Job interviews are among the most daunting challenges you can face in the work environment, so planning is paramount.
While many candidates prepare for interviews by doing in-depth research into the role and the organisation they are applying to, they are sometimes caught on the hop by questions about themselves and often forget to plan for an interview panel asking whether they have any questions about the employer.
A survey of 100 UK business leaders, by recruitment website CareerBuilder.co.uk, reveals that respondents believe not sharing specific accomplishments (57%) and not asking good questions (51%) are the two biggest mistakes made by candidates at job interviews.
While some of the other faux pas made at interview cited by the survey – such as falling asleep, texting or keeping a crash helmet on – should be easy to avoid for most right-minded candidates, practising your responses is vital, according to Tony Roy, president of CareerBuilder’s Europe Middle East and Africa division.
"Job interviews are high-stress, high-pressure situations," he says. "It’s important to practice responses. Research the company and industry and prepare thoughtful questions about new developments and opportunities. Show enthusiasm and provide examples of what you can bring to the table for their organisation."
Martin Warnes, managing director of recruitment website reed.co.uk, agrees that preparation is the key to a good interview.
“It is all too easy for your mind to go blank at an interview, or to come away kicking yourself about how weak your answers sounded simply because you hadn’t prepared anything,” he says. “So it is certainly worth working through a set of questions beforehand and thinking though your best answers.”
But, at the same time, when answers sound too rehearsed, interviewers get suspicious and can even start to think you might be making things up, warns Warnes. “So yes, it is important to prepare, but once you are in the interview itself try to relax and focus on listening to the actual questions the interviewer asks,” he says. “Answer each one directly, rather than just cramming in everything you have prepared whether it is relevant or not.”
Nowadays many employers for even the most technical of jobs are looking for candidates to illustrate specific “competencies” at interview, according to Warnes, who adds that, in many cases, every one of a candidate’s answers will be given a score based on whether or not they are thought to have demonstrated certain values or kinds of behaviour in their previous career.
“Interviewers want evidence, which means they are hoping to hear specific examples of actual things you have done – which you need to be able to expand on further if the interviewer probes for more information,” he says.
“This makes it even more important that you spend time thinking about your past experience,” Warnes adds. “ Take a couple of hours to recall details from a range of different times when you have made a difference, reacted well under pressure, or have gone the extra mile to succeed. If the job description says they are looking for particular attitudes or values, make sure you have an example which illustrates how your profile fits each one.”