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How to be good at an interview

As a veteran interviewer, I have seen a lot.  There was the fellow who, after walking into the interview room announced that he needed to “go for a slash”.  He promptly went outside and had a pee against the side of the building (we did have functioning toilets on the premises).  The lady that burst into tears when asked about her most recent challenge and how she got over it – turned out she wasn’t over it.  And so many more.  I can’t count how many times phones have gone off, people have been late, and one fellow had to ask what job he was interviewing for. How can you be good at an interview?

Even people who are seasoned and experienced professionals can suffer from an interview shocker.  Usually it is the fault of the interviewee and their lack of prep.  It was not, however, the fault of the poor chap that we had to evacuate due to a fire alarm that he did not have a good interview.  He got a do-over.

How to be good at an interview

I acknowledge that every interview will be different, however there are 5 basic things that you can do for every interview that will improve your chances of success.  If you are at the start of career journey, take a look here for the start of the career hunt.  It doesn’t matter if you are applying for an entry-level job or a role as a Manager.  These principles will stand you in good stead.

Be organised from the start.

When you are looking for a job, chances are you are applying for multiple roles at the same time.  Ensure that you organise yourself so that you have separate files for each job application.  Save the advertisement in your file, and any responses you provided.  Any emails you receive from that application process should also be saved here.  Then, if you get an invitation to interview, you can easily put your hands on any information you need.  The last thing you want is to be looking for the advertisement which has since been taken down from the hiring site, or not knowing what you said in your cover letter.  Your information disappears into the quagmire of some recruitment company sites once you hit submit.  Make sure you have saved it in your own system before doing so.


Don’t be under any misconception, the question “what do you know about the company?” is a test.  I cannot tell you how many people, when asked, do not know anything about the company the interview is with.  Frankly, as an interviewer, it pisses me off.  If a person can’t be bothered to find out about the organisation you are looking to work for, then I can’t be bothered hiring them.  They look both lazy and under-prepared.  Even if you spend 15 minutes before the interview on the company website, you will appear better informed.

Seriously though, do your due diligence, for your own benefit.  Go to websites, read business articles, find out about the industry.  As a bit of a finance geek I also take a look at financials.  It is always nice to know that the company you hope to move to isn’t trading insolvent.

When the recruiter calls to offer the interview, ask them to wait while you get a pen and paper – write EVERYTHING down.  Get as much information you can, this can include:

  • How many people will be interviewing you, who are they?
  • Is it a group interview or single and do they expect that there will be more than one interview in the process?
  • Is there anything you need to bring or prepare for?
  • Where is it, is there anything you should know about the building? Where can you park?
  • Who should you ask for when you arrive?
  • What type of interview is it?
  • Is there an expected dress (in manufacturing, often they want to show you the floor, safety boots may be preferable to heels)

You know I love planning (read here).  With this information you will be better prepared, more confident and good at the interview.

Have a story.

I don’t mean make up a story.  Have pre-prepared stories about your experience.  Most recruitment activity is pretty basic and it is not difficult to be good at interviews.  The questions tend to run along familiar lines.  If you are going for a leadership role, you can bet that you will be asked questions about leading staff.  It is not difficult to predict, on a broad basis, the kinds of questions that will be asked.

If you have received a Position Description (PD) for the role (which you will have filed thanks to point 1), then look at what the key requirements of the role are.  That is probably what the questions will be based around.  Think about your experience and how you might demonstrate “good communication skills”, if the PD calls for it.  If you are really at a loss, Google it.  You can be specific.  Type in “top interview questions for accountants”.  Have a good story, be good at the interview.

Read the non-verbals

To be good at interviews, you need to respond to more than just the questions that you are being asked.  It is easy to focus your energy on the person that you receive the most non-verbal responses from (the person who nods and smiles when you answer a question, for example).  However, you need to win over everyone in the room, not just the encouraging ones.

Look out for signs that you are boring your crowd (one of my colleagues once accidently dug a hole in his palm with his pen during an interview, he was so bored).  If you are boring everyone, finalise your answer, quickly.  Quick tip, if you have lost your audience, stop and ask a question about the question you have been asked.  It focuses the group back.

The majority of interviews are still conducted face to face, through question and answer.  Telephone interviews, skype interviews or video interviews mean you have to work harder to engage your audience.  Ask more questions to engage your interviewer right back.

Finally, be careful not to direct your energy to the person you perceive to be the most powerful in the room.  You are showing you’re bias, and that is not good.  There is nothing worse than being ignored in an interview for the person sitting next to you – and you may have misconstrued the power situation and got it all wrong.

Don’t give things to the Interviewer that they don’t ask for

I cringe on the inside when I interview someone that brings in a folder of their qualifications or accomplishments.  If they don’t ask for it, then chances are they don’t want it.  Please don’t attempt to take me through your glory book or try to foist your quals on me at the end of the interview.  I am happy that you received an award for being a good team player in 1996 and if that is relevant to your role I will ask you about it.

This goes for the verbal information you give your interviewer.  I once had a fellow tell me that he had recently had a vasectomy and that quote “things had been pretty quiet on the home front, if you get my meaning?” I got his meaning.  I had asked about his physical fitness to undertake his role, and if there was anything we should be aware of.  The role required a lot of standing.

Be frugal with information that is not relevant, do not to overshare.  Limit the personal information, there will be plenty of time after you have the job to treat your co-workers to your vasectomy story.

Be good at your interview


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