The Art of Interviews
Within reason every interaction we have is an “interview” of sorts. From the Teams call with your work colleagues to the brief call with your parents after work. Being able to steer and influence these interactions is important – giving the appropriate amount of information and knowing the right questions to ask. This led me to thinking about Interviews and specifically “The Art of Interviews”.
Everyone interviews in life. From your local shop assistant to the professional footballer – we all do it. However, not all do it well.
Interviews can be mentally draining, demoralising and hard to bounce back from, if preparation isn’t correct. With any role there will be an ideal candidate or a perceived ideal candidate – “looking for a graduate with 5 years’ experience” as we know expectations do not always meet reality. The good thing for anyone is that with good preparation you can make up for anything lacking from the “ideal fit”.
Speaking with our clients there are consistent themes that arise for the candidates who interview successfully. Below, I will outline three key pillars for success.
Know Your CV
You would imagine that given your CV is about you, this key pillar is kind of obvious. Sadly, this is not always the case. CV’s are precarious things. It goes without saying when you initially apply for a job, your CV needs to be good enough to catch a hiring manager’s eye. Going on this premise, if you’ve seen the job ad/spec, you might tailor your CV to make it more relevant. Making it relevant is great as long as one does not overstate or exaggerate capabilities. If this occurs, you become exposed. Its important to remember;
Anything on your CV is fair game for discussion!
If you have a line in your CV that you’re an expert in IFRS/SQL/SPVs etc. – you better know your stuff. At any point in an interview if something is on paper, it can be asked. Regularly we find candidates include some really “excellent” experience on their cv, when quizzed in detailed about the experience, that “expert” level is at a much more “novice” level.
Generally, as a rule of thumb less is more with your CV. Hiring managers want to get an honest gauge on your experience. The hiring manager will tend to have a fair idea of the level you’re at. If they’re looking for a “newly qualified accountant” they’ll have a good idea of your level of expertise in any particular area. Overstating your capabilities on your CV at this point will just lead to trouble down the line. Nothing is worse than a bluff being called out!
When you know your CV, you’ll be much more comfortable in interviews and not panicked thinking about when you’ll be exposed.
Rule 1 – know your CV back to front!
Know The Company
You see a job, you apply to a company, therefore you know the company – simple. Not always that simple unfortunately. Why does someone interview anywhere? I would be confident that interviewing is not for the good of one’s health or for a laugh. You interview somewhere because you want to work somewhere first and foremost. Regularly, candidates will say “it’s good to get interview practice” I tend to disagree with this. Your interview skills don’t improve by interviewing for something you’re not interested in. There is no feedback more damning of a candidate then “xx didn’t seem interested or know the company”
Being interested in the company motivates you to do your research – online, through colleagues, through friends, newspaper etc. When you’ve done your prep that’ll come across in interviews. Hiring managers will want to know what you know about the company. They’ve taken time out of their day to meet with you, they’ll expect you to do them the courtesy and know the company they work in. Research doesn’t have to be arduous – know what they do – if they sell cars, what type, cost, methods, market share, market presence etc. Some candidates can go down rabbit holes – looking up irrelevant topics or deep diving on Glassdoor. On a side note, one must approach Glassdoor with caution – (i) people by nature tend to seek out negative reviews (I went down a rabbit hole on this) and (ii) probably most relevant, people who make the effort to leave reviews tend to leave negative reviews.
The important thing to remember on this rule is knowing the company will play into your favour. Regardless of how the interviewer feels about the company if you know the company and express an interest in the company – the interviewer will feel better about your candidacy and the interview.
For arguments sake let’s call the interviewer John. John is extremely busy; month end, working from home, running a house, dealing with the school run and everything else that falls under the stresses of a pandemic. The CFO is looking to hire a newly qualified accountant and John has to carry out all his of his tasks before giving an hour of his day to interview a potential new hire. John clearly has a lot on his plate, but he wants to do his job. Now a good candidate will have their work done and know the company, what it does and what it’s core values are. A great candidate will remind John of why he works in the company – what’s so great about it!
If you obey the first two rules the third should fall into place naturally…
Something that may not come naturally but is crucial to a successful interview. Appropriate enthusiasm can be hard to quantify for some. Before we go further on this – it is important to remember “playing it cool” is rarely (almost never) the right route in interview. Sure, you may feel as if you have come across like Harvey Spector, but you may also be in the same role for the foreseeable future! My take on enthusiasm is pretty simple.
Do you want to work in the company? Yes
Do you want the company to know you want to work there? Yes
Do you have the right attitude to work hard and learn new skills? Yes
If so, enthusiasm should come easily. You will have questions for them – ask them! Basic psychology will tell you that people tend to like others who show an interest in them, so be interested. Even if the questions are trivial the interviewer will leave the interview feeling better knowing candidates like you want to work there.
Take our example above – John interviews you. He knows you know the company and you’re interested in the job. He leaves the interview feeling much better about himself
“You know what, work really ain’t so bad, isn’t great that people like xx want to work here and find it so interesting”
That’s it. You have navigated the interview to the best of your ability. John returns to the CFO with a pep in his step and effusive in his praise of you.
Ultimately, you want to remind the interviewer why they chose to work there in the first place -because it excites and motivates you!
In conclusion, interviews are tough and can induce panic. Appropriate preparation and study will ease the challenge and stress significantly. Roy Keane was right all those years ago when he said “Fail to Prepare, Prepare to Fail”
Focus on the 3 pillars – know your CV, know the company and show your enthusiasm – the rest will take care of itself!