Changing Careers: The Interview Survival Guide

Congratulations, the company of your dreams wants to interview you. You’ve impressed them enough with your résumé, and now comes the important event – the meeting that could end up changing your life.

 
I have spoken to many people around the world who openly admitted going to job interviews without doing any formal preparation, even though they considered the opportunity so important to their future.
 
As with any goal requiring exceptional performance, you have to practice the function to become excellent at that function. Whether you are being interviewed or the person doing the interviewing, this Survival Guide is meant to help you improve the chances of success.
 
Preparing for the Interview
Good preparation enhances exceptional performance. Here is a check-list of things you should know before showing up at the job interview:
 
Do you know the details of the interview? What is the name of the company? How many people are you seeing and what are their names and titles? How many will you see at one time – one, two, is it a panel interview? How will the interview be conducted – face-to-face, telephone, videoconference? Where will it be held, what time and how long will it take?
 
What do you know about the company? Find out what you can about their global, regional and local operations. What goods and services do they provide? Where are they ranked in their industry and markets, and who are their competitors?
 
These days you can find an incredible amount of information through the Internet, but don’t just look at the company’s own websites, which may be subjective. There are general websites that provide information about companies as well as financial sites, including stock market portals, that contain useful data about listed firms.
 
What about your current and previous employers? Not only should you be an expert on your present company, including its share price history if it is publicly traded; you should also be up-to-date about each of your previous employers.
 
What about yourself? What have you done that has taken you to where you are today? The world’s best companies like to know what their people are made of, so be ready to talk about not only your résumé but also your life achievements and disappointments. When reviewing your résumé, make sure you are able to verbalise your career history concisely and persuasively. Take a spare copy of your résumé to the interview.
 
Are you aware of the classic interview questions? Be ready to answer the following questions:
 
  • Why are you interested in this opportunity and our company?
  • What difference will you make to our organisation?
  • Why do you want to leave your current position and what are you looking for in the new one?
  • What are your weaknesses and how are you overcoming them?
  • What lessons have you learned from each position you have had?
  • What would you do differently if you have your time over again?
  • What management style gets the best out of you?
  • How would your staff describe you as a manager?
  • What were the two biggest risks that you took in the last three years?
  • Why will you accept our offer if we make you one?
 
What are you going to ask the interviewers? The company is trying to ascertain if you’re the right fit for them, but you are also trying to determine whether they are right for you. Take time to prepare relevant open questions toward this end (where, why, how, what, who, when and which). But make sure the questions you ask make sense. Would you be willing to answer them if you were the interviewer? Do they make you sound impressive?
 
Practice in front of the mirror. Or rehearse with someone you trust for an honest opinion. Focus on your body language, posture, attitude, appearance and vocal delivery – you should speak clearly and at a medium pace.
 
What To Do During the Interview
Armed with up-to-date knowledge about the company and ready to highlight your accomplishments to best effect, you should exude confidence at the interview itself. Arrive early, turn off your mobile phone, greet the interview by name and offer a firm and confident handshake.
 
Always aim to be five minutes early. Not only does this reflect well on your professionalism, but it also gives you time to relax and prepare your thoughts. Make a positive impression on the reception staff. You may need their help.
 
Switch off your phone. Unless there is a family emergency, there is no excuse to leave it on. If you expect an emergency, forewarn the interviewer that there is chance you will be interrupted during the meeting.
 
Greet the interviewer with warmth and sincerity. Use his or her name, shake hands firmly and maintain eye contact. Sit down when invited and focus on your posture without appearing too stiff. If the room is hot, ask to remove your jacket before doing so.
 
Break the ice if there is an opportunity to do so. A gentle joke or witticism will relax everyone and may establish some common ground. It is said that the average adult forms 11 different impressions about another adult in the first seven seconds of their first meeting. Assess the interviewer as you are being assessed and tailor your answers (and questions) accordingly.
 
Thank the interviewer for taking the time to meet you. Stress your interest in the organization then confirm the agenda, as you understand it from your preparation. This shows that you are prepared and alerts you to any changes in the proceedings or misunderstanding on your part about what the meeting is to accomplish.
 
