As a candidate turning up for a job interview, it can be tempting to assume that your potential employer will be looking to you to ‘sell’ yourself to them, but in fact an interview is also the perfect opportunity for you to decide whether the role and the company are right for you. That said, the better prepared you are, and the broader your understanding of what interviewers are really looking for, the more likely you are to make an impression and – ultimately – to be offered the job.
In our experience, many candidates will attend an interview convinced that the employer will be desperate to learn more about their experience, educational background and current skillset, but in reality that is only part of the picture. In fact, much of what the interviewer will be keen to uncover lies beyond your ability to fulfil the criteria laid out in the job description.
They will of course be assessing how you answer the questions they pose, how you come across and how they believe you would fit into their organisation. Your attitude and level of composure will give them a genuine insight into your personality, and that is one of the key things they will be evaluating.
They’re also likely to be assessing how well prepared you are. Have you done your research and looked into what the company does and its ethos? You’ll probably have done some research when submitting your application and writing your covering letter, but it’s helpful to have some facts – and possibly figures – at your fingertips to quote when answering questions. Above all, it’s important to demonstrate to the interviewer that you’re interested in working for them and that you’ve gone the extra mile to stand out from the other applicants.
Being able to answer questions in a composed manner and without appearing flustered will show that you’ve prepared well and aren’t hoping to ‘wing’ it. Try to convey what drives you. What are your goals? And where do your ambitions lie? Of course it’s vital not to come across as arrogant or unrealistic in your expectations, but interviewers are generally impressed with a clear vision and a plan of how to achieve it.
As well as projecting forward, it’s also helpful to make the most of your experience and the route you’ve taken to arrive where you are today. Showing that you’re passionate about developing your career is a definite plus, as is conveying the passion that you have for achieving your goals.
Aside from your CV and covering letter, in general an interview is the only tool at your prospective employer’s disposal to assess your strengths and weaknesses. Don’t be afraid to highlight what you believe to be your core strengths and how you believe they would benefit the company, but also speak about areas where you still feel you can improve. Being humble and acknowledging that you still have things to learn can be a real positive – no-one likes a ‘know-it-all’, after all.
Talk about your successes, and don’t just limit this to the professional arena. Highlight your education and mention any extra-curricular achievements, whether in sport, music or on the stage. This will all help to portray you as a rounded character with outside interests.
Give examples of soft skills, which will help the interviewer to imagine you fitting into their team and working well with colleagues. Show them how you solve problems, work under your own initiative and achieve the right results. Demonstrating an appetite for learning is also beneficial, as is the ability to adapt to a changing environment. There’s every chance that your new employer will operate slightly differently to your previous one, so being open to changing the way you work will be a big plus point. And if you have evidence of leadership and its associated qualities, that will leave a lasting impression with any interviewer.
Body language will also be a factor in the impression that an interviewer forms of you. Remember to make eye contact, sit upright and smile. There’s every chance that you’ll be nervous, so take a few deep breaths and treat each question on its own merit, and remember to listen carefully before jumping in with your answer.
Try to understand the culture of the company and arrive dressed appropriately. This can be tricky to get right, so it can be preferable to err on the side of caution and dress formally – wearing a suit and looking slightly out of place is far better than turning up in ripped jeans when everyone else is suited and booted…
However, the most important thing that an employer will be wanting to understand is what you’re really like. You may have the most outstanding educational background and the most dazzling career history, but if you’re not the right fit, it will always end in tears. So the best advice we can give is just to be you. Don’t oversell, don’t overpromise – just be yourself. And if you can convey that with confidence and maturity, that will score much more highly than any academic or professional qualification.
Exact Sourcing is a recruitment agency in Cambridge and Newmarket. If you’re preparing for your next interview and would welcome some objective advice, please contact us for a chat.