THERE ARE a few recurring themes that seem to reliably crop up when we run our Interview Skills workshop ‘You’re Hired’, and last week’s was no exception. Here are three common blind alleys and how to avoid them.

1. Be clear about your achievements

Many of us don’t like to appear to be big headed, so we play down our experience. This is stellar behaviour for a dinner party, but pretty short-sighted for an interview.

I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve spoken to people about their work achievements, and had to tease out information that made it clear that what they did was spectacular. Problem is, most interviewers will not make this effort. Whatever you say will be taken at face value, so if you, trying not to sound big headed, say you are “quite good’” they may well think to themselves, “What a shame, we wanted great.”

Lets think about it. The people interviewing you probably know nothing about you other than what you wrote on your CV or application. They will have other people lined up who are similarly qualified. When you walk into that meeting, what you say and how you behave will be all they have to go on when it comes to making a judgement about whether you are right for this role.

If you are coy and say things like: “Well we were fairly pleased with the outcome… we met the deadlines by the skin of our teeth… it wasn’t all me, we worked as a team… ” When the whole truth of the situation was that you drove the project; major catastrophes struck, but you got the bit between your teeth, and made sure they were resolved and while there was a team, you were leading it, and you inspired people to work hard to make sure that the job got done. If you don’t actually say all this, how can they possibly know?

2. Interviews are two-way assessments

Most of us forget that an interview is a two-way process. They might be interviewing you for the job, but you are interviewing them as potential employers and clients.

Now we all know this intellectually, but when preparing for an interview, our focus is usually on whether we are going to pass muster. We worry about being asked stress test questions, or being put on the spot, instead of being comfortable with the thought that anyone who thinks that’s an appropriate way to judge a potential employee, may not be someone you particularly want to work for.

Now the truth is that often the person you are preparing to meet has little or no experience of interviewing, so on some occasions, they are quite possibly as nervous as you. I always see trick questions as a sign that they are not confident in their ability to judge people, so I start to see if I can help make their job easier by trying to raise the aspects of my experience that I think they will be most interested in.

Most important is to recognise that your CV or application got you through the door as suitably qualified. The interview is more about relationship. So prepare well, be yourself, make sure they see the competent professional you are, and go make your assessment of whether these are people you want to do business with.

3. Stay in the room

Finally, because interviews can be a stressful situation, we can mentally duck out of the interview to have a rather frantic conversation with ourselves in our head. Just don’t.

You may think this sounds like a ludicrously obvious thing to suggest, but have you ever found yourself in a stressful situation, looked up and realised that someone just asked you a question and you never heard a word?

This happens when the conversation you are having inside your own head is so loud or intense, that it drowns out, or distracts you from what’s happening in front of you.

If you are prone to this, you will know exactly what I mean. In an interview, if asked a question and you give an answer you don’t like, you can find yourself saying to yourself in your head, “What was I thinking, what a stupid thing to say, I could have said…”

Unfortunately, while you are doing this, the interviewer has moved on to the next question, and there’s a very high chance you’ll only partially hear it, so the answer to that question is likely to be unsatisfactory too!

This is what I mean by staying in the room. Even if you have given a terrible answer, stay focussed on what is being said in response to it. If it really was an awful answer, and your interviewer has any skills, they may well you ask a supplementary question so you can clarify what you’ve said. If this doesn’t happen don’t be frightened to go back to it at some point in the conversation when there is a suitable opening.

If you are having a conversation in your head, you are no longer present, and that will be apparent to your interviewer. So if you catch yourself in an intense internal conversation, switch it off and get back out there. It’s not over till it’s over, so make sure you stay in the game.

If you can steer yourself clear of these three blind alleys, you will give yourself a much better chance of success at your next interview. Good luck.

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