How to do a winning interview

Your CV has got you in the door. Now all you have to do is convince the person sitting opposite you that you are the exactly what...

Your CV has got you in the door. Now all you have to do is convince the person sitting opposite you that you are the exactly what their organisation needs.

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.

But it is not the mismatch that usually springs to mind: companies seeking smooth communicators yet interviewing IT geeks who assume their techie prowess is a passport to employment.

Linas points to a phenomenon of candidates who interview well - but perform poorly - and, conversely, polished performers in the workplace who fail to communicate their abilities at interview. This paradox is particularly pronounced in the IT field, he says.

The need for good techies to perform a winning interview has never been greater. And the first step to take is to sharpen your understanding of what a future employer wants and to deliver it at the first meeting - in the interview room.

"The IT techie who sits in the corner oblivious to the world is a thing of the past. His days are numbered," says Linas.

The market is tough and IT professionals have to nurture better information-giving skills than they ever did historically, he confirms.

Talking the talk

Sue East, human resources director of Storagetek, adds that her company has little desire for an IT department that sits in a back room and waits for the business to come to it. "The skills profile for our internal IT department is not that dissimilar to our pre-sales staff," she says.

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’re a reasonably good sounding board to ensure they can talk in lay language," she says.

The best interviews are where you come out feeling that you have had a good two-way conversation rather than have just worked your way through 20 questions, says East. "If you’re shy and tongue-tied then preparation is even more important," she advises.

Linas agrees that preparation is the key to turning weaknesses into strengths. He suggests role-playing to build confidence prior to an 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 says.

Preparation is important but interviews should never be scripted, cautions 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 the interview. "Employers are looking for honesty and personality," he believes.

Additionally, says Cash, it is good for candidates to have a questioning attitude and to demonstrate interest. "I’ve known companies take on a person with less experience simply because they have shown more interest."

Asking to be shown around at the end of the interview is a good ploy. In sales-speak it is an "assumptive close" that smacks of confidence but is expressed through a high-level of interest.

Tips for top interviews

  • Companies are looking for someone who looks the part. "If it is a suited-and-booted site, wear a suit. Save yourself the embarrassment and don’t wear combats," says 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 show how the interviewee built a rapport with the customer and was able to explain actions taken and possible options to take without resorting to techno babble, advises Sue East, of StorageTek.
  • Do not get over-technical unless asked to. The temptation is to blind the interviewer with technical knowledge, says Lee Cash, of  Hays.

How an ex-contractor won his interview

Brett Wiskar applied for the job as senior internet producer at public relations company Lewis PR, after a three-year spell of contracting.

The job spec 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 worked in the web environment, I had a strong understanding of how everything worked," says Wiskar. He points out that as the IT professional’s skills are self evident from his or her resumé, an 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 that I’m their guy and I can do the job," Wiskar says.

"I was better prepared for my interview with Lewis than for any other job. The market for IT and the web is down, and it was the first time I’d applied to the PR sector," he says.

"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 wanting to get involved and help out.

His advice to IT professionals: "What I’ve learned over the course of interviews is that everyone shakes your hand at the end and says ‘we’ll be in touch’. My final question with Lewis was 'Do you have any reservations?' I was able to address any issues there and then. That way, the remaining impression was of positives and this would carry over into any review of potential candidates," says Wiskar.

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