Careers clinic: The biggest mistake in job interviews

Let's assume that your CV has done its job and you have been invited to interview, writes Jeremy I'Anson, director of Career...

Let's assume that your CV has done its job and you have been invited to interview, writes Jeremy I'Anson, director of Career Advantage. Astonishingly, this is another area where candidates often let themselves down.

There are many well-qualified, experienced managers who believe that they can turn up on the day and walk through the interview. I've heard the feedback so many times: "He obviously hadn't taken the trouble to prepare."

The simple question, "What do you know about us?" can floor even the most experienced senior manager. A waffled response guarantees that the rest of the interview will just be a formality, you won't get the job.

So, as with a good CV, research and preparation are the keys to success at interview. The research element will need to go a little deeper than for your CV. For example, who will you be meeting? HR director, finance director, CEO, or quite possibly all three. Each of those individuals may have a different agenda and will be focusing on different aspects of your fit for the job. Find out who they are, and try to establish what they may expect from you.

In addition to research, another critical element to the interview is "practice".

An interview is a performance, and just as you would practice an important business presentation, so you need to practice your interview technique.

It may have been quite a while since you last attended an interview, and the days when an interview consisted of a chat with the CEO are long gone. These days, interviews tend to be a highly structured series of carefully planned "competency questions" (probably from the HR director) and searching scenario or "critical incident" questions.

It is easy to talk about all the successes in your career, but much tougher (and more revealing for the interviewer) to answer questions about the times when things didn't go according to plan. What exactly did you do to turn around that floundering project, re-motivate that under performing development team or restructure the delivery model at your shared service centre?

It would be useful to have a good idea of what sort of questions you might expect to be asked at the interview and some in depth research will throw up some of the key issues facing the organisation which will most likely come at interview.

This brief article sets out only some of the challenges that you will face in your job search, but I hope it establishes that the "flying by the seat of your pants" approach might have worked in the past, but certainly is not going to succeed now.

Do you your homework before an important interview and you will stand out from the crowd and significantly improve your chances of getting a job offer.

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