Tips for Interview Preparation

Once you have sent your resume to apply for a given job, you will hopefully get a phone call from a recruiter. The recruiter will assess if you have the basic skills to perform the job, if the salary range is a match, if you are comfortable with the job location, the working hours, the holidays policy and sometimes they request you to inform them about your visa status.

Once your profile is approved by the recruiter, he will then send it to the Human Resource (HR) department of the company you have applied for. Sometimes, the company’s name is not disclosed to you until HR receives your resume and decides to move forward with your application. This is only classified information because the recruiter wants to protect their lead and wants to ensure that their candidate is not directly approached by the hiring manager. That is basically the only reason behind the secretive behaviour of recruiters.

The second interview normally takes place with the hiring manager or, in some cases, with a peer that is already performing the job you are applying for. You might be asked to take a test or prove your knowledge at this point in the selection process. HR might also want to interview you briefly to understand if you have the right skills for the job.

Interview processes may vary depending on the industry, the type of job and the type of company you are applying for, but essentially, they are either on the phone, through videoconference or in person. In every case, it is important to prepare accordingly.

You may find that in person interviews are the hardest, but they also give you a real opportunity to show who you are. It is harder to convince the audience when you are simply connecting through a phone call or videoconference. I will give you some recommended steps to follow while preparing for an interview and will also explain what you shouldn’t do.

Mirroring Technique

There is one thing you can do, especially in in-person interviews, that might help you create rapport with your interviewer. It is called the mirroring technique. This is simply a strategy that consists in imitating one person’s gestures, tone of voice, pattern of speech, choice of vocabulary, posture, body language and attitude in order to build rapport with them. It is something you can do in a very subtle way to establish a greater connection between you and whoever you are trying to convince or “seduce”. This is an NLP (Neuro Linguistic Programming) technique that is basically used to build rapport and convey trust.

There is another powerful tool in the NLP toolbox that fascinates me and it is the art of being able to define if a person is more visual, more audial or more kinaesthetic. How do we define that? We can listen to their language and choice of vocabulary. If a person is more visual, he/she will likely say things like: “I see where you are coming from, this looks right”. A person who is more audial will rather say things like: “I like the sound of this idea…. Let me give you a shout if I need more information”. Now a person who is focused on how he/she feels rather than what he/she sees or hears, will likely say things like: “I don’t feel good about this decision. I can’t feel at peace with this”. This person will likely be classified as kinaesthetic, instead of audial or visual. This may vary and is not a ground rule. People react differently in different situations, but essentially, this tool will enable you to study your “opponent” more deeply and will help you create trust and rapport.

Once you have identified if a person is visual, audial or kinaesthetic, you can start adopting a similar language pattern by using the same type of vocabulary, choice of words and tone to create empathy and a closer connection with that person. This should go unnoticed, this goes without saying.

Posture Matters

Posture is another great tool that can be used while interviewing and it can help convey confidence, courage and power. Sometimes, when people feel intimidated, they will adopt postures that take less space, they will make themselves small, they will touch their faces, hair, they will have busy fingers, the will speak fast and they usually speak softly. On the other hand, when someone is feeling confident, they speak loudly, they pace themselves while they speak, they take more space in the room, they tend to feel more entitled, they say “yes” to that glass of water or coffee and have a strong hand shake. This is a generalisation, of course, but it does help to separate the two cases. You may have done some of these things in an interview and it probably didn’t seem like a deal breaker, but according to Amy Cuddy, a Researcher from Princeton University, our communication is mainly non verbal. What we say matters less than how we say it, the posture we adopt while saying it and the tone we use to convey the message matters more than the information we are giving. This means a lot and we have to be aware of our body language in an interview. My advice to you is simple: adopt a posture of confidence, take place in the room, sit comfortably and accept that coffee/water that is usually offered. If you are not feeling confident, force yourself to speak with a louder tone, speak slowly, take the “confident” posture by leaning in your chair and using the arm rests, you will eventually trick your brain to believe that it should feel comfortable, that it should not only adopt the posture of confidence, but that it should feel at ease. This might even raise your self-esteem levels!

These tools can seem minor and your technical knowledge should be able to overwrite all of this, but why not put all the chances on your side? What if this worked for others who are scoring at interviews? I have had the chance to speak with many Executives in my career, I like to listen to their career stories and once I asked to a CFO if he had ever feared not passing an interview. He replied: “I am never fearful of interviews. I say what I know and when I don’t know something I am honest about it and my past achievements are the support I need to prove I can learn on the job”. This really blew me away because I honestly can’t remember not being fearful at an interview and this was also revealing because I never thought an Executive would simply admit not knowing something. He said: “it’s better to admit not knowing, than trying to explain something you don’t know”. How many times do we not try to fill in the blanks at interviews and we end up failing terribly? If there is a secret to interviewing, maybe it has to do with what is left unsaid.

