Many, many years ago, I was a graduate going for interviews in the recession of the early 90s (I feel quite old suddenly sharing this…). Jobs for graduates at that time were scarce and applicants far outnumbered the places available. While the odds of successfully landing a job offer were slim, I thought it worth giving it my best shot – worst case, I figured I would at least get valuable interview experience.
I was lucky to be offered a few interviews and I prepared for them to help me come across as well as I could. In one, the interviewer clearly felt secure that he held the power in this situation. His tone was a bit superior, the questions were quite challenging and admittedly I was winging it on a few technical questions (although getting them right). The interview had been uncomfortable, largely one-way traffic and I felt it wasn’t going well at all. I would surely have to do something to stand out to have any chance of getting a good result out of this.
And then the interviewer offered me a golden opportunity – “Is there anything you would like to ask me?”
I still don’t know where this came from, but after a moment to think, a simple question popped into my head.
“Yes,” I said, politely but honestly, “why should I want to work for you?”
The look on the interviewer’s face told a story, so too did his comment that followed. Clearly flustered, he stuttered, “Well, I, errr…I, I’m, errr…surprised that you are asking me that.” He flapped for a bit and then managed to give me an answer, but it wasn’t very convincing. Hardly a great advert for the company he was representing.
A week later, I was genuinely stunned to receive an offer to join that company’s graduate scheme. I’m convinced that it was asking that honest question that helped me stand out and tipped the balance. But I turned down the offer. The interview experience had left me feeling that this wasn’t the best company I could join, it just didn’t feel like the right fit.
But feeling encouraged to be myself, I went into subsequent interviews feeling confident and found myself engaged in great conversations. There was no arrogance from my interviewers or me, but an interested and more equal exploration of what we could offer each other, me as their potential employee, them as my potential employer. And I subsequently received a job offer from the company that really felt like the right fit for me, which was an amazing feeling.
That formative experience has guided my approach to interviews ever since, both as an interviewee and interviewer.
I totally agree with my friend and colleague, Oliver Hansard, that the best approach is to treat an interview as a conversation where you and your interviewer are both interested in finding out more about each other. A great interview is a mutual exchange to explore what you can offer your prospective employer and what they can offer you, be that opportunity, responsibility, reward, growth, learning or other things that are important to you. It is a key moment to sense whether you and the company are the right fit for each other – and you know the feeling when it’s right.
When you are preparing for an interview, the current blog series – 12 Job Hunting Tips for the New Year – from Oliver and other Catalyst Thinking Partners is a great place to start. They are packed full of practical suggestions to help you with Job Hunting in these highly unusual times. They will help you to leverage your network, identify opportunities that are a good fit and prepare well for the conversation.
In that spirit, here are my additional tips that I hope will help you feel ABLE to be at your best on the day and make it a great conversation:
- Authentic – you are unique and that’s a good thing. If you have clarity about your values, strengths, experience and also what want to learn and are looking for in a job, you can feel confident being yourself, be really authentic and share what you can offer with conviction. After all, there’s only one of you and you want to stand out in the interview process, not fit in.
- Bridge – a technique I have taught for a long time when coaching leaders to prepare for media interviews is to bridge, to acknowledge the question but bridge to your safe areas (as Oliver calls them) and communicate the messages you want them to hear. “That’s an interesting question, but what I’ve seen from my own experience is…” This takes some practice, but when done well feels natural and helps it to be an engaging and more interesting conversation for both parties.
- Listen – picking up on one of the earlier 12 Tips from Oliver and the response from our friend Zia Savel, it’s really important to listen fully, not just to the words of the question but also the tone and the body language. What else is behind the question that might provide an opportunity for you to speak about one of your safe areas?
- Engage – a conversation is two-way, so be curious and invoke curiosity too. Occasionally ask a clarifying question rather than going straight into your answer. Leave some of your answers open to invite a follow up question from the interviewer that allows you to say more about your safe areas and strengths. Mirroring the interviewer’s body language, in a subtle way, also helps to create a connection and better engagement.
Good luck. And just remember – you’re interviewing them too.
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