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March 10, 2009


Give yourself a break

Given the number of applicants that most companies receive for their graduate positions, getting an interview is an achievement in itself. However, there is still one more stage to get through and it is the most difficult. A decent CV is easy to put together and sending it off to prospective companies should be no hassle. An interview, on the other hand, can be exceedingly dauntingand nerve-wracking.

It is likely that you will be interviewed by more than one person. Whilst they will be wanting for you to show your full potential, they are not going to suffer fools easily. The world of work is harder, faster and more unforgiving than any you might have come across before and the interviewers will want to make sure that you are someone who will be able to work in an environment such as this. Therefore, an interview is likely to be quite a stressful occasion but there are ways to reduce the amount of stress and anxiety.

No matter what, be prepared!

Remember, you are looking to be employed by the firm that you’re applying to, and are not looking to be the subject of their anecdotes for future years. Preparing for an interview is an essential part of the interview process and the one that nearly always gets overlooked. According to polls, most job candidates spend less than an hour preparing for their interviews. Given thatgetting a job is a major life event, this seems to be a highly inadequate amount of time to prepare for such a challenge. You can also be assured that others going for the same post will be doing research on the company and the questions that they are likely to be asked. Why then would you put yourself at an immediate disadvantage by not putting in the same amount ofwork as your rivals?

Anna Purves is an associate consultant at London-based professional recruitment service agency Robert Walters. “One of the worst and the most common mistakes that occur is people lying on their CV,” she says. “The truth is going to come out some time, either in the interview or later on. When detailing your hobbies and interests, it is always helpful to make sure you have actually done said activities. So, if you haven’t actually played rugby for your country then make sure you don’t list it on your CV.

“Another mistake is not doing enough research on the company,” explains Purves. “Companies are looking for dynamic and interested people. If you haven’t made the effort to find out about the workings of the company, you’re not going to look that good in front of an interviewer.” The more sweat you work up in researching before you go in for an interview, the less sweat you’ll produce in the actual interview. You’ll be more at ease with the questions and there should be few surprises lying in wait.

In addition to alleviating interview stress, being prepared will make you stand out from the rest of the applicants and isbeneficial in other ways:

• It shows to the interviewer that you care enough about the position, the company and the industry to research its current statusand future.
• It suggests that once you’re taken on, your preparation for meetings and assignments will be equally as sound.
• It shows initiative (even though everyone else has done it) and demonstrates that you have qualities such as motivation andthe ability to be a self-starter.
• It shows respect for the interviewer and the company he or she works for.
• It provides more opportunities for you and the interviewer to have a meaningful conversation in which you can find common ground.

Getting down and dirty

With preliminary research being so important, how do you go about getting the facts that will allow you to make a big splash at an interview? For an entry-level position, clearly the firms will not expect you to have specialist knowledge of the company.

However, you will need to display a solid understanding of the company, its overall business and a familiarity with the company’s major markets and competitors. And, through good internet research, getting those nuggets of information does not take a long time. The obvious starting point is the “About Us” section on almost every company’s website. Spend some timechecking out the company’s website. Do a Google news search on the company and find out if it has been in the news at all over the past year and why.In some industries the language of a corporation or industry can become so specialised that an outsider will have trouble getting to grips with it. If you make the effort to understand the company jargon, you’ll be looked on with great admiration. This is because you are subtly showing that you are one of the group and more likely to be included with the company.

Do your homework

Another good way to gain insight into the mindset of a particular company is to get in contact with the company’s human resources or public relations office. They will be only too happy to send you an annual report which will contain a company’s financial, marketing and product report. Companies often have a prospectus which gives information about the personnel, theachievements and their particular idiosyncrasies.

Trade or industry magazines and websites can give you a picture of not only a particular company but also of the general atmosphere within a profession. These publications will carry news pieces and feature articles. Reading these will inform you of the generalities whilst giving some of the specifics that you will need to have at your fingertips.

Perhaps the most direct way of getting the low-down on a company is to talk to someone who works there. Speaking to someone in a position to the one in which you’re interested can give you vital insights into the company’s way of working. If you’re unable to get in contact with a company’s employees, look around for someone who works in a similar area or who has experience in the profession.

Bring it on?

When it comes to the actual interview itself, there are ways of making a first good impression and many more ways of making sure that you are remembered for all the wrong reasons. The first of these is turning up late. Professionals have a lot of work to do in a day. They don’t want to spend their precious time waiting for someone to turn up.

It is important to also dress well, showing that you are taking the interview and the company very seriously. Dress smart and make sure that you are well presented. Having a wrinkled shirt, muddy shoes and dirty fingernails will not leave a good impression.

When meeting your interviewer, maintain solid eye contact and give a firm handshake. This combination, which seems trivial, says a lot about you in a simple way. A firm handshake indicates strength, confidence and honesty. A good handshake is also a good way to settle any nerves you might have.Before the main interview starts, there may be some small-talk between you and the interviewer. This is another chance to get relaxed and to make a good impression with your interviewer. The small-talk is likely to be about trivial subjects such as the weather or sports. Remember that you are still in an interview and what you say will be noted. Be witty and try not to comeoff as immature or flippant.

You only chat once

Finally, after all the preparation and small-talk is out of the way, comes the interview. All the work put in will now start to pay off. You will be aware of the questions that are coming your way and will have the answers ready. The interview may start off with the interviewer describing what the company does and what the available job entails. It is vital that you listen to whatis said as it enables you to be more informed and can provide scope for asking questions later on. It is vital that you remain focused throughout the interview. You may be given opportunities to sell yourself and to talk about the experiences that you have acquired. Always try to make these relevant to your suitability for the position. The interviewer might find your stories about building up your stamp collection enthralling but only if you include what skills and developments went on.

Honesty is also important. If you have lied on your CV or misrepresented yourself in any way, it is likely to come back andhaunt you in the interview. There is no escape from facing up to untruths and unless you have come from a season performingas Hamlet at the Royal Shakespeare Company, you are unlikely to be able to cover yourself.

Put yourself in their shoes

Try and figure out what type of questions your interviewer will ask you by studying the job description of the position or the programme details of the graduate traineeship you’ve applied to or if you’re applying to a graduate training scheme, read the information in the application materials thoroughly.Make a list of the most important skills needed for the position and think of how you will explain how you have developed those skills. And be prepared for the standard interview questions too, such as: “Where do you see yourself in five years?”, “What are your main strengths?”, “What are your main weaknesses?”, “Give an example of a situation where you had to overcome an obstacle.”, “ Give an example of when you have worked with someone with whom who do not agree and how you handled the situation.”

The final curtain

Having come through the interview and given a good account of yourself, make sure that your standard doesn’t drop right at the end. The interviewer is looking for enthusiasm and a genuine interest in working for the company. At the end of the interview, the interviewer will always ask whether you have any questions. It is hard not to stress enough the importance of having a pre-prepared question for this point in the interview. Not having one will make you look uninterested and an average candidate for the position.You want to stand out from the rest of the candidates and an incisive and thoughtful question will allow you to do that. Ask about the company’s ambitions or new developments within the company. Asking about this type of thing will show an awareness of the company and what is going on. Not having a question ready will show that you haven’t taken an interest in the company’s affairs.

At the end of the interview make sure you thank the interviewer for inviting you in. If you don’t hear from them in a week or two then you can send a short and polite follow-up email.


Filed Under: Interviewing