Be Honest

In this sense, my next recommendation is: be honest about what you don’t know. Try to avoid the question if possible and, especially, don’t bring up topics outside of your comfort zone. I noticed that sometimes, people like to impress the interviewers and they end up talking about things that are way outside of their comfort zone, they even get lost while trying to explain it. There is no need for that and there is also no need to fill in the silence that sometimes occurs in interview sessions. Silence is good and if you need time to prepare an answer in your head, take than time. Silence will create suspense and generate more interest from people. I highly recommend it! Repeat the question in your head, ask the interviewer to repeat it if necessary, gain time and make time so that your answers are carefully exposed and well processed. Being honest about what you don’t know should not be done proactively though. There is no need to start the conversation around what you don’t know. You should just be honest when asked a question regarding a skill you don’t yet have, but that you can learn on the job just like you learned in previous roles how to use particular in-house systems, for instance.

Sell Yourself

Interviewing is about selling yourself, knowing your strengths and weaknesses is fundamental. I like to use strength finder tools that you can easily find on the Internet to help remind me of what my assets are. Talking about ourselves seems so unnatural that we seem to know how to describe others better than we do ourselves. When planning for an interview it is important to try and match our existing skills to the ones described in the job description. We also need to create examples to illustrate these skills way before we enter the interview room. Most people wait until they arrive at the interview to think about examples. That is definitely not a good strategy! Let me use an example. Imagine you were a Customer Service Support Clerk and you were asked the following question:

“How did you manage a stressful, heavy workload and what did you do to make it better?”

You could answer the question by saying: “In my previous role, I couldn’t cope with the incoming emails from customers because the phone kept ringing with unsatisfied clients, so I decided to talk to the Manager and I asked him to reduce the number of hours during which customers were able to reach us by phone. So instead of answering calls from 9am-6pm I was only answering calls from 10am-5pm. This gave me 2 hours daily during which I was able to finally answer the accumulated emails from customers”.

This is a great example that will illustrate how resourceful you are and how you “decided to talk to the Manager” to better your workload and continue to provide a good service to clients/ customers. It also shows that you take decisions, that you are proactive at anticipating needs and actions and that you are not shying away from management. You know how to approach them and convince them to follow your suggestions. Now, on the other hand, what you shouldn’t do is answer by saying, for instance:

“We were overwhelmed with incoming calls, so I asked my Manager to hire another person to help me cope with my job. He never managed to hire someone, so I just decided to take work home and answer the accumulated emails from home”.

That is not a great way to sell yourself. Hiring extra staff is sometimes the solution, but a hiring manager might not think this is creative or resourceful and it is essentially a costly solution. It is important to remember that the interviewer is a business person, whether it is a hiring manager or an HR representative, he/she wants to keep the business afloat. They want to hire a person who will have business acumen and who will offer business solutions that will have a low implementation cost. In this senses, it is important to offer them examples of great solutions your brought to corporate problems. The example I used was simple because you don’t necessarily have to save millions to the company you worked for to have a good example to share. If you were never able to create anything extraordinary in your previous role, state a simple example and make it sound terrific! Remember, it’s not so much about the message, it’s about the way you deliver it. They will buy it if you believe in it, if you are confident about it, if you state it loudly enough!

Selling ourselves is an art and those who can do it well, have well understood the dynamics around confidence x competence. Sometimes we overestimate our capabilities, but often time, we underestimate them. Some say it’s because we fear being discovered or we think that we should wait and only sell ourselves powerfully when we meet our high standards of excellence.

I like to use the example of language skills. I have clients who are native Portuguese speakers and they have a good working knowledge of Spanish. Most Portuguese speakers understand Spanish very well, but they can’t always speak it, so they don’t bother including these skills in their resumes. I mentioned this earlier while talking about resume writing, but I want to reinforce it here, if you can understand 70% of a conversation in any given language, even if you can’t really speak it, you should include that in your resume and state that you have a “good working knowledge” of that language.

This simply means that you can understand it and read it. This works for all the things that you forget to add to your resume. I remember coaching a client who was an Event Planner and as we were talking about her resume, I asked her if she had ever prepared an event for a famous person or a prestigious client. To this she answered: “Oh! Yes, I forgot to mention it in my resume that I helped organize an event where Madonna was present. I didn’t think of including it since I wasn’t the main planner, but I did help put it together!”. You can imagine my surprise! How on earth can we forget to include such relevant details in our resumes?

This is due to the high excellence standards that we establish for ourselves and the imaginary rules we create and follow. She thought that she could only include in her resume the projects that she directly managed. She didn’t think it would be useful to include the projects she helped manage, like this event with Madonna. You could be underselling yourself because you have established unattainable standards of excellence! This sounds like a big contradiction, but it happens to all of us.

When selling yourself, remember that you are a part of a team, you worked in a company where your success was closely linked to the success of others. If you don’t feel like your role had a direct effect on the bottom line, you can tie it up to the rest of your team by saying something like:

“While working as an Executive Assistant, I was able to support the Executive Director in order to help him connect with sponsors in different countries where my language skills were needed and these precious contacts have helped our company obtain new funding sources in order to continue to expand internationally”.

This is a good way to explain what your skills have brought to the company and you also link them to the bottom line. In other words, this is a good way to sell yourself. Your language skills were needed while trying to connect two Executives on the phone so that they could have the conversation that would result in more funding. We will further develop the topic around the way we sell ourselves and we will also learn some powerful self-marketing tools, but for now, let’s focus back on interviewing techniques.

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