From Good to Glorious: Perfecting your Interview Skills

By Nicola Rennie
Unergraduate Student

We all know the standard advice for ensuring an interview doesn’t go badly from the start—dress smartly, don’t be late, bring any required documentation—but what is it that turns a good interview into a flawless interview that leaves an employer with little doubt that you’re the candidate to hire?

1) Don’t Shy Away from Small Talk

It’s well known that first impressions matter. This means that the first moment an interviewer meets you is the most important and often this isn’t when you first walk into the interview room and sit down. It’s in the moments before, on the way from the waiting room to the interview room. Even if the person escorting you from A to B isn’t the person interviewing you, the interviewer may certainly ask them their opinion of you. Did you come across as overconfident and cocky or shy and awkward? Do they think you would fit in at the company? Treat every person you interact with at the company as if they are the one interviewing you.

If you are nervous, making small talk is definitely better than enduring an awkward silence during the fifteen story elevator ride. Awkward silences tend to make people even more uncomfortable which, if you’re already anxious, certainly won’t help you to relax in those crucial moments before an interview begins. Rather than the overused, and frankly boring, small talk of ‘terrible weather isn’t it?’ try to connect with the person interviewing you on a personal level. Did they study the same subject as you at undergraduate level? Do they also run marathons? Connecting with your interviewer as an individual before you’ve even gotten in the room puts you miles in front of the other candidates.

2) Do Your Due Diligence

When you are inevitably asked ‘What attracted you to apply to work at (for example) Goldman Sachs?’ if you can provide a specific example of a project the company has been involved in you can tell them why you want to work at Goldman Sachs rather than JP Morgan, say. Researching the company you are interviewing for will mean you are prepared for this question and, since there can be a large gap in the time between applying and interviewing, it refreshes your memory as to why you actually wanted to work there in the first place. Even if this means creating a spreadsheet with lists of companies you’ve applied to and specific projects or deals they’ve worked on—in an interview, it shows you actually cared enough to look.

If you know specifically who will be interviewing you, take a look at their LinkedIn profile. What is their specific role in the organisation? Remember: a little flattery goes a long way. Note the little—don’t overdo it, you might come across as disingenuous. Let your enthusiasm for the company come across as naturally as possible.

3) Prepare for Standard Questions

We all know there are standard interview questions that any interviewer may ask: ‘Why do you want to work as a (for example) investment analyst?’, ‘What skills make you qualified for this position?’ or ‘Give an example of a time when you worked well as a team.’ Preparing for these questions in advance will allow you to answer them with conviction rather than trying to think on your feet. Making a bullet point list of your key skills and experiences can help you to think about what aspects of yourself are the most important to display during an interview. To quote Benjamin Franklin, ‘By failing to prepare, you are preparing to fail.’ Conversely, is it possible to prepare too much? Sometimes. Creating an over-rehearsed speech to give when your interviewer asks these questions might mean you concentrate too much on trying to remember what you wanted to say and instead of letting your enthusiasm for the role transpire.

4) Don’t Panic

There may come a point in an interview when you are asked a question you aren’t sure how to answer or don’t know what you are actually being asked. If you don’t fully understand a question, ask your interviewer for clarification – it’s much better to double check than answer a question you weren’t asked—this leaves your interviewer without the information they need. If you’re not sure about the answer to a question or feel your mind going blank, take a moment to collect your thoughts. A short pause in your answer always feels longer to you than it does to your interviewer.

If you know you get nervous before or during interviews, use some standard techniques to help you relax such as meditation or visualisation. Mock interviews can be a great way to help you adjust to the environment of an interview room. It’s also be worth noting you might not be the only nervous person in the room. Maybe this is the first time your interviewer has ever interviewed someone for a job? Maybe they’re also worried about your impression of how they represent the company?

5) Ask Questions

Most interviews end with the interviewer asking if you have any questions. This is your opportunity to find out specifics about your potential future at the company. Even if there isn’t anything you need to ask, have some pre-prepared questions for your interviewer. The questions you ask differentiate you from other candidates. If you genuinely can’t think a question which hasn’t already been covered in the course of the interview, even asking something as simple as ‘when can I expect to hear from you about your decision?’ suggests to the interviewer you are excited to start working for the company.

At the end of the day, walking out of an interview and thinking it couldn’t have gone better is the feeling we all dream of but find extremely difficult to achieve. Research and preparation beforehand coupled with a relaxed but positive attitude on the interview day should go a long way to helping you find that flawless interview feeling.


Feature image by Flazingo Photos

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