You have found a great job, written the perfect CV and now you are at the final hurdle. How should you prepare before making your first impression at interview?
There has always been a mismatch between what the recruiter needs and what the candidate has to offer, according to Peter Linas, European development director at recruitment agency Parity.
Linas points to the phenomenon of candidates who do well at interviews but perform poorly at work and, conversely, polished performers in the workplace who fail to communicate their abilities in an interview.
This paradox is particularly pronounced in the IT field, he said. Companies seek smooth communicators yet find themselves interviewing IT geeks who assume their techie prowess is a passport to employment.
The need for IT people to perform a winning interview has never been greater. The first step is to sharpen your understan-ding of what a future employer wants and to deliver it in the interview.
"The IT techie who sits in the corner oblivious to the world is a thing of the past. Their days are numbered," said Linas. "The market is tough and IT professionals have to develop better communication skills than they ever did before."
Talking the talk
Sue East, human resources director at IT supplier StorageTek, said her company has little desire for an IT department that sits in a back room waiting for business to come to it. "The skills profile for our internal IT department is not that dissimilar to our pre-sales staff," she said.
East conducts all first interviews herself and believes it is a good screening process. "IT staff have to talk to sales and services personnel and we are a reasonably good sounding board to ensure they can talk in lay language."
The best interviews are where you come out feeling you have just had a good two-way conversation, rather than having worked your way through 20 questions, said East. "If you are shy and tongue-tied, preparation is even more important."
Linas agrees that preparation is the key to turning weaknesses into strengths. He suggested role playing to build confidence prior to the interview. "Find a friend who has experience of interviewing in the workplace and do a dress rehearsal. Ask your friend for some honest feedback so that you can work on any weak points," he said.
Preparation is important but interviews should never be scripted, said Lee Cash, sales director of Hays IT recruitment agency. He encourages IT candidates to be forthright and to wear their heart on their sleeve during interviews. "Employers are looking for honesty and personality," he said.
Additionally, said Cash, it is good for candidates to have a questioning attitude and to demonstrate an interest in the business. "I have known companies take on a person with less experience simply because they have shown interest at the interview."
Asking to be shown around at the end of the interview is a good ploy. In sales speak it is an "assumptive close", a tactic that smacks of confidence but is expressed through a high level of interest.
Brett Wiskar applied for a job as senior internet producer at public relations company Lewis PR, after a three-year spell of contracting.
The job specification was to maintain all aspects of a web presence, including administering web servers, but Wiskar was not too concerned about the technical aspects of the role.
"Having already been em-ployed in a web environment, I had a strong understanding of how everything worked," said Wiskar. He pointed out that because the IT professional's skills are self evident from their CV, the interview is best spent explaining how these skills can be applied to a prospective employer's company to make it work better.
"I knew that the main requirement in the interview was to assure people I was the person for the job," Wiskar said.
"I was better prepared for my interview with Lewis PR than for any other job. The market for IT and the web is down, and it was the first time I had applied to the public relations sector.
"In the debriefing at the start of my new job, I was told that my new employer was impressed by the intensity I showed in the interview in wanting to get involved and help out.
"What I have learned over the course of doing several interviews is that everyone shakes your hand at the end and says 'we will be in touch'.
"My final question from Lewis PR was 'Do you have any reservations?' I was able to address any issues there and then. That way, the remaining impression was of a positive attitude and that carried over into the review of candidates after the interviews."
Top interview tips
- Companies are looking for someone who looks the part. "If it is a suited-and-booted site, wear a suit. Save yourself any embarrassment and do not wear combats," said Peter Linas of Parity
- Prepare an answer to the question, "Can you give an instance where you have had to deal with constructive criticism from a customer?" An ideal answer would be to show how you built a rapport with a customer and were able to explain the action taken with any other possible options without resorting to techno babble, said Sue East of StorageTek
- Do not get over-technical unless asked to. Ignore the temptation to blind the interviewer with technical knowledge, said Lee Cash of Hays.
This was first published in June 2003