In this series of 4 articles Julian Smith provides you with some clear guidelines as to what the typical hiring manager expects of you at an interview. The articles will be published in four parts starting today.
Setting the Scene
In my career to date, I’ve spent hundreds of hours interviewing candidates for jobs – either as one of my direct reports, or someone reporting to a member of my team. Every “first interview” has 4 key hurdles or tests you need to pass to get to the next stage of the interview process. You’ll need to pass all 4 well, to be the preferred candidate for the job – and that should be your goal right up front.
Ask yourself, “What is the employer looking for from the perfect candidate and how can I position myself so that I am perceived as one of the front runners for the position?”
Remember perception is everything in the first interview – you may well be the most qualified or experienced, but how you come across during that first meeting carries the most weight initially.
Here are the 4 tests you’ll need to pass to progress and my tips on how to ace them.
- Make a good first impression
- Build effective rapport
- Fit the culture
- Prove your skill set
We’ll take each “test” separately in a series of 4 short articles with tips on how to ace each one.
Test Two: Build Effective Rapport
So you’ve made a great first impression (Test 1), now you need to establish a connection. Building rapport rapidly is like a powerful bridge to the meaty parts of the interview. Done well, it establishes the tone of the interview, and instills confidence in the interviewer about you as a candidate. If the interviewer finds you compelling and interesting to talk with, they’ll be more engaged, listening more powerfully and actively looking for reasons why you’d be right for the role.
Building rapport is a real skill and possibly the hardest hurdle to pass well. It takes maturity and confidence to master. You don’t have to be a “people person” to be able to build great rapport, anyone can do it, with practice. Here’s where to start:
- Appropriate small talk is very helpful: Meeting someone for the first time can be a bit awkward for everyone – so being able to chat about the weather or the cool office environment, or something topical is useful and breaks the ice. Bottom line, you want to make a “connection” as soon as possible – if the interviewer finds you approachable and easy to chat with in the first minute, you’re already ahead of the pack.
- The best way to uncover “small talk topics” is research. Read up extensively on the company and industry before the interview. Be aware of anything topical that might be relevant. Small talk is light, bright and breezy – avoid any heavy topics or anything controversial. If the company sponsors a sports team, maybe chat about their recent game performance or form this season. If the business is impacted by the weather, reference that. Just remember to reference things that will be positive or neutral for the company. Steer clear of controversial topics or anything that puts the interviewer on the back foot.
You’ll also want to do as much research about the person(s) interviewing you before you meet them. Make sure you get the full name of all the people you’ll be meeting with and check out their profiles on LinkedIn. A quick Google search or a review of the “about us” section of the company website often reveals useful insights. Ideally you want to know a little about their background, how long they have been working for the company. Also uncover their ‘functional specialty’ – what is their primary skill set? But remember, just because you’re in an interview with an HR person don’t assume they don’t know anything about marketing or sales – they could well have a background in that area.
- Having done your research, try and demonstrate you’ve done your homework on the company or the hiring manager early on in the conversation. Be careful, you don’t want to come across as a stalker, but if done well, the interviewer will be more “present” and engaged upfront. Some examples: “I really like the new TV campaign you’ve just launched – which agency did you use?”, “I see from your LinkedIn profile that you’ve worked in New York, how did you find living there?”.
- Note: Avoid personal references / dropping names of contacts you think you and the interviewer(s) may share – unless you know the interviewer and the shared contact have a positive relationship. This could be an embarrassing if not derailing event in your interview!
- Be ready to answer that tricky first question “tell me about yourself”: This is not the time for a 20 minute life story. In less than a minute you need to communicate who you are and why your background makes you a suitable candidate for the job. The key here is for you to reassure the interviewer that they made the right decision to short list you and to make it easier for them ask the next question.
- Try and include some common ground with the interviewer in your answer (which you can only do through research). At the very least include something interesting about yourself, so you’re more memorable – but not controversial.Almost every adept interviewee will have their response to the “tell me about yourself” question down pat, they will have rehearsed it many times before the interview and will have practiced with someone else to get feedback and to make sure they sound natural and authentic. If you want to be the preferred candidate, then practice, practice, practice.
- Making eye contact really helps: If there is more than one interviewer – make sure to include everyone with appropriate eye contact when you answer – your primary focus should be the person who asked the question, but you want to include everyone else in the room as well. Again, you want to come across as interesting and interested – frequent, appropriate eye contact helps maintain rapport.Don’t be unsettled by the interviewer looking down and taking notes. They’ll be wanting to record the key points you make, so will be writing and possibly even referring to paperwork (your CV etc…)
Look out for Step 3, Fit the Culture
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