3 Healthy Habits for Mastering the Interview

A new way to break through your upcoming interview.

Photo by Marcelo Chagas from Pexels

Nothing says, ‘I’m taking back control of my life,’ like the words, ‘I quit!’ If you have yet to enjoy the pleasure of sacking your employer on your terms, I will leave you to fantasise the outcome. However, if you have had the pleasure, undoubtedly, the experience was either preceded by or immediately followed by the increasing anxiety of unemployment woes.

Unemployment anxiety is possibly one of the strongest reasons for why we do not dare to leave our place of security. Surely we say that it’s better to be stuck in a familiar hell than to be trapped in a new devilish system without monetary compensation. Similarly, there is a rising total of those who have lost their job due to the novel Coronavirus outbreak. They are left to face the same fear, for which they had not been prepared to do so. Lately, friends, family and clients have been contacting me to share stories about either the sketchy reasons for why they were thrown under the bus by their employer during the rise of Covid-19 or how they were laid off by their employer as more businesses have been forced to fold. Having been here before, I understand this very well; the sudden departure from your financial stronghold, regardless of how you got there, undoubtedly sparked some doubts and fears.

If you find yourself back at the beginning where you must start job-hunting in the belly of the beast, then this article is for you. Over the next few weeks, I’ll publish a series of articles to help job-seekers prepare for life after the Coronavirus. This article will focus on building interviewing skills. During this time of containment and quarantine measures enacted across the globe, I encourage job-seekers, first and foremost, to develop infallible skills in the art of interviewing.

“I’m taking back control of my life.”

What words of comfort could be said to the one who has recently woken up one morning with a job, only to go back to bed without one? What could be said to a job-seeker who has already been in the market for some time? What information could be written to those who have done their research about the latest communication techniques to use to secure their bread and butter? As a Corporate Trainer, I have been flying from country to country to train individuals on interviewing and presentation skills in order to ensure that their best foot will be put forward. During my training sessions, I have noticed many common mistakes that job-seekers across the globe are making whilst interviewing.

In this article, I am going to provide the first three sets of tips to help you prepare for your future interviews.

TIP 1: This is not an interview. It is a conversation.

I find that for positions in industries like the financial industry or for STEM jobs, hiring managers are keen to employ traditional candidates who seamlessly adhere to formalities with exceptional work qualifications. On the other hand, I find that for positions driven by relationship management, such as those found in an international organisation, government or retail, hiring managers are keen to find exceptional talent who are well-rounded professionals yet empathic. Yes, there are many exceptions to the hiring process in regards to the fields listed above. What is important to understand is that both high-profile and low-profile industries scout for high-turnover and low-turnover positions. The difference between industries and job turnover rates changes how you should approach your interview.

Understanding whether you are applying to a high-profile or low-profile company for a high-turnover or low-turnover position is important. That’s because high-profile jobs often seek candidates who will be glowing examples of the company, both on and off the job, whilst low-profile jobs often focus on candidates who are highly skilled and who are willing to perform more than what the job description entails. Again, exceptions can be found here too.

Depending largely on whether you are interviewing for a high-profile or low-profile job may change the tone of your interview. Positions that are driven more by personality will still want to ensure that you are technically proficient. On the other hand, positions that rely solely on technical proficiency may eliminate the last round of interviewees if they lack social aptitude. So, your goal is to find the best body language and verbiage to use to professionally convey the best of who you are during an interview. Yes, this the million-dollar question: How does one do this?

“A wise soul should grace a new audience with formality and charm.”

One way to do this is to change the way you think about interviewing. To change your mindset for an interview, find and meditate on an emotionally similar experience from your past. The experience should have been both formal and friendly at the same time. Some examples might be like the experience of meeting your partner’s parents for the first time to build a favourable relationship with your future in-laws. If you have not had the honour of doing this, then perhaps think of how you would greet a stranger’s grandparents for the first time and continue into a meaningful conversation. Another example would be meeting with a notable public figure or distinguished professor in an affluent environment. All of these relationship dynamics are built on formal interactions in a personable manner. All of these scenarios have one common philosophy across the globe: a wise soul should grace a new audience with formality and charm.

Using the best version of who you are whilst engaging in a formal environment should help you calibrate your moral compass north. Therefore, the way that you would engage in the scenarios above is a good start towards understanding how you should change your mindset to engage in a conversation for a professional interview.

So, when you meet with a potential new employer, show the best version of yourself by being informative and charming. Acknowledge what you know (and don’t know). Stick to your values. Remember, the confluence between these two desirable qualifications is where you find your sincerity and moral compass. Training with this strategy builds your confidence so that you can approach the interview more conversationally than robotically. Once you’ve mastered this approach, there will be no need to memorise words for an interview. You won’t need to sit as stiff as a rock whilst speaking. And most importantly, you shouldn’t ever feel the need to take risks like cracking jokes in hopes of making the interviewer laugh! Don’t do this! (Yes, I am sure that someone out there somewhere will say making jokes during a job interview secured her or his position at that job). These are feeble attempts, which only expose your lack of credibility and immediately eliminates you from the competition. So, remember, you are just having a conversation — albeit a strategic conversation — it is a conversation nonetheless.

