Top job interview tips

By at home

interview1Make sure you shine on the day – because if you mess up at the interview stage, however good you think you are, you will not get the job…

For most interviewers, a positive mental attitude is crucial to a candidate’s success. So, if you can, find a way of getting across your can-do character and talk about the difference it can make in the workplace. Address the ways in which your approach to a task can have a positive impact on the way it turns out. And if you explain how you tackle all jobs with the belief that you’ll succeed, you’ll be well on the way to convincing your interviewers that you’re the man or woman for them. But how can you get all this across?

How to make it happen
At some point during your interview (whether it be a panel-style grilling or an informal chat), you will almost definitely be asked how you handle setbacks, and how you behave when things are not going well. This is the time to let your positive attitude shine through.

Start with a huge smile and an assurance that you are naturally a very positive person. Then use an example of someone you have known who passes that attitude on to others. Try to give examples of what they did to demonstrate that the attitude comes out in real activities.

Your answer may go like this: ‘At heart I’m definitely an optimist. I’ve worked with both types of people. One team leader I worked for was a terrible pessimist and moaned about every problem we encountered. He was always criticising the company and the people in it. I had to keep reminding myself that nothing was as bad as he was making out, but some people in the team got infected with the glass-half-empty bug, and didn’t enjoy their work. I know our performance suffered as a result.

‘I’ve also worked with a woman whose approach was the opposite. She refused to use the word “problem”, and even put messages on the board banning the phrases “I can’t” or “We can’t”.

‘As a result, we all expected to succeed in her environment and we did. So that’s the attitude I’ve adopted in my work.’

Or your answer could make an analogy with sport. For example; ‘It’s interesting when you consider sport. There’s an obvious phenomenon where champion sides win even when they’re not playing very well. I think it’s something to do with the fact that they’re simply expecting to win. The positive mental attitude that sports coaches talk about and encourage does have an affect.’

interview2A question of balance
However, a positive mental attitude is not to be confused with blind optimism. Interviewers will look for this by testing your response to adversity. They might ask, ‘How do you handle rejection?’ This is often asked of applicants for a customer-facing role in competitive industries such as sales.

A good answer might go something like this. ‘I think that being rejected from time to time is part of the process of being a salesperson. After all, if every customer said “Yes”, the company wouldn’t need a sales force in the first  place. I try to take responsibility for a loss without taking it as a personal rejection. That way I can move on, knowing that I’m one campaign closer to my next sale.’

Another common question posed by interviewers is, ‘Why do you want to leave your current job?’ It’s quite possible to answer positively. For example, ‘It’s a small business. I’ve learnt what I can from it and there is no advancement possible.’ Or, you might say: ‘The job was interesting when I started and I’ve enjoyed being successful but I think the time has now come to tackle something that will provide more of a challenge.’

Best avoided: A few interview don’ts

  1. Don’t talk on your mobile or read text messages. To not turn your phone off for an interview is just plain rude. Your interviewer should have your attention.
  2. Don’t tell jokes. An interview isn’t the place to be a comedian. You need to show you’re serious about the job.
  3. Don’t reveal lots of personal details. Do you think an employer would want to hire you if he finds out you like to go out and party every night? Your personal life has nothing to do with your job. Don’t divulge unnecessary details.
  4. Don’t lie about your education, past employers, or a criminal record. Employers look into all these things.

interview3The questions you’re likely to hear

  • What are your weaknesses?
    Think carefully about what weakness you reveal. Saying you have a tendency to nod off at 4pm is not exactly ideal! Show that you’re trying to address a weakness, preferably by giving examples. Never say, ‘I don’t have any weaknesses.’ You do!
  • Why do you want to work for us?
    This is the best opportunity you have to show how serious you are about this job. Demonstrate that you have researched the company and the role itself and that it meets with exactly what you are looking for.
  • Why did you apply for this job?
    The employer wants to know that you’re serious about the position, as well as the company. Mention things like new challenges, using previously gained experience in an exciting new role, or wanting the opportunity to learn.
  • What salary are you after?
    This is a tricky one because you don’t want to come across as money-grabbing, but equally you don’t want to sell yourself short. Try to find out the going rate for your particular position and, if possible, whether the company is a generous payer. Then set yourself an amount below which you’re not interested in taking the job. You could also turn the question around, and ask your interviewer: ‘What do you see as an appropriate salary for my experience?’
  • Where do you see yourself in five years’ time?
    Be honest about your ambitions, but try to be realistic – you’re not going to be the CEO in five years’ time if you’re applying for a job as a junior assistant.
  • What achievement in your life are you most proud of?
    The important thing here is not so much what you’re proud of, but demonstrating exactly why you’re proud of it and what you learned from the experience. If you can’t think of a work example, pick out something that is more personal. It’s also good to show lots of enthusiasm and passion about the achievements you have made in your life.

Use the right language
There are likely to be questions or issues that you’ll want to clarify at your interview, but think before you speak. The wrong choice of words can put an interviewer‘s back up and even lose you the job…

  • ‘My previous boss was a pain in the neck’: Talking down past employers flags you up as a potentially difficult person to work with. If you had a problem with your old boss, keep quiet about it. This is about your future; not what may have happened in the past.
  • ‘Can I have Wednesdays off and a desk near the window?’: Requesting special treatment makes you appear difficult and high maintenance. Unless you have a specific disability, like everyone else you’ll have to make do with what you’re offered – sorry!
  • What’s the money like?’: This can be a real turn off and make you seem like you’re purely motivated by money. Wait until the subject of your salary comes up and, even then, just indicate a range that you would be happy to accept.
  • How much holiday will I get?’: They are paying you to be there, not to be off sick or on holiday – you’ll need to prove yourself before broaching the issue of holidays. Focus on doing a good job first and then rewarding yourself for your hard work.
  • ‘I don’t answer phones, do filing or work overtime’: This makes you appear inflexible and unwilling to complete the less enjoyable tasks. Remember, in every job, however glamorous, you will sometimes be asked to muck in and work extra hours.    
  • What is it that your company does again?’: Unfocused, under-researched, lazy – a sure-fire way to make the wrong kind of impression. Do your research thoroughly before setting foot in the offices of a potential employer– you only get one shot to impress…

This article was first published in Careers with Hayley Taylor in August 2011. [Read the digital edition here]

 Images: Getty, Shutterstock

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