Although the quality of your CV and covering letter are important, the interview is more decisive because it establishes first contact with the potential employer. Whether you're experienced or just starting out, it’s important to prepare thoroughly so that you can be as convincing as possible. The employer needs to be able to quickly judge your personality and skills to determine if they meet his requirements. What you say and the way you say it will be analysed.
In addition to showing your listener that your skills match what he’s looking for, you also need to prove that you can communicate well and add weight to what you say. You need to be confident in your own ability, your career path and your ambitions within the company. It would be a shame to pass over an opportunity for you and your employer just because you didn't prepare for the interview properly.
How to prepare
- The first thing is to find out as much as you can about the company and the job that you are applying for. Learn the job decription by heart. When they ask you why you want to work for the company, it’s not enough to say that a friend told you about the job and you thought it sounded good! Be aware of what the job requires and be prepared to show you're the ideal candidate.
- Learn a few key facts and figures about the company as well as the way it works: what it does, its size, key figures, the name of the managers and the market. Find out as much as you can from as many sources as possible (employment services, specialist magazines and all sorts of websites, including the company's own site if they have one).
- Do a review of your own experience and skills. Take your CV and train yourself to summarise what you've learned (management skills, software training etc.). You need to be able to clearly express the logical progression of your path (why did you study that and work for x company?). Everything must hold together for the few minutes you have to talk about yourself. Don’t be afraid to role play an interview with a friend - real or imaginary.
- The personal dimension is also important. Employers may ask if you're married, if you have children or if you’d like to have them, and what your personal strengths and weaknesses are. Concerning children, you could say that you want them but not right now. Concerning qualities, emphasise rigour, dynamism and reactivity. Don't list any weaknesses that could affect you working at the company (disorganised, nervous, scatty and the like are best avoided!).
Finally, give details about your interests and hobbies that will help the employer to understand your personality.
How to act in an interview
On the day, here's what you need to pay attention to:
- Presentation: This is important because it’s the first thing that the recruiter sees. Choose a suitable outfit: nothing too loud or extravagant (a suit is always a safe bet). Depending on the job you're applying for, dressing down can be more acceptable (jeans with a smart blouse or shirt, elegant shoes and a few low-key accessories, for example, might be OK for a job in media). Don't ever wear mini skirts, baggy clothes (they're a sign of a lack of self-confidence or neglect for your appearance) or fantasy prints. The same goes for hair and jewellery: go for tied back or sleek hair and no loud dye. Wearing a watch adds a serious touch.
- Health: Another detail that makes a difference is your face. Don't book yourself in for a tanning session right before your interview, and it's probably not a good idea to go for an interview when you're just back off your hols in the tropics, if you can. A tanned look is not neccessarily great for your prospects. Black bags under the eyes or tired lines are also a no-no. Do they really want to give responsibility to someone who looks like they've been out clubbing all night? Get a balanced diet, exercise to relieve tension and a good night's sleep before your big day.
- Self-control: Clammy hands, yawning and hesitation between answers are signs that will bother a recruiter. If you're an anxious person, think about relaxation. A few sessions of reflexology, sophrology or yoga can be beneficial to learn how to control your anxiety.
- A good argument: Why did you leave school before getting your qualifications? How do you explain why you repeated a year? Why weren't you made permanent? All these questions are natural and you have to answer them, so it’s up to you to adapt your responses to the context. For example, if the company that employed you had financial problems and couldn't take you on permanently, there’s no shame in saying so. However, if you didn’t get on with your boss, be careful: use more evasive phrases ('I wanted to move on to something different, etc'). However, never lie or exaggerate. Fast-track promotions, projects that don't exist and other lies can come back to haunt you when the recruiter calls your old employer to check what you’ve said!
- Weaknesses: Instead of fiercely denying them, talk about them and explain that you are facing up to them and overcoming them. For example, if you're shy, argue that your shyness has never affected your efficiency. And don’t forget that the recruiter is also your equal. There’s no need to place yourself in a situation of inferiority.
- Punctuality: Being on time is also crucial. Being a few minutes late because of traffic, difficulty parking, or whatever legitimate reason won't be forgiven! The best thing to do is calculate your journey and allow yourself plenty of time, even if it means hanging around at the coffee shop round the corner for a while. If you are late, ring to warn them and apologise. Ideally, arrive at least 10 minutes early so that you can sit and concentrate for a while before you go in.