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Standing out at a job interview - 5 keys to success

Updated: Apr 17, 2022

Attending job interviews can be nerve-racking and even for seasoned pros, it can be challenging to know what they need to do to secure their desired job. Career coach Eunice Asante walks us through her five key tips to ensure job interview success.

Key one – be prepared

This might sound basic, but I'm always amazed by how little time people leave to prepare for job interviews. As a career coach, many people get in touch with me asking for interview support but only leave a few days to prepare.

Granted, an employer may not always give you enough notice to prepare. But my mantra is that the best time to start preparing for an interview is when you are thinking about looking for another job. That way, regardless of what an employer does, you are prepared.

Being prepared means knowing how to answer key interview questions such as: ‘tell me about yourself’ and “why are you a suitable candidate for this position?’

The extra time you spend preparing for your interview will pay off. In my previous job, where I was responsible for hiring people, it was always obvious which candidates had spent extra time preparing. And we would usually hire well-prepared candidates.

Key two – what to expect at an interview

I always advise candidates to find out and understand what they should expect at their job interview. Find out what type of interview you will be having because forewarning gives you time to prepare.

For example, there are critical differences between how you structure answers to competency-based interview questions to how you answer strengths-based interview questions.

Similarly, there are difference in what you include in interview presentations versus how to conduct yourself in group interviews. While it is necessary to know all the different types of interview structures, focusing on your specific type of interview means that you can be better prepared, which may help elevate your performance.

The second question to ask before attending an interview is ‘who will conduct the interview? as this gives you an opportunity to research the person, their position and interest within the organisation. This information can help you answer questions more intelligently and intentionally, and better align you throughout the interview. I will talk more about aligning yourself in the fourth key.

It's important to note that your recruiting agent or company will not always tell you the type of interview you will have or who will be interviewing you. But asking these questions go hand in hand with being well prepared. If you cannot find out, there are usually multiple clues in the job description and advertisement, on the website and if possible, by speaking to people who have been through the same interview process.

Key three – you are not the focus of the interview

It may sound counterintuitive but assuming you are the focus of the interview is a common belief people make. The job role and the organisation's needs are the focus of the interview. Your prospective employer, at this stage, has not invested in you personally and do not care about you outside of the role requirements.

Therefore, during the interview process, your job is to convince whoever's hiring you that you are the right person to fulfil the needs of the role. Any information you share about yourself, your career history or your experience must relate to the needs of the role. But more importantly, how the information you provide demonstrates that you can fulfil the needs of the role.

This may sound simple, but many people make the mistake of just talking about themselves and what they have previously done and why they would like the job, for example, without ever relating it to the needs of the organisation or the role.

When you are unable to connect what you are saying back to the needs of the role, it signifies to the employer that you are unfocused and do not fully understand the job requirements. To prevent this, only share information that relates to the needs of the role and demonstrates why you are the right candidate to deliver on the role's needs.

Key four – understand the culture of your prospective employer

There are two reasons why this is important. The first is if you know your prospective employer's culture, you can mirror this during the interview process. Mirroring is essential because it helps to create the impression of familiarity and safety. We instantly feel more comfortable when we recognise and understand something as being the same or like us.

The same is true for employers, and mirroring conveys that you understand the organisation's needs, which is what every employer wants to see. Therefore, by understanding the culture, you can use this information as leverage to help align yourself throughout the interview process.

The second reason why this is important is because you need to be sure before you attend an interview that this will be a suitable environment for you. Is it an environment where you will feel welcomed and supported to do your best work? Are picking up vibes that an organisation's culture may not be right for you?

The interview process can help to confirm this. What you want is to walk into a new work environment, knowing precisely what you have stepped into.

By studying the company website, social media, job description and or speaking to its staff, you should get a good idea of what the culture may be like.

Key five – do your research

The final key to standing out at job interviews is doing your research. Again, this may sound simple, but this is one thing that is either missed by interviewees or not done well. Most people consider ‘do your research’ to mean reading the company mission statement, going over the role description, and looking through their social media and website.

But what I mean by ‘do your research’ is understanding the company's position in the market and finding out who its biggest competitors are. Researching what the market will be doing in the next three to five years and assessing the potential impact on the business.

Research also means analysing opportunities for growth within the company and finding out what customers or clients are saying about their services. Regardless of your industry, researching beyond the basic requirements is a must. If a candidate came into an interview with in-depth knowledge and insight into the role, the needs of the business and an understanding of the industry, I would be very impressed.

And if they were able to suggest solutions, options and new ideas, this candidate would be a shoo-in for the role. This level of research says a lot about the candidate and what they could potentially offer as a new hire. You would be a candidate that would stand out for all the right reasons.

There are lots more that I could go on and say about how to prepare for job interviews effectively. But I believe these five keys are fundamental to know and start practising and without good foundations, there's no structure.

If you want more information about how to be successful at job interviews, my e-book here is filled with in-depth knowledge and golden nuggets to help you ace your next job interview.

Until next time

Eunice Asante

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