Just got the interview! Congratulations! So now what? 4 focus points

Your interview needed be stressful - do the preparation.

Your interview needed be stressful – do the preparation.


4 key focus points that enable you to prepare for a great interview!

In my last post I outlined 7 key areas to focus on for the front page of your CV. Having won the opportunity to interview it would be a shame to then screw it up – wouldn’t it?

Most job candidates I speak to stress about the interview. And it’s fair to say the interview is the stumbling block for many a great candidate!

A little while back I asked Julian Smith, a senior business leader, strategist, communicator and change agent to outline the key areas he thought candidates should focus on during an interview.  Julian hires top talent. I’ve summarised his thoughts into 4 focus points.

Focus Point One:

Make a Good First Impression

Don’t let the little things add up to big things!

  • First impressions start before the actual interview: This starts with any contact (active or passive) you have with the hiring company prior to the first interview.  Written communications must be well crafted, grammatically correct and succinct.  Always be ‘on message’ with the hiring managers needs.
  • Call the hiring manager (or resourcing manager): Yes – you may have to be a detective to find out who and how to make contact.  When you do hit the jackpot – ask a series of questions to see if you are a good fit. Qualify your assumptions and find out what hasn’t been advertised.
  • Make sure your own social media channels (LinkedIn, Facebook etc) pass muster:  Is there anything showing up that may negatively impact on you before you meet with the hiring manager.  Greater than 90% of resourcing managers will scan your LinkedIn profile so it needs to be current and accurate. One survey of hiring managers I read said that 62% of candidates who were screened out, were screened out because of their LinkedIn profile. Those candidates were clearly sitting on the edge of making a long list – and missed the cut because of their LinkedIn profile.  Read more here about your Facebook and LinkedIn profiles: | Facebook | LinkedIn |
  • Be on time for the interview. This means arriving at least 5 minutes before your interview time.  Ideally you want the person interviewing you to be informed of your arrival well BEFORE the scheduled time. Give yourself a chance to calm down and take in the environment. If you’re extremely early – take the time to take a walk in a park, grab a snack – just relax as best as you can.  Here are 14 tips on how to stay calm.
  • Appearances matter.  Research the company dress code (as simple as ringing the main contact number and asking about the office dress codes).  It’s better to be overdressed than under dressed. Take a look at any profile pictures the company shows on their website. Of course if you have direct contacts who work there – ask them. But if you’re unsure – always dress up, not down!
  • Personal Hygiene: Yes – you’d be surprised at how many candidates forget to use antiperspirant! And today of all days – you may just need it! If you’re going from a hectic day at the office you may wish to take a change of clothes. And don’t risk having a workout at the gym just prior.  The last thing you need is to be still suffering from the gym meltdown when you walk into the interview room.
  •  Introduce yourself clearly and warmly.  This starts with anyone at the reception desk, receptionists generally know everyone in the company and are surprisingly influential.  Get them onside early. When you meet the person(s) interviewing you, with a firm – but not crippling handshake make eye contact and introduce yourself with a friendly, not gushing smile. Visual authenticity starts here.
  • Energy: Be aware of your energy levels, you want to come across as bright, alert and positive but not like you’ve just stepped out of a nightclub.  If you’re feeling a bit lacklustre before the interview you may wish to listen to some music that motivates you or generally lifts your energy levels.
  • Be authentic. If you think you need to act like someone you’re not to make a good first impression, then this is not the job for you and you’re almost certainly going to fail this test (and the Culture Fit hurdle as well). Authenticity is sustainable – falsity is not.


Focus Point Two:

Build Effective Rapport

Building rapport is a real skill and possibly the hardest hurdle to pass well.

  • Appropriate small talk:  You want to make a ‘connection’ as soon as possible.  Be approachable and easy to chat with in the first minute and you’re already ahead of the pack.  Read up extensively on the company and industry before the interview.  Small talk is light, bright and breezy – avoid any heavy topics or anything controversial.
  • Research the interviewer: Make sure you get the full name of all the people you’ll be meeting with and check out their profiles on LinkedIn. Know their background, how long they have been working for the company, ‘functional specialty’, primary skill set.  Demonstrate your knowledge early.  “I see from your LinkedIn profile that you’ve worked in New York, how did you find living there?”.
  • Be ready to answer that tricky first question “tell me about yourself”:  In less than a minute you need to communicate who you are and why your background makes you a suitable candidate for the job.
  • Common ground: Try and include some common ground with the interviewer in your answer (which you can only do through research).

Focus Point Three:

Fit The Culture

All throughout the interview, you’ll be assessed for culture fit.  The interviewer(s) will be asking themselves “ will this person fit in with the way we do things around here?

