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Interview Skills: The Interview

This lesson is a part of an audio course Interview Skills by Ross Maynard

The project has reached its culmination. You are ready to present your project proposal, your pitch for this job. You have done your preparation. Your interview skills balance sheet is a good fit for the role description. Your assets will be valuable for the organisation, and your gaps are not serious.

Now it is time to present.

Most interviews nowadays are by panel – usually two or three interviewers and a representative from the HR department.

One to one interviews are now very rare – mainly to prevent any possibility of bias or unfairness.

The HR person is there to ensure the interview is covered fairly and that there is no bias against, or far, any particular type of candidate. In many organisations today, your name, gender, age, and ethnicity may have been removed for the early stages of the selection process – notably reviewing CVs – to insure against any unconscious bias.

You should be told in advance who you will be interviewed by. If you are not, ask the person liaising with you when you are selected for interview. Then you should look them up on LinkedIn and find out about their background – their role in the organisation, their qualifications, and even their interests. You might be able to find an area of commonality that will help you build rapport with them.

As you enter the interview room, and during the meeting, pay attention to everyone on the panel. Make eye contact with them all regularly if that is culturally appropriate and, if you feel you are not winning someone over, subtly work harder to build rapport with that person.

Getting Started at the Interview

My advice is to be pleasant to everyone you meet in the employing organisation. Receptionists and assistants who come to meet you are often asked for their impressions of the candidates, so you should aim to be friendly and communicative. Smile and greet them pleasantly. If there is time, have a friendly, relaxed chat about something unrelated to the interview.

Greet everyone you meet, and even those you pass in the corridor pleasantly. You don't know who they might be. Make positive, friendly eye contact without being too intense.

If it is possible, shake hands with everyone on the interview panel. If it is not, nod, smile, and greet them as they are introduced.

Be confident and self-assured without being arrogant.

Present yourself well and communicate clearly. But don't talk too much. Listen and observe before you respond.

Tips for the Interview

Here are my tips for a positive interview:

Create a positive first impression. Be alert and responsive. Make eye contact with each person on the panel in turn. Eye contact is not appropriate in some cultures, but where it is, I believe it is an important part of building rapport with people. If you can engage them in friendly eye contact, then you are on a good way to creating a positive impression.

Build rapport. Rapport is a state of connection with your audience. I would describe it as being on the same wavelength as someone. You can often tell if you have achieved rapport with someone if you feel they are engaging with you positively and warmly. It's a difficult feeling to describe, but you can usually tell if you are on the same wavelength as the person you are talking to or whether you are on different planets. You are starting from cold at the start of the interview, so you have to work hard to establish that common wavelength. A warm, friendly manner, relaxed but warm eye contact; and appearing alert and interested will be a good start.

Present yourself well. Be alert and attentive. Take time to ponder the questions you are asked and give good answers that address the question. Pay attention to everyone on the panel.

Communicate clearly. Speak clearly, perhaps more slowly than you might talk with friends. Don't garble your answers or speak in platitudes. Address each question directly and positively. If you don't understand a question or want to check its meaning, ask for clarification. That will buy you some thinking time – though don't overuse that technique. Sometimes accents can be difficult. I live in Scotland and I know many people from England or overseas can struggle with a Scots accent. Similarly, foreign accents can be difficult. I find some American accents difficult to understand because the intonation is so different from British English. It can be embarrassing to ask the questioner to repeat a question, but it might be necessary. Just try and tune into the person's accent as quickly as possible. Likewise, the interview room can affect how you hear. Large rooms can be echoey, and outside noises can also be distracting. You might ask to move closer if you need to. Never tell the interviewer that you can't understand them because they have a funny accent!

Seek first to understand; then to be understood. This connects with the previous point. If you are nervous, you might jump in with an answer before you fully understand what is being asked. So take a moment to digest each question. It can be useful to summarise a question back to the interviewers to check understanding – and that can buy you some time – but don't overuse it. Make sure the answer you give is relevant to the question and frames your skills and experience positively. Speak at a measured pace – as I am doing now – and check that everyone understands you. Accents can be tricky for the interview panel too.

Stay sharp and keen. Smile and treat every aspect of the interview with a positive attitude. It can be tiring staying sharp and attentive throughout the interview and I certainly have felt myself drifting off into an inner world as the interview gets longer and my brain gets tired – particularly if it is late in the day or if it is a hot day. If you notice that, pinch yourself and change your position. Get back in the zone. Interviews rarely last more than an hour, so keep yourself in the game. Continue to cycle your eye contact with each of the panel members and speak as if you are talking to them personally. Keep your answers interesting and relevant.

Create a lasting impression. As the interview closes, don't just let it run out of steam. Work to create a lasting final impression. The panel might be seeing ten people, or more, during the day. You want them to remember you long after you have left that room. We'll come back to that.

Let's cover a couple of aspects of the interview in a little more detail.

At the Beginning of the Interview

  1. Once you have entered the room and been introduced to everyone, sit comfortably and attentively. Don't fidget.

  2. Observe the body language of everyone on the panel and subtly start to mirror it. That will help you build rapport with the members.

  3. Cycle your eye-contact around everyone on the panel. Remember that the chair-person may not be the decision-maker.

  4. Before the interview starts, make an interesting, and brief, opening comment to break the ice. Something like: "What a wonderful building this is"; "I noticed the amazing artwork you have in reception". "I see the (sports) team the company sponsors were playing yesterday. Do many staff attend the matches?" If you have a family connection (however old) make it.

  5. There will be one or two icebreaker questions to get started. Make sure you have a relaxed, positive answer. A witty answer can be very good, but be careful it doesn't stray into inappropriateness: "How was your journey?" and "What weather we're having!"

The Nitty Gritty of the Interview

Now we are into the heart of the interview:

  • Listen to each question. It may be useful to reflect the question back: "Yes, I imagine it is very important for the role to …" but don't overuse this technique.

  • Or you can check understanding: "Do you mean … in dealing with internal staff, or with clients?" Even if you already know the answer, it shows you are alert to other possible angles and are actively engaging.

  • Continue to cycle your friendly eye-contact with everyone and mirror body-language.

  • Be positive and enthusiastic, but not desperate!

The End of the Interview

Most interviews last 45 to 60 minutes and, at the end, you'll be asked if you have any questions. Make sure you have prepared something. Questions you might ask include:

  • "I'm very interested in the company's activities in X, as part of my development plan, would it be possible to get some time with them to learn more?"

  • "I'd like to develop my international experience. Might there be opportunities in the future to spend time in offices in other countries?"

  • "I'd like to develop my skills in Y, does the company have training and development packages in that specialism?"

  • "What are the next steps in the selection process?"

Do not ask about salary or benefits. You should have been told before the interview the salary range and been given information about benefits. It comes across as greedy and selfish to ask about salary in the interview itself.

As you finish, leave them with a warm feeling. Make a positive closing statement. Something like: "Thank you for your time today. That was demanding but enjoyable. This seems a really interesting company to work for, and the role sounds great. I believe I could do a good job and look forward to hearing from you."

Smile in gratitude and leave the room, your head held high.

Thank you for listening to this lesson. In the next lesson, we'll discuss how to deal with an online interview.

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Written by

Ross Maynard