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Ace your interview with Jessica Harkin

Jessica Harkin

09 May 2022

by Jessica Harkin

An essential part, if not the main part, of finding a new job is the interview process. For some this can be a positive challenge, a chance to show off your skills, wow the prospective business with your commercial awareness or general ability to speak to anyone. However, for many, the interviews can be a real daunting task, and often the main reason people will not be the selected candidate, in spite of their on paper credentials. Of course, it is important that you have the right skills to fulfil a role, relevant experience and a genuine interest in this next career step, but a lot of emphasis (rightly or wrongly) is placed on the interview performance, as this is the first opportunity business have to directly compare you to your competition. Over the years I have seen both ends of the spectrum, amazing interviews where candidates have been invited back and offered in the same day (yes really!) and the not so fortunate, where candidates have neglected to prepare adequately and underestimated the importance of simple interview topics and techniques.

Below I have outlined some of my Do's and Don'ts when it comes to your interview performance. Whilst these are tried and tested, it is of course important that they are adapted to your profession and the style of interview.

Do's:

  1. Learn your CV like the back of your hand.

Whilst this may seem like one of the most obvious things to do as part of your interview prep, you would be surprised how many times an interviewer can decide to question one small mention of a topic you worked on years ago and barely remember. Before you know it, you’ve found yourself in a situation where you are either a) making things up in order to pretend you remember that one job you had 10 years ago, or b) telling an interviewer that you don’t remember as it was a really long time ago. Neither of which are ideal, and neither of which are good. If it's not relevant don’t include it on the CV. Or alternatively make sure you have relevant examples of any mention your CV makes of topics applicable to the role you are interviewing for.

  1. Check you are answering in enough detail

One of the most common interview feedback we receive is "their answers were good, but didn’t have enough detail". This is a real stinger, as it suggests you were along the right lines but simply didn’t explain / explore a topic to the level of understanding they were looking for. When answering questions deliver your main points, clearly structured and concise, and if ever in doubt as to whether the interviewer is happy with the answer clarify, "would you like me to explore that further?" "was that in enough detail for you?". This way you are not only ensuring you fully answer to their desired level of information, but you are also showing an awareness of your communication style and the importance of ensuring understanding for the other party.

  1. Have a good looking virtual set up

With most interviews now taking place virtually (at least in the first instance) it is really important to have a professional set up in place. Of course, you can use projected backgrounds if necessary, however the area you are working from will inevitably offer the prospective employer an insight into your working environment, and they are likely to form an opinion of how you approach work from this. If you are sat in a dark room, with an untidy background, hunched over your camera this will not offer a good representation of a productive working environment. You want your space to be light, tidy and your laptop to be around torso height, so as to replicate how you would look sat across from your interviewers in an office. This will also mean you have room to take notes (we'll get onto this) and not feel closed in by your screen, hopefully enabling you to settle into the conversation easier.

  1. Take notes during the conversation - reference these in your questions

I am always reminding candidates to make sure they take advantage of a meeting with a business in the same way the client will be, and ensure they walk away with a much clearer understanding of the role, culture, business and team. Sometimes it is very easy to forget that interviews are also an opportunity for you to learn more about this potential role, not just a chance for a client to ask you lots of questions. Therefore, I recommend having a pen and paper to hand to enable you to jot down any points referenced through the conversation that you feel important, and in addition this will allow you to ask questions on these towards the end. I think referencing points raised in the interview not only shows you have listened to the conversation thoroughly but also offers you an additional layer of understanding of the prospective position you would not have had to begin with.

Don’ts

  1. Ask about salary straight away

Whilst money is undoubtedly important (the reason we all go to work) a client would likely be concerned if that is your first question asked, as this paints the picture that you are only interested for financial reasons. This attitude never pays off and will always come back to haunt you, in some cases clients will reject candidates that they do not feel have a genuine interest in the position. Therefore, I always recommend leaving all salary discussions to your head-hunter if you are comfortable with this. It gives you a lot more flexibility, we do this day in day out so are more than familiar with how to navigate these conversations, and this avoids you accidentally agreeing to a salary too early in the process that you would later not be happy with. Rest assured it is in your agents best interest to get the highest salary possible, so they will always be fighting your corner.

  1. Bad mouth your current employer in the interview

There are so many reasons as to why a candidate may look for a new role, and if you find yourself in the unfortunate circumstance of it being due to company / culture / personality clash you should avoid the "blame game" at all costs. A prospective manager doesn’t want to hear the ins and outs of your current office politics, they may be concerned this could be replicated in the future and depending on the size of the market you work in, word quickly spreads, and reputation is everything. You are there to sell yourself and your credibility, don’t waste your time talking about others’ shortcomings and instead offer a brief explanation of your current status, e.g. "I don’t feel my goals and ambitions can be achieved in that environment" or "it isn’t a place where I feel I can fit long term". Exhibiting grace in such circumstance will really reflect well on your professionalism.

 Ultimately, there is an art to interviewing, and regardless of how many you may have done in the past there is always a need and benefit to preparing. I prepare all my candidates, from graduate to C Suite level for every interview, and can often offer further insight into what is expected. If your head-hunter proposes an interview preparation call make sure to take advantage of their time to really set yourself up for a successful interview. Always learn from your past interviews, if something has gone well or not so well, adjust your approach accordingly. Gradually you should start to build an interview skillset that is ever evolving as your experience and role level changes. Most importantly enjoy the interview, you have nothing to lose in speaking with another business, and it is an excellent way of evaluating your situation regardless of whether you need a new role or not. Taking control of your career should be an empowering experience, and who knows what could come from a speculative conversation!

If you would like to have a confidential conversation about interview technique and tips, please get in touch by emailing jessica.harkin@oliverjames.com

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