Our guest blogger this month is Colin Nutt, Vice Chairman Barclays Corporate. Here he gