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How to succeed at interviews?

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‘By failing to prepare you are preparing to fail’ (Benjamin Franklin)

Have you just submitted your application to the job of your dreams and now wait to hear if you are going to be invited for an interview? Or perhaps you have already received the long-awaited call confirming a date and time to meet with an employer. Then continue reading – this post is for you.

My first (and main) piece of advice is to prepare. Your preparation should start not a week or a few days before the interview itself, but at the point when you notice the job ad and decide that you are going to apply. It should start with in-depth research into the company, its size, the financials, recent managerial appointments, its competitors and any recent deals it has been part to. You could read relevant independent reports (for instance from Mintel and Euromonitor) relating to the industry in question. These reports often contain  detailed list of competitors and their market shares. Keep in mind that each industry has its own set of popular trade publications so you would need to identify and read those. LinkedIn is a useful source of information at the research stage – you can find the current and former employees of the company and possibly get in touch to book a quick ‘informational’ phone conversation. Start following the company on Twitter – this will help bring you up to speed with recent company news and relevant media coverage. I would encourage you to actively engage and comment on Twitter posts of interest to you.

The second piece of advice is closely linked to the research you will be conducting. During your research, you will invariably encounter things that you would like to clarify further, issues that you do not fully understand. I would suggest jotting these points down as you go along and by the end of your research process, you will have accumulated a sizable list of issues that you can convert into questions to discuss during your interview. This is a more time-effective way to prepare questions for your interviewer and it also helps you consolidate and organise your knowledge about the company and identify the gaps you would like to be filled during the interview itself. Interviewers look favourably on candidates who demonstrate extensive knowledge and curiosity about the company. Thorough research and well-thought-through questions will help you stand out – companies tend to prefer people who know small details about them to those with great achievements in the past but know nothing about the company or the department they are applying to now.

The third and the final piece of advice is to practise and role play the answers to the most difficult questions with a family member, a career coach, a friend, or just with yourself in front of the mirror. It will not only boost your confidence but will also make you pay attention to your body language (if somebody else is role playing with you, ask them to be as honest as possible in their feedback) but also how long it takes you to answer each question. The length of time per question is an important metric and you should be able to express yourself in a succinct and clear manner. I would suggest picking out the most challenging questions for your practice role plays. I would normally recommend selecting questions about your weak points and carefully preparing the answers for those. For instance, ‘please give me an example of the worst mistake you have made in your career’, ‘what is your greatest weakness’, ‘if I were to speak to your former boss, which thing would they mention as your weakest link?’ There is a myriad of similar questions you can find on the Internet so there is no excuse not to prepare answers for at least some of them.

In the words of Confucius, ‘Success depends upon previous preparation, and without such preparation there is sure to be failure’. So the three keys to your success at interviews are preparation, intelligent questions and rehearsal!

I would be interested to hear what worked for you during your interviews and what you found to be the keys to your interview success. Please share your experiences here.

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