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How to ace your face-to-face interview

In Getting Hired Lesley Curwen looks at the fast-changing process of recruitment in companies, big and small.

As a recruiter at Lloyds Banking Group states, the face-to-face interview is “still by far the most important aspect of any recruitment process.” In truth, your ability to answer questions in front of a person or panel can make or break your career. A fit of the wobbles or the wrong tie and you can say goodbye to your dream job.

Luckily, we’re here with some indispensable tips to help you nail that interview and turn “help me” into “I’m hired!”

1. Do your research

Don’t get caught out. Find out who is going to be asking the questions and learn as much as you can about them.

Research the company thoroughly. What is the business? What is its annual turnover? Who is in charge? What is the company’s standing in the industry? And who are the business’s key competitors?

A good place to start is the company’s website. Take notes, learn names and prepare some questions to ask at the end of your interview that show just how much research you’ve done.

It’s all legwork that you can do before the big day to help you feel prepared and confident.

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2. Practise makes perfect

Create a list of potential questions you might get asked and practise answering them all.

If you’re stuck for ideas there are plenty of sites offering up classic interview questions so you can get a feel for the type of things that might get thrown at you.

When preparing your answers think in terms of telling stories: prepare concrete examples of where, when, and how you have demonstrated all the skills asked for on the job description. These short stories about your past achievements and experiences should illustrate how you provided value to your past employers and how you will add value in this new role.

3. Dress to impress

A former expert in executive recruitment, Virginia Eastman, recalls interviewing a man who’d applied to run a media company: “His halitosis and personal hygiene came into the room three minutes before he did, he was very badly attired in odd socks, food down his lapel, the worst comb-over I’ve ever seen.” Needless to say, he didn’t get the job.

First impressions are crucial. Some potential employers will make their mind up in the first 30 seconds – you could perform brilliantly but if your attire has already put them off, you’re going to be fighting a losing battle.

Go for a suit and tie, or a clean, white shirt and trousers, or a sophisticated dress. Although the company might have a casual clothes policy they won’t expect you to turn up in jeans. And the fact is, you can’t do harm by going smart. Make sure your outfit is clean and ironed the night before so there are no last minute panics.

And don’t eat tomato soup on the bus on the way there.

4. Have a firm handshake

It’s often something we forget, but a potential employer is going to be judging you on your handshake.

After all, it’s one of the first things that will happen when you walk in that room.

A firm handshake says I’m confident, in control, assertive and professional. Too firm and you’ll seem dominating and aggressive. Too limp and you’ll come across as a wet fish.

If you’re worried, practise on friends and get their take on whether you need to firm up or loosen that grip. When it comes to the big day, make sure you maintain eye contact with everyone who you make physical contact with. And have some strategic tissues in your pocket – no one wants to clasp a sweaty palm!

5. Smile!

Easier said than done when your heart is racing, your stomach is churning and you’re worried you’re going to forget your own name. But smiling is a universal language that says I’m happy to be here, and I’m a nice person.

So offer up a big smile when you walk in the door, and try to smile as much as you can throughout the conversation. It’s an easy way to score points!

On the subject of body language, remember to sit up straight and never slouch.

6. Don’t let nerves get the better of you

Adrenaline can make for either a thrilling and impressive performance, or… a disaster. Gut-wrenching nerves can make all the research we’ve done and facts we’ve remembered fly out of our head. They can make our hands shake and our tummies turn.

If you know nerves are your greatest enemy, be proactive. Do some deep breathing as you wait to be called into the room, or perhaps even a mindfulness exercise as you travel to the interview.

The brilliant thing about adrenaline is that it can help us perform at our absolute best if we harness it effectively. Channel those nerves into focused answers and a stand out performance.

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7. Be charismatic

Lesley meets Dermot Rooney from MJ Rooney, a small family run construction firm. He says, “Face-to-face interviews really give an opportunity for that person to show you a little bit of their charisma, to tell you what their passion is.”

What makes you who you are? Show personality and charisma and stand out from the crowd.

And don’t forget to be evangelical about the job itself. As the interview wraps up reiterate how much you like the company and how grateful you’d be for the opportunity to work there. Vocalising that enthusiasm might set you apart from another candidate.

8. Don’t lose momentum

Even if you feel like you’re dive-bombing, without a chance in hell of receiving that job offer, keep going. Don’t presume it’s a done deal.

You might be convinced that the panel of people opposite have taken an active dislike to you, but you could be way off the mark.

The next answer you give could be the one they’ve been waiting for so keep up the act and power through. You’ve got this!

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