It’s no secret that I’ve been around a fair bit in the Canberran job market. In fact for the past 6 years I’ve had a new job at least every year, and right after graduating I managed to get 2. That’s not to say I wouldn’t stay in one position if I felt it was right for me as I worked at Dick Smith Electronics for 6 years prior to starting my current trend of job hopping like a mad frog. Because of this I’ve become pretty adept at polishing a resume, trolling for jobs and of course interviewing for them. I’d never really thought of myself as much of a coach but with a few people coming to me for advice over the past couple weeks (and subsequently getting the jobs) I thought I’d share my insights into the recruitment process that apply to almost any job you might go for, the interview.
You won’t find many people who like the idea of an interview and with good reason, it’s a very intimidating process. You’ll be invited out to a location you probably haven’t been to before, to be locked in a room with several people you’ve never met to be asked questions about a job you’ve never done. All this can easily weigh on your mind and throw your usual calm thought processes out the window. After so many interviews there was one thing that I learned to help calm those nerves: by the time you’re sitting in that dreaded room the people talking to you are already thinking one thing, on paper you’re good enough for them to take you on.
Once you’ve walked into the interview room the hard part is already over, you’ve got a potential employer interested in you. This part of the recruitment process is about two things: verifying that you’re the real deal (I.E. you didn’t fake your resume) and selling yourself. Now most people are smart enough to know not to pad their resumes out with ficticious cruft, but you’d be well advised to not embellish anything. The interviewers will easily pick up on this with their questions and you’ve destroyed any advantage you might of have over the other candidates. The second part is based around playing up those attributes that made your potential employer pick up on you in the first place, and this is where the trick comes in.
Us humans are a very communicative species and your body gives away clues to your inner thought processes whether you’re aware of it or not. Questions in an interview are usually designed to make you think on your feet or demonstrate your thought processes and the interviewers have a general idea of what kind of answer they want. Taking this into consideration if you’re saying something that’s completely off the mark there will be a shift in their body language. I’m not a professional at this so I can’t tell you what clues to look for but most people seem to be able to catch on when they’re saying something they think is right but everyone around them disagrees. If you pick up on this quickly you can change your answer mid-flight and hopefully hit the right point. The last 2 interviews I’ve been in this has worked quite well, save for them both having one person in it I couldn’t read at all (and both times they were the person asking technical questions, so I had to rely on actually knowing the stuff. Oh the horror!).
One of the worst things you can do in an interview is to have nothing to say at the end of the interview. Most commonly this takes the form of the question “Do you have any questions for us?” and while you might not have anything you want to know not asking something makes you seem disinterested. When they ask this its usually a good sign that they believe they’ve got the right person and they’re willing to divulge information that you might not have been privvy to before. I now have 2 favourites I like to use when this comes up: “How long have you worked here?” and “What’s the best thing about working here?” and the reasoning behind these questions are more anecdotal that scientific.
In essence a workplace is just another social gathering except you’re all there to work towards a common goal. One of the most common social interactions that I see take place anywhere is that of sharing various stories about life’s various challenges and experiences. Whilst you’re in an interview you’re basically a stranger in a circle of friends and the quickest way to dig yourself out of it is to share a story with them. The two questions I mentioned are simple yet invoke a varied response from everyone, drawing you into a conversation that is usually only held amongst current employees. The order to is important as whilst asking someone how long they’ve worked somewhere is a great way to get them talking it can be a sore point for some people. Thus the last question of what the best thing about working there is gets people talking fondly of their experiences, and leaving on that note ensures that when they look back on the interview they associate your name with those good memories.
Don’t think that the interview finishes when you leave the room either. On most occasions you’ll be brought through the normal work area to the conference room they’ve re-purposed for interviewing people. Since you’re not going to be let loose in the corporate environment you’ll usually be escorted by one of the interviewers both in and out of the building. Whilst I haven’t seen many places employ this technique it is very much akin to the post-interview used in polygraphs to gain more information than what was discovered during the interview. It’s also a good chance to guage how well the interview went as if you did well they will usually divulge even more information to you. All of this is moot for security cleared positions however, but they’re another beast altogether.
So the next time you walk into that daunting office space to be questioned on end by a group of strangers remember this: they’re already interested in you. As long as you’re honest and confident in your abilities you can walk in there thinking you’ve already got the job and more than likely you’ll walk out of there with it.
I would say practice makes perfect, but I wouldn’t want everyone quitting their jobs just to practice their interviewing skills 😉