Ace the Interview: The Dos and Dont's to Consider

People shaking hands

I was thinking the other day just how many interviews have I conducted? I've been doing this for 11 years and I probably on average interview four people a day, so based on 250 working days/year that's roughly 11,000 interviews! Other than feeling rather old all of a sudden, I feel somewhat equipped to comment on what makes a good interview since I've seen many good (and many not so good) over the years. Here are a few suggestions…

Establish rapport...

People hire individuals they like and can connect with easily. Don't be afraid to use a bit of humour to lighten the mood. Believe it or not often the interviewer is a bit nervous as well and a little levity can go a long way. If humor isn't your thing, before the interview think about what can be used as an ice-breaker. Perhaps something in the news? The hockey game last night? Take your audience into account so you don't launch into a story that holds no interest to the interviewer. Play it safe, don’t be too political or controversial, but make an impression. You know yourself better than anyone and how you connect with people normally; an interview is really no different. Play to your strengths, be yourself, and you’ll find the whole experience is a lot more comfortable for everyone.

Know your own résumé!

Bring a copy as reference, but be sure you can easily communicate your own background. I’ve witnessed senior individuals who struggle to adequately speak to their own experience. Be able to cite accomplishments, highlights, and reasons for leaving each position. This may seem obvious, but it astonishes me when someone comes in for an interview and lacks a thorough understanding of his or her own experience. Before an interview, go through your CV and pull out a few interesting pieces along with examples. After all, you alone are the expert on this subject so you need to come across as such. This is your story so you should have great comfort in telling it.

Be ready for Behavioral style questions…

Often when people hear the term Behavioral Descriptive Interviewing (BDI) it strikes fear into them. It really shouldn’t. All BDI style questions do is ask for real life examples to help illustrate your experience. They are designed to draw parallels with your background and the responsibilities you would be asked to take on in a new environment. Again it comes down to preparation and knowing your own experience. Before an interview make a list of your accomplishments, your challenges and how you overcame them, and maybe some examples that speak to your leadership style. A little preparation goes a long way and writing a few notes to yourself is okay to do in case you get stumped. I’m always impressed with a person who comes in with some notes already prepared. This way if you freeze you can scan your notes and choose what example best suits the question being asked.

Don’t ramble!

One of the most common mistakes interviewees make is forgetting whose meeting it is to manage. It’s the person doing the interviewing, not the person being interviewed. Don't ramble, gauge your audience, take a breath and ask... Did I answer your question, should I provide more detail or examples? It's important to be concise but make sure you're providing enough detail. Often individuals will think an interview went well because they spoke a lot and felt they got all their points across. But just because you spent a lot of time talking doesn’t mean things went well. Be respectful of the role as the interviewer in structuring the conversation. Answer questions with good detail and examples, but always be cognizant that the direction the conversation takes is up the person asking the questions. Again the best approach is to ask if you have answered the question and be able to provide more detail if requested.

Don't be nervous.

It's just a conversation on a topic that you are the expert on (your own work experience). You need to be confident but never cocky. An interview is a place to stick your chest out a bit and take some credit for your accomplishments. Atlantic Canadians are well known for their humility and while this is an admirable characteristic most of the time, too much humility can hurt you in an interview. The person interviewing you wants to hear about the great things you have done… so share them. You aren’t being boastful by telling the truth and by showing some pride in what you have done.

Do your homework.

Come with at least a couple questions. It's hard to believe your sincere interest in a position if you can't come up with a question or two! Coming prepared with thoughtful questions shows an interviewer that you are interested and that you have given the opportunity a lot of thought. Don’t get carried away however, you still need to remember who is interviewing who. A good rule of thumb is to bring four or five good questions, however don’t feel compelled to ask them all. Again gauge your audience and be mindful of the time. A candidate’s questions are often the last item on an interviewer’s agenda so they will form the last impression you make on your audience. Ask a few well thought out questions pertinent to the position. A couple examples to consider: How would you define success for me in this role? What would you see as my biggest challenge in this position?

And finally ask for the job!

Have you heard the old sales expression, “Don’t forget to ask for the business.” Well the same is true when interviewing. Far too many people forget to clearly express their interest in the opportunity. Candidates have asked me, “Does it hurt my ability to negotiate if I look too eager?” Nonsense. You can always negotiate an offer; the key is being made the offer. Employers want to make offers to individuals who are keenly interested in the job, so assuming you are, let them know it! Enthusiasm won’t hurt you, but perceived complacency will every time. While the interview is wrapping up say something like, “I really appreciate your consideration of me as a candidate; I’m very interested in this opportunity and hope I am selected to move forward in the process”. It’s more than good manners it’s common sense and it takes any doubt away in terms of your interest.

Kevin Stoddart
Kevin Stoddart, MBA

With access to a deep network of some of the best and brightest candidates, Kevin has the knowledge and experience required to help clients evaluate their talent needs and identify hard-to-find candidates for difficult-to-fill roles.