Answer questions with conviction, confidence, honesty and charisma. Avoid going off on tangents. If you don’t know the answer to a question, say so honestly. Some questions are designed to see how you overcome adversity and what lessons you have learned from the experience. Trying to be too positive when answering these questions may make the interviewer wonder whether you’re trying to hide something.
 
Be a better listener than a talker. When you ask questions, paraphrase the answers given to you if necessary to clarify important points.
 
Get the interviewer to describe the opportunity early on. This will help you tailor the major highlights of your background to the role and emphasise your relevant competencies.   
 
Ask the interviewer to repeat a question. Some candidates feel embarrassed and try to guess what was said – this is unnecessary.
 
Be yourself. This is not the time to put on an act in order to impress or conform. It is the real you that will end up working with this company.
    
What Not To Do at the Interview
Don’t badmouth anyone, avoid making remarks that can be misconstrued as discriminatory and don’t ask about money.
 
Avoid making negative comments about your current or previous employers. This is true as well for bosses, peers or subordinates. You may be directly asked about them (What was the worst thing about _____?). Answer truthfully, but don’t go overboard.
 
Avoid even the slightest discriminatory remarks. You may have said it in jest, but it may cost you the job.
 
Don’t tell the interviewer you’re not interested in the opportunity. Even if that is how you feel as the interview proceeds, allow yourself time to make that determination. Twenty four hours of reflection can result in a more accurate and rational decision.
 
At the End of the Interview
If you are strongly interested in the opportunity and the company, tell the interviewer so in a confident and enthusiastic manner. Ask what the next steps are and establish an indicative timeline. Commit to the next step immediately if the chance presents itself.
 
If the interviewer offers you the position then and there, ask for some time (at least 24 hours) to think about it, regardless of how interested you are. You need to make a rational decision.
 
The interviewer may ask if you are considering other opportunities. Be honest with your answer. If you are indeed considering other offers, say so. This not only shows that you are a ‘hot product.’ It also helps the company with their own timetable and agenda.
 
Feel free to ask how many people the company is interviewing. Do this if it will help you manage your expectations. But you shouldn’t appear any less confident whether the company is interviewing 100 other people or just you.
 
Don’t despair if it seems the interview had not gone well. The interviewer may appear non-committal just to draw a reaction from you.
 
Close the meeting by thanking the interviewer for his time. Don’t forget to thank the reception staff on your way out – they can be an important ally. Your goal should be to leave a lasting positive impression as you say good-bye.
 
What To Do After the Interview
If the interview was arranged by a headhunter, call the consultant as soon as time permits and talk through the experience. How did you feel during the interview? How do you think the interviewer felt? How do you feel now? How do you think the company feels about you? Where do you go from here?
 
You will need some time to reflect on the meeting and start moving towards a rational decision. Make a list of the pros and cons of the job and the company, and even those of the industry if it is a new one for you. Then ask yourself: What is the list telling me?
 
You may think of other points that require further clarification. Make sure you get answers to them. Discuss the situation with two or three people you trust and listen to their opinions. Be honest with those people about how you’re feeling.
 
What if you don’t get the job? Ask yourself whether you had committed any of the following ‘sins’ during the interview and resolve to avoid them at all costs the next time around.
 
  • Arriving late without a good reason and apology
  • Weak handshake and/or not standing up to shake hands
  • Inadequate eye contact
  • Lack of interest, charisma and passion
  • Leaving mobile phone on during the interview and accepting calls

 

  • Having little or no knowledge of the interviewer’s company
  • Too many negative remarks about current or past employers, bosses, peers and subordinates
  • Failure to explain gaps in your professional background or lack of logical continuity
  • Making remuneration appear more important than the opportunity and company

 

  • Lacking confidence and conviction
  • Weak body language
  • Poor manners, lacking common courtesy and tact
  • Behaving like a ‘know-it-all’, being overconfident and arrogant
  • Poor presentation and listening skills
  • Incorrect grammar and inadequate clarity in speech
 
Good luck!
 
About the Author
Brian Moore is an experienced CFO recruitment and career management expert who heads his own firm, Brian Moore International. This article is an edited version of one chapter in his book, Career Management Toolkit.
 
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