I was forwarded an article today with the ‘10 biggest interview lies’ and in the past I’ve seen countless similar lists referring to the ‘Top 10 things to avoid…’ or ’10 ways your body language can betray you’ etc etc.
The internet is groaning under the weight of top interview tips and advice for candidates because so much can be at stake. For younger people it can seem that their entire life/career trajectory is going to be determined by a 1 hour encounter with someone they’ve never met before. In reality it is rarely as binary as that but only a fool would approach an interview with no sense of nerves whatsoever.
At Alchemis we try to put people at ease as soon as possible. I’m keen to see how they behave ‘naturally’ rather than in the unusual and contrived circumstances of an interview. I’ve come across one or two people that interview rather better than they perform in the workplace and this can lead one to wonder whether such people have had a too much practice due to job hopping or dismissals, so we try to remove the ‘interview effect’ from the equation. We try and put people at ease and draw them into a conversation, which I suspect is the case more and more nowadays, particularly in the marketing services industry.
So, as an employer with several hundred interviews under my belt, what would my tips for candidates be?
Be on time. To say a candidate shouldn’t be late is hardly original but I am often confronted by candidates that have turned up half an hour early. I guess this would be OK if they were sat in the lobby of a sky scraper waiting to be buzzed up but that isn’t the case with many SMEs. Any more than 10 minutes early is awkward!
Be yourself. Be honest, don’t bullshit. It’s easy to trip yourself up with little inconsistencies that will rightly make an interviewer very concerned as to your integrity and therefore employability. But this is obvious right? It’s just as important that you be honest with yourself. If you have ever sat across the table from someone that is trying to contort themselves into being the perfect fit for a role you will know it’s an uncomfortable experience. If you don’t think the role or company is right for you then there’s no point pretending it is – you might be able to pull it off over a couple of 1 hour interviews but what are you going to do if you get the job?
Be articulate. How you present yourself is important. It is in no way a contradiction of my point above to say that candidates should adopt a ‘professional’ persona for interviews. At Alchemis I interview candidates for the position of Account Manager. It’s a business development role that is heavy on the client management side and requires excellent verbal communication skills as an absolute given. No one could accuse Alchemis of being ‘stuffy’ but nothing frustrates my fellow directors or I more than candidates that have made no attempt to speak clearly and articulately. Let me be clear, this has nothing to do with where someone was brought up or regional accents. I am referring to bright, capable people that have failed to give as good an account of themselves as they could have done because they have attached no significance to how they sound to the people interviewing them. I know I’m not alone in finding this frustrating, depressing even because it suggests that even in the 21st century there are people from certain backgrounds that have an advantage just because of how they sound. I’m not suggesting people try and be someone they’re not, rather that they apply the same discipline they do when it comes to refraining from using the F word in the company of someone else’s grandmother, at least before you’ve got to know them.
Ask lots of open questions. A big turn off for me is when we ask a candidate who has professed a keen interest in the role whether they have any more questions and they say “no”. I will know that there is loads he or she doesn’t know about the company, role, culture that would a.) Help them sell themselves and b.) Allow them to make a more informed decision as to whether we are right for them and vice versa. For the Account Manager role at Alchemis we are looking for someone’s ability to ask relevant open questions with genuine interest because we know it’s a critical skill to possess that will help to secure qualified appointments for our clients BUT I think any interviewer for any role would prize this.
Asking good questions demonstrates intelligence, interest, experience, confidence and conveys a sense that you know what you are all about and know what you want. These are all positives in my book. Not asking questions suggests a lack of imagination and commercial savvy.
So what questions should you ask? I think the internet is part of the problem here. I remember my first graduate interview in the mid-1990s being asked who the Chairman of the company was. It was for a junior sales role at a big Plc that I knew a lot about but I had no idea what the Chairman’s name was and was scolded by the interviewer and pretty much booted out of the room. This was probably an example of a 1990s interview style but perhaps it was a fair question because before the internet even the biggest companies had very little information about themselves that was easily accessible. A few calls or a press search at a library would have revealed some very basic information like who the Chairman was, but not much else, and this is what they were looking for candidates to do.
20 years on and most candidates I see will have checked us out online as a company and as individuals through Linked In etc. So the candidate should know a lot about the company they are interviewing with (though probably not the role they’re interviewing for) and may feel that asking questions implies some failure of research on their part – if only they’d trawled through that archive of blogs and white papers…
We’ve just rewritten our website but like any other site, it poses as many questions as it answers to someone with a genuine interest in the business so it should be very easy for a candidate to prepare questions in advance but we’re just as interested in the questions that come up in conversation – the ones that keep US talking. Again, this is partly because we know that a good new business call is one where the prospect is gently encouraged to talk about their business, their ambitions and challenges and what they look for in people they work with.
Remember the interviewer should sell the role to you. Candidates should remember that an interview is a two way process. If the interview is successful then it’s the first stage of an ongoing transaction that both parties must invest in if it is to work. It may feel like the boot is on the interviewer’s foot and in reality they probably do hold most of the cards, but if you approach the interview from the perspective finding out what the company can offer you then you will probably find yourself naturally doing all the right things like being relaxed and confident, asking lots of questions. You certainly want to come across as keen and enthusiastic but it will do you no harm if you mention you have other offers on the table. I probably shouldn’t say this and fellow employers may not thank me for it but I always look favourably on people that are in demand. I’m conscious that I’ve only spent a couple of hours over 2 interviews with someone. I might like them but maybe I got out of bed the right side that morning. Feeling that my opinion regarding the calibre of a candidate is shared by others (even if they are unknown strangers) can seem like a ringing endorsement.
I’d be interested to hear opinions from those of you that have experience of either interviewing or being interviewed for sales and business development roles, so please feel free to add any comments here.