TIP 2: Use a 3-Part Process to Format Your Responses.

If your CV and cover letter was successfully sifted, then your potential employer has a very sincere interest in what you have to say. Knowing this should give you comfort and a spark of empowerment. But during your interview, relying on the strength of your CV and cover letter in order to move you from the interview to the contract is folly. Here is where I believe most candidates fail. As a candidate, you cannot provide a generic response to interview questions. Instead, you must be very specific and descriptive whilst being brief and coherent. Using generic responses about your prior experiences fails to support the credentials you had provided. Responding to questions with generalities is a disservice to not only your potential employer but also to you.

Which brings up another common failure, particularly for women across the globe who combat the legacies of gender roles and stereotypes. Your interview is not the time to be humble. Nor is it the time to be arrogant. If you want to join a company or organisation, then this is the time to express to them exactly who you are, what you have achieved and how you achieved it. When you leave the room, a lingering presence of your values and behaviours should be left behind. At this stage, the interviewer must remember you and not your resume!

Therefore, consider using this format to separate you from your competition.

For every question asked, firstly, identify the answer clearly and in one simple sentence. By doing so, the rest of your response can remain focused and your interviewer is not lost in your answer. In every response that you give, always be aware of how your response demonstrates that you are the best person for the job title or position. That means, questions on who you are, your outside interests, your plans, etc. are all opportunities to create a response that highlights your key skills, which you will use to execute the job duties seamlessly.

“Your interview is not the time to be humble. Nor is it the time to be arrogant.”

Secondly, you can be sure you have expressed how whenever you use the word, “by”. Make no mistake, you must use this word! Always ensure that your responses have used the word, “by” multiple times. I cannot emphasise this enough.

For example, if you say that you, “…worked with the director of the office in order to launch an international fundraiser, which raised over 2 million dollars in 7 weeks,” then guess what, so did the intern who was hired to run back-office support by delivering the paper to department heads, setting up conference room meetings and designing pamphlets for potential donors. In short, the intern also, “worked with the director” too.

Therefore, the third part of the process to format your responses is to fully embrace specificity. If the intern at the office can say the same words that you have provided, and these words accurately describe the intern’s job duties too, then your response is too weak to justify your contribution, at your previous job, to your potential new employer. Be specific. Be very specific. And always describe how by using the word “by.”

TIP 3: Do NOT ramble. Ever.

Subsequent to TIP 2, when responding to interview questions keep your response succinct and focused. Each response should be no longer than 3 minutes. I teach 3 minutes as a hard rule and a strict limit. Only break it strategically and if absolutely necessary. My formula is based purely on mathematics and logic.

Standard interviews last about 45 minutes. Some are less and some are a bit longer. For high-profile industries, job interviews can run up to 2 or 3 hours depending on the position. Some particularly high-profile jobs last for days. The latter jobs are usually positions in national and international government or for executive positions at top global organisations.

In standard interview formats, the general idea is for the interviewer to leave with a very thorough understanding of who you are professionally and what your personality feels like in a professional setting. Maximize your opportunities by allowing your interviewer to explore your professional background in full. Therefore, a 5-worded response to an interview question is not often suitable. On the flip side, a 5-minute response means that less than 10 questions will be asked at your interview. Neither of these scenarios is ideal.

Again, approach your interview as though it were a conversation held in a fancy restaurant. Let the conversation be shaped and explored based on the responses you provide. There is no exact science. Instead, there are tried and tested ways to build a strong professional relationship dynamic. That is the ultimate goal for your interview; both you and the interviewer are simultaneously determining if there is a profitable future professional relationship when you join the team. If you keep showing your interviewer that you are an investment, which is currently missing at the company, then your chances are very good.

There are so many other tips that I have learnt after years of interviewing. Though I lack the physical evidence, I estimate that I’ve sat through over 2000 interviews since 2004. My tips and teachings come from these experiences. Some tips are about ways to approach dreadful interview questions like, “Do you have any questions for me?” Others tips are on how to strategically tackle common interview questions like, “What do you know about the company?” There are so many areas to explore and discuss when it comes to interviewing strategically. Yet, at the end of the day, the best way to improve your interviewing skills is to simply start interviewing. Learn from the failures and celebrate small successes.

There is a downside to this, that must be mentioned:

If you are a person of colour, if you are part of an underrepresented social group, or if your ethnicity differs from Western cultures, then you may find that the rules of the game shift or completely change. For the unfortunate times when the power dynamic between the interviewer and the candidate changes based on Mother Nature, I advise you to make an educated evaluation on whether or not that work environment is one you would like to join.

Often, it is only the one interviewer at the company who operates on a corrupted moral code whilst the rest of the environment is manageable and inclusive. Hopefully, you will have a panel of colleagues who conduct your interview in order to combat what is called,” unconscious biases”. From what I’ve seen, the multi-team interview panel is more commonly found at high-profile jobs or for high-profile positions. So, if you do not have the opportunity to interview with a panel and you are faced in this predicament, you must decide for yourself if the position is worth it.

During these times, understand that you are no longer playing a fair game of chess between you and the competing candidates. Instead, you are playing poker between you and the interviewer. And the object of that game is to win.

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