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The Interview

  1. Do your research
  2. Think Positively
  3. Look and Play the Part
  4. Control the Interview
  5. Turn your weaknesses into strengths
  1. Be enthusiastic
  2. Ask Inteligent questions
  3. Send a short Thank you note
  4. Don't...
  5. Write it down

Also, see our Interview Q&A page for more tips

1. Do your research

If you want to prove you're the best, you've got to do your homework. Your first step should be to phone up for a copy of the company's annual report. Check out their website to find out what they do, where the company is headed and who's who.

You also need to have a good idea of the interview process you're about to experience: will it be a face-to-face meeting with one person or a panel interview? Imagine how you'd feel if you prepared for a straightforward one-on-one meeting, only to find you were in for a 'fun' day of team exercises and video presentations?

Ask the personnel department for more information rather than approaching your interviewer directly. What's the procedure? Who will you meet and when? What's the objective of each meeting or assessment you will undertake? Find out the names and titles of your interviewers and memorise them.

Next, make sure you're up-to-date with the business you're in - especially if you've been out of the job market for a while. Check out the latest trends and buzz words, find out who's up, who's down, what's in and what's out. Look in recent issues of industry magazines and journals. Go along to networking groups or join relevant online newsgroups.

From the moment you get that confirmation letter or call, you need to start thinking also about what you want to say at interview. Interviewers want to know three things: Can this person do the job? Will this person do the job? Will they fit in? Put together a list of questions you might be asked, and include those that you might stumble over if asked on the spot. Jot down some appropriate answers and rehearse these until you sound convincing.

It might sound artificial if you reproduce these absolutely word for word on the day, but the process will build confidence. And if you're prone to interview stage fright, you'll have something solid to fall back on.

2. Think positively

Revisit your CV and take a long, hard look at your mission statement. If you've never written your own profile, however, begin by writing down what you do well and where you want to go in the future. Then in no more than 30 words sum up why you think you should get the job. Be proud of your achievements and ambitions - interviews are not the time for Bridget Jones-style self-deprecation.

Remembering this statement will help you walk into the interview thinking - and believing - 'I'm going to get this job'. You've got to this key stage because the recruiters believe that you've got the skills they want. Now you need to convince them that you're the best person for the job.

3. Look and play the part

Arrive early. Some experts suggest checking out the location of the building, before finding a cafe for a pre-interview drink. Use the time to have one last flick through your notes.

Get to the building early, too. Check the noticeboard and read company press releases and brochures - this is a good idea if you're looking to ask up-to-the-minute questions. Go to the loo and draw breath. Don't ever be late - if there are leaves or cattle on the line, call as soon as possible. Take a mobile just in case.

Take the minimum hand luggage so that you look professional - clear out your briefcase and your handbag before you go. Aim to look like a stereotypical employee for the job you want, so don't go for a youth TV job in a pinstripe suit. But if in doubt, dress up, not down. Dark colours tend to look more powerful, and remember to keep jewellery to a minimum.

Emanate energy: employers want fit, healthy workers who can work hard. Start with a firm handshake and look interviewers in the eye. Don't cross your legs, except at the ankles, and keep your hands away from your face. Don't maintain so much eye contact that you look like a dalek.

  • Improve your body language at interview

4. Control the interview

Your interviewer won't know how good you are or why you should get the job unless you tell them. Don't boast or keep saying 'I'm brilliant', but stress your strengths by using anecdotes and examples of your achievements.

Use examples to illustrate how you can help make the company more productive and profitable. Talk in terms of 'results' and 'benefits'. Use positive language - 'I can', 'I will', 'I know' rather than tentative words like 'I think I might' or 'I probably would'.

Keep your responses short and to the point. If the interviewer is talking, listen carefully and respond when they've finished. If you don't understand a question, ask for an explanation rather than blunder out an inappropriate answer.

5. Turn your weaknesses into strengths

It's the interviewer's job to probe and ask difficult questions. They need to be able to trust you and be 100 per cent certain that you're the best candidate. If you've prepared properly, you won't be daunted by enquiries about gaps in your CV, problems you encountered in your last job or your reasons for wanting to move on.

Successful candidates are able to turn negatives into positives. If you were unemployed for a short period, tell your interviewer how you used that time productively and what you learned about yourself. Perhaps you used the time to re-evaluate what you wanted out of your career, and the break put you on the path you're on today.

If asked 'What are your main weaknesses?' saying something along the lines of, 'I can be over-committed and tend to push myself too hard', ought to win brownie points rather than do you a disservice. Make sure that all the personality traits you mention are accurate but you don't have to go into details.

  • Rehearse your answers to tough interview questions

6. Be enthusiastic

Companies hire people who want to work for them. Tell your interviewers how much you enjoy your work and how wonderful you think their company is. Say you know that it's the right job for you and that you could do it really well. But always make sure that you explain and back up your assertions or your enthusiasm could sound false.

7. Ask intelligent questions

Show you care about your career and that you've taken the time to research the company and its recent successes. Memorise a few key questions before you go into the interview, but use your conversation to generate more.

Ask questions based on the assumption that the company wants you for the job. Say 'What would you expect me to achieve in the first six months after the appointment?' rather than 'What would you expect the appointed candidate to achieve?'

8. Send a short thank-you note

Send a letter to your interviewer/s within 24 hours of your meeting. Some interviewers prefer an email, so check out what form of communication they prefer at the end of the interview.

Keep your note brief and simple, and sound keen and interested. Thank them for taking the time to see you, say how much you enjoyed the meeting, how interested you are in the position and reiterate how your experience matches their requirements. Even if it's not your ideal job, you never know how your interviewer may help you in the future.

'If a candidate is clever, they'll add something that they've found out about the job or company that makes them keener,' advises one employer in the media. Make sure your tone isn't obsequious or schmaltzy. If the job relies on client communication, remember that you're demonstrating your communication skills every time you write, phone or email.

If you secured the interview through a recruitment agency, then contact them immediately and give them some honest feedback.

9. Don't...

There are three key things to avoid during an interview - you might have done brilliantly, but commit one of these sins and you could jeopardise your chances.
  • Badmouth your last employer - It's a small world and it reflects badly on you
  • Pressurise your interviewer for a decision
  • Discuss salary or terms of employment - wait until the job's in the bag before the word 'perks' passes your lips

10. Write it down

How you feel as you walk away from your interview is often a good sign of how well you've performed. But we all have off-days, or make mistakes. 'I once kicked an interviewer, who was sitting about three inches away, in the shins,' recalls one embarrassed candidate, who decided to change her posture mid-interview.

Writing down your impressions of the company, the types of questions asked, and how you coped, could reap dividends. Write down what you did well and what you did badly. Did your experience match your expectations? If not, why not?

If you're then invited for a second interview, you'll be able to refresh your memory and use the information to devise more questions. If you're rejected, use it to prepare better next time - no interview experience is ever wasted.

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