Just the Job: How you can get into your stride at interviews
Q: After perhaps ten seconds of niceties at the start of the interview, the lead interviewer asked me why they should hire me. She said that I had as much time as I needed for the answer. This really threw me. I mumbled a few things about my strengths and experience, but I know I missed the opportunity. Worse, I didn't get the job. (RT, email).
A: There is a temptation to expect the interview to follow a predictable path: a gentle start, building up to a crescendo and the entire affair then concluding with the question you were asked at the start
We need to be careful with our expectations. There is no standard template for an interview, a point we must bear in mind as we prepare for the big day.
In an interview, the question you were asked at the outset is one you should be well able to answer, even as the first question of the day. It represents a distillation of your key strengths for the role and if you didn't know them, I must conclude that you were not properly prepared.
It is not the job of the interview panel to settle you in, though it might be nice if they did. Nor is there an obligation on them to ask questions in any sequence, or, indeed, to ask any particular question at all.
When preparing, see questions as opportunities, a point I have made here before. They offer the chance for you to transmit relevant information to the panel. Given that we can't ever know what questions are going to be asked, we must be ready to shoehorn the information we have prepared into the openings provided by the questions.
I come across clients who are fixated on questions. “What questions are they likely to ask me?” they wonder. I have to say that I haven't a breeze because, well, I don’t.
But, from working through the job spec together, we can figure out what’s likely to occupy their thoughts on the day. What are the key requirements for the position and what have you got to satisfy those?
Once you see it that way, you realise the questions are merely a conduit leading to the key information. Feed your key information into the openings.
It takes a bit of practice, but, first, it requires a change of mindset. When you're properly prepared, the big question that threw you shouldn’t prove difficult, whether it comes at the start, the middle or the end.
Of course, it would be lovely to settle in. We all like a little bit of time to find our feet. But if you’re ready to do your stuff, you should be able to handle what’s thrown at you. In fact, good preparation should give you confidence on the day. Remember, someone has got to get this job. Why can’t it be you? Heck, I’ll just go in there and solve their problem for them by being the most impressive candidate.
For your next interview, make sure you know five key reasons why they should hire you – even if they never ask you the question as directly as that, you simply must have this information ready to roll at the drop of a hat. It amounts to the salesperson's list of key benefits: don’t leave home without it.
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