Interviews – tips to stand out from the growing crowd

Interviews – tips to stand out from the growing crowd

The prospect of an interview for a graduate job (or any other job for that matter – especially since many firms are now recruiting straight from secondary school) may be daunting for many people. For most, it’s a chance to get the first step on the career ladder with a large, well established firm – and their future may seem to rest on their performance over that hour-long period.

However, the vast majority of candidates have no idea how to prepare. Sure, there will be plenty of evidence of frantic ‘interview tips’ searches in their browsing history…but whether that has translated into a plan to tackle the interview is another matter.

I’ve thought a lot about this very issue recently. Partially due to reflecting on my own experiences during my job search, but mainly having spoken to those responsible for interviewing graduates in my profession (both in my company and outside it).

This post therefore aims to share a number of tips which should benefit you both in your preparation for the interview, and in the interview itself.

Fail to prepare – prepare to fail.

Sounds obvious, right? An interview is not something to be taken lightly. Your future career depends on your performance. Rocking up to meet someone in a senior position and hoping to ‘wing it’ just isn’t going to work.

The biggest amount of effort in your preparation should be in understanding the role you’re applying for. It should be obvious, but this extends to more than just knowing the name of the role itself. Ask yourself a few questions; What does a typical day look like? What role will I fill in my first year in the job? What’s expected of me from day one? These are the types of questions you should know the answer to; if you don’t, you need to find out.

Research will be your friend here. Chances are, the company you’ve applied for has a website (let’s face it, even the corner shop has a website these days). Go online, navigate through their pages, and make some notes. This should get you started. Employers also love people who are forward-thinking. Is there any information available on the company’s growth plans, market share or latest developments? Use it to show that you’re up to speed already. 

One thing you’ll learn as you progress in any career is how important building a network is. Have you got a network in place already? Use it. Ask someone who works in the field for which you’ve applied about the job. Not only will this help you to understand the role, but bringing it up in interview will show that you’re serious about succeeding.

Know your CV

This bit should be obvious – but you’d be surprised at how many people can’t talk about parts of their CV. At this point, you should have a solid CV in place (and if not, that’s a topic for another day). Hopefully it’s all true (believe me, you’ll get found out otherwise!) – so read it through. After all, the document is supposed to be about you – if you can’t get you right, how could you be trusted to get anything else right?

Make sure you know not only your employment history, but any skills or knowledge that you quote. Wouldn’t it be embarrassing if you say you can speak Spanish, but can’t respond to “¿como estas?”

Furthermore, you should reflect on what your experiences have taught you. We’re all learning every day – nobody wants to hear  about how you’re the finished article, rather they’d like to see that you learn from your journey.

Be confident…but not cocky

Confidence is key in an interview. You have to believe that you are the best person for this job – and you have to show the interviewer that you believe it. Talk about your experiences with enthusiasm and conviction. If you think you have a certain skill – say so!

You do need to watch out, however, for the potential for confident to come across as cocky. Remember, you’re in the interview to sell yourself to your prospective employer. A little bit of humility would go a long way. No doubt it’s a tough balance to get, but it’s important.

One online interview tips page I’ve seen recommends you ask the question “Why should I want to come work for you?”. Don’t do it! It’s your responsibility to find out whether the company is for you – selling yourself as a must-have commodity is sure to drop you down the list of desirable candidates.

It’s not just what you say, but HOW you say it

Albert Mehrabian’s study on communication says that only 7% of the impression you create whilst speaking is from ‘verbal’ components. 38% comes from ‘vocal’ (i.e. how you say it – tone of voice), and a huge 55% of the impression you create comes from your ‘visual’ indicators (body language etc). Imagine, therefore, if you are saying some wonderful things, and making yourself sound incredibly experienced – but you’re doing so whilst slouched in your chair staring at the temperature gauge on the air conditioning.

Pay attention to your body language. It sounds basic, but get the basics right and then worry about the detail. When you walk into the room, make sure you give a firm handshake and maintain eye contact. There’s genuinely nothing worse than placing your hand into someone else’s and letting your wrist go limp! Maintain that eye contact throughout, looking away every few seconds (I doubt you’ll be successful if you state the interviewer out for half an hour…). Sit up straight, have some form of expression on your face (bored isn’t a good look!), and actually show that you’re interested. 

The basics won’t get you the job – but getting them wrong might just rule you out. Oh, and show up on time – and dressed well. If you were planning on doing anything other than this, then you can probably give up now!

You’re a real person – an individual – so show it

As I’ve already mentioned above, employers hire a person – not a CV. So don’t forget, as you sit in your interview, to have a bit of personality. Build a rapport with your interviewer, be funny if you like (not too funny mind – getting a job is a serious thing!), but be yourself. You might think that sounding like an expert accountant who can quote every IFRS and its amendment date will make you stand out – but what will make you stand out is your personality. 

Did you win the tiddlywinks competition at university? Did you captain the monopoly society? Can you play the bagpipes? Anything that’s unique about you – make sure to use it. If an interviewer comes out of your interview and tells the decision-makers anything, you can guarantee that the memorable interview will be mentioned first. Be that memorable interview (for all the right reasons!). 

Most of all, be genuine about why you want the job. Have a passion for the role that you’re hoping to fill – and show it. 

Get the job!

In summary, a few key tips for a really good interview are: 

  • Prepare, then prepare some more
  • Know your background – and why you’re well suited to the job 
  • Be confident!
  • Get the basics right – body language IS important
  • Be you

If you get the above right, you’ll put yourself in with a really good chance of landing that job. 

Ultimately, you might find that the job isn’t for you. But one thing’s for sure – you’ll learn from the experience and be infinitely better next time around. After all, it’s experience that’s ultimately going to set you apart from the ever-growing crowd.



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