  • Do your homework upfront. Passing the “culture fit” test is all about applying for roles, where you have strong evidence that the work / company culture will work for you – and you for them.  Remember a job application is a 2-way street, you should be assessing whether or not you want to work for this company.
  • Square peg.  Round hole? There is no point trying to position yourself to fit a culture that doesn’t suit you.  You’re likely to come across as inauthentic and if you do get the job, chances are, you’re not going to love it.
  • Research the Culture. The best way to get a handle on the work culture is to ask around before applying for the job.  If that proves tricky, then make sure you ask a few relevant questions in the screening process.  To learn more about the culture try asking “I know that culture fit is very important for your company, are you able to give me a little detail on the dynamics and work approach of the team I would be working in?”
  • Ask relevant questions during the actual interview The perfect candidate will not respond “I don’t really have any questions”  Great questions and the resulting dialogue will demonstrate your mental agility, hunger for the role and set you apart.   The answers also help you assess whether or not you actually want the job.  i.e. is the environment challenging enough for you?

Focus Point Four:

Prove Your Skill Set

If you’re offered an interview, it’ll be because your CV or initial screening indicated you’re likely to have the necessary skills.  You must prove you can deliver the core skills and, if not, have the ability to learn.

  • Demonstrate you have the required skill set:  Consider what skills the perfect candidate needs for the job and assess yourself against these.  The best way to do this is to review the position description and review the key outcomes and competencies the role specifies.  It’s best to chat with the recruiter or hiring manager on the phone and ask them to give you a rundown on the key deliverables, key skill sets and experience required.
  • Behavioral Questions: During the actual interview, it’s likely that you’ll experience behavioral questioning techniques that are designed to uncover how you have performed in the past in a range of key areas.  Often they’ll start with “Tell me about a time when you had to use X”.
  • Competencies: The best way to prepare for these questions is to establish the key competencies required (which is why access to the job description is critical) and to learn the STAR technique for answering.  The STAR method gives the interviewer all the information they need in a format that makes it easy for them to evaluate you.
  • Assess your skills & experience against the key competencies in advance: By determining the key competencies in advance you can prepare a series of stock examples of where you have demonstrated that skill set.  The key here is to practice, practice and practice. If possible, bring the situation you have used back to how this may apply to the role you’re being interviewed for. You’ll be bringing it to life for your audience.
  • Align your skills and experience to the key competencies: You might find it helpful to get a soft copy of the job description from the recruiter and under each of the key competencies, type out your example that proves you have the necessary skills – don’t forget you need to have a “meaty” result that resonates with the interviewer.  Business is about achieving outcomes. Front foot any gaps.
  • Listen actively. During the interview itself, the skill you need to master is not just talking, but listening.  Make sure you truly understand a question before you start answering it.  If it’s not clear to you, ask the interviewer to clarify it for you.
  • Look out for visual indicators: Listening is done by the eyes as well as the ears.  Look for non verbal cues. Are the interviewers engaged, do they seem rushed, are they making eye contact (when not writing)?  If you get the sense that you’re not being listened to – ask yourself why?  Are my examples too long, am I speaking in a monotone voice, have I moved off topic?

Job interviews can be a very subjective process, – but you can ensure you position yourself for success by being aware of the above 4 focus points and preparing well for each one.

For the full articles click on the links below:

  1. Make a Good First Impression
  2. Build Effective Rapport
  3. Fit the Culture
  4. Prove Your Skill Set


For additional support you may like to read:

Your CV: 7 front page rules to hook your audience

Eight Key Steps to Focus Your LinkedIn Brand

Candidates; Are you blind to cultural fit?

Skill fit; Do you really have it?

Why Facebook needs to be included in your job search strategy

Is your cover letter sabotaging your job application

Is The Traditional CV Dying? 

Follow Craig McAlpine and MyCareerBrand.net:

Twitter: @MyCareerBrand #MyCareerBrand

Website: www.mycareerbrand.net

Facebook: www.facebook.com/MyCareerBrand.net

Blog: http://mycareerbrand.net/blog.html


My thanks to Julian Smith, company director, blogger and business commentator based in Auckland, New Zealand.  Connect with Julian on LinkedIn or Twitter.


Contact: www.MyCareerBrand.net Phone: +64 21 666 807, +64 9 5222802 e-mail: info@mycareerbrand.net Craig McAlpine's Linked In profile: http://goo.gl/OxFOKZ MISSION Working with Job Search Candidates to build their go-to-market strategy, develop powerful marketing collateral such as their CV, LinkedIn profile and social media presence, and ultimately to secure a new role that is not only rewarding but also assists them on their career journey. EXPERTISE Career Coaching - LinkedIn Training - LinkedIn Optimisation - Personal Branding - Job Hunt: Go to Market Strategy and Collateral - CV design and preparation - Interview skills INDUSTRY EXPERIENCE - Professional Services - Information Technology - Banking and Finance - Recruitment

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