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How to be Successful at Interviews

By Peter Meherne, Recruitment Director at Plain Words Ltd

No-nonsense interview rules that work…

The job marketplace is full of advice on what you should and shouldn't do at interviews. Some of it is good advice; much of it is trite – reminding you to wash and to refrain from wearing your Viking helmet (yes, I know they love it down the pub…but are you sure it will help you get that technical writing job?)

Sell your skills in interview situations more effectively

I'm not going to do that. I'm just going to concentrate on a few simple rules that work. They won't get you every job you interview for. But they will help you to “sell” your skills in interview situations more effectively, which will considerably up the odds of getting hired.

Let's start at the very beginning…

I'm going to assume that you have the wherewithal to turn up at the interview on time, polish your shoes, wear good-looking clothes (smart or casual, depending on the company's dress code), and to go to the toilet before the interview.

Okay, let's look at interview rule number one…

Rule 1: Tell 'em what's in it for them

The first rule of being successful at interviews comes from a well established maxim of the advertising world: Tell 'em what's in it for them and keep telling them until they buy.

Research the company in depth before the interview

Translated to the job interview, this entails telling the employer exactly how you will use your skills to make more profit for their company. You need to be specific about this. Research the company in depth and isolate the problems and challenges they currently face.

Tell them how you can help solve their problems

Could you use your skills to help them solve one of their problems or challenges? They might want to set up a programming application that is generally considered highly complex. But maybe you could do it? If so, list in detail how you would do it.

It takes time and effort. But believe me, it's a sure fire way of getting a job. (In fact, I know someone who did solve a complex programming problem and got themselves a great job).

Focus on what you can do for them now, not on the past

By focusing on the problems a company needs solving, you swing the emphasis of the interview firmly on your work skills now – not on what you've done in the past.

While your past accomplishments are relevant (they got you where you are today), they aren't as tangible to a prospective employer as actually showing them how you can make their company more effective and profitable.

Rule 2: Tell 'em you want the job

If you attend an interview for a job, it's obvious you want the job, right? Well, it ought to be. But statistics from head-hunting agencies suggest otherwise. Apparently, many job candidates fail to get hired because the employer isn't convinced the candidate actually wants the job!

Sell your skills and close the sale

Like it or not, in a job interview, you're a sales person. You're selling your skills and, to a degree, your personality. So, like the salesperson, you need to close the sale.

Tell them you want the job

You need to look the prospective employer in the eye and tell them you want the job. Don't pressurise them in any way. Just make it clear that you're not just interested in the job, you actually want it.

Rule 3: Be yourself – don't be a zombie

A lot of people who attend job interviews read all the “how to succeed at interviews” guide books. Most people would say it is good to be prepared and to get the right advice. And, yes, I'd go along with that. But I'd also add this proviso: Be careful who you get your advice from: bad advice will get you nowhere.

In the interview be yourself

Think on this: three company owners of my acquaintance, all in the IT business, each said something along the following lines to me: “I can always tell the job candidate who has read the book on interviewing.

You get the bone-crushing handshake, the zombie-like eye contact, the contrived body language, and the rehearsed “model” answers to every question. They stand out a mile!”

Needless to say, my acquaintances don't hire these types of candidates. The candidates they do hire, however, are those they consider were “being themselves” during the interview.

Expect to be nervous at the interview – it is natural

I should add that they don't discriminate against candidates who are nervous (you expect people to be a bit edgy at interviews), just those who put on an act. The bottom line is: so long as you aren't a social deviant, it's okay to be yourself at interviews.

And if you get hired, you don't have to keep up an act – because you were taken on for who you are, not for some song and dance act you got from a book. That's got to be better – hasn't it?

Rule 4: Learn to ride the terror

Let's face it, interviews are scary. Most people get nervous; some get terrified. And for good reason. There's a lot hanging on interviews. After all, getting hired means you'll be able to continue eating and have somewhere to live. So here's a good way of riding the terror…

Take a deep breath before you dive into the interview

While waiting to be called in to the interview room, do the following: take a deep(ish) breath, then breathe out more slowly than you breathed in. Do this as many times as you like. But if you do it more than ten times, don't take too deep breaths.

Breathe naturally

Keep your breathing as natural as possible, ensuring that the outbreaths take longer. It's also worth trying to breathe from your abdomen, rather than your chest.

The reasoning behind this breathing method is that when you are nervous, your breathing is shallow and rapid. This quickly depletes carbon dioxide levels in the blood, making things worse.

Breathing correctly has a calming effect

Taking deep breaths, and making the out breath slow, brings the carbon dioxide levels back to normal and has a calming effect. Psychotherapists advise people who suffer from panic attacks to use this method of breathing.

Finally… above all, be yourself

I realise that these rules might not be what you read in the conventional guidebooks on interviews. But nearly everyone reads them. And if you want to get hired, it's clear that you need to stand out from the crowd as a unique individual. The best way to do that is to be yourself.

You only want one job

Be warned, though, you must face the fact that not everyone will like you or want you. But, realistically, you're not trying to sell your skills and talents to the whole world. You only want one taker. So if one IT mover and shaker isn't impressed by you, another one will be – guaranteed!

Don't let rejection get you down

The art is to never let rejection get you down. Just keep going to interviews and carry on being yourself. The law of averages means you'll tie up with the right company sooner or later – probably sooner if you market yourself well, as described in Rule 1.

Email me with your comments and stories

Lastly, if you think I've missed out something important, or if you have any comments generally, email me! I'd also love to hear any good stories about interviews that either went particularly well – or particularly badly – and the reasons why.


Oh, yes, and if you follow my advice to the letter and get hurled bodily out of the interview room – don't blame me. Blame my upbringing, the environment I grew up in, an act of God, anything, but me…

Checklist of things to remember when going to interviews

Preparing for the interview

Attending the interview

Travel expenses for interviews

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