision they make is just fine, and is no reflection on you or your ability? A shift in how you perceive the interview and it's risks can work wonders. Secondly, try writing down a step-by-step guide – a how-to manual – for how to make someone else feel like you do when you feel nervous or panicky. How do you start that feeling going? What do you think to yourself that makes that feeling grow? What do you do that makes it worse? Write it down step by step and you'll be clearer on what you're doing that gets in your way. Then you can write the opposite how-to guide, countering each step with something else that will get you a different result.
- Understand that an interview is a 2-way street
In a survey conducted by recruitment consultancy Office Team, just under half of the employees surveyed said they'd misjudged the culture of a company, and 59% of HR managers said they'd misjudged someone's fit for a role. That's why an interview has to be a 2-way street. It's a method of establishing whether you're the best candidate for a role and if the role and organisation is a good fit for you. It's not simply about the interviewer pulling out the information they need to make their decisions, you need to get the information you need to make your decision. The interviewer is not your enemy – you need to see how the role and organisation fits you just as much as they need to see if you're the best match for the job. With that in mind, it's a level playing field – there's no 'upper hand'.
- Don't be afraid to blow your own trumpet
The whole point of an interview is to sell yourself to the person interviewing you. Fail to recognise that or fail to do it effectively and it's game over. So the first step is to reconnect with your strengths, expertise and experience if you've forgotten what you're about, what you've achieved and what your capability is. Then you're in a good place to let your interviewers know what you've achieved by means of example – that's the information they're looking for. The saying goes that an interview is 2 people in a room lying to each other. I wouldn't go that far and lying during your interview is like dressing a cow in a duck costume and asking it to quack – it's not going to fool anyone. But you know what? Feel free to embellish a little. Big yourself up a bit more. Say that you had a little more responsibility than you did. Tell them that your results were a little bit more special than they were. Those are all valid parts of the interview process and it doesn't mean that you're misrepresenting yourself. It simply means that you're selling yourself and giving a great interview.
- Enjoy yourself
I've interviewed a good few people in my corporate past, and there was always one thing that made a candidate stand out head and shoulders above the rest – the fact that they were enjoying themselves, not just in the interview but generally in their life. With one exception (where the interviewer had a serious chip on their shoulder and was determined to make it an unpleasant experience; I doubt anyone took that job) I really love being interviewed, because I get to use some of the stuff I love doing. I get to build rapport with someone, talk about me for a bit (come on, we all like a bit of that), have some interesting conversations and even have a giggle. That's more important to me than being 'professional', which in too many cases means squeezing yourself into a box based on what you think your potential employer wants you to be like (more on being 'professional' in a future post). That's why it's important to figure out what's important to you and what you enjoy, then leverage those things. If you look like the interview is torture or are just generally down-beat, you won't get hired. Simple as. If you're engaging with what you're doing and where you are, that really comes across and will speak volumes. An interview is not a personal judgment on your character or ability. An interview is not the end of your world as you know it. Enjoy it, engage with it and bring who you are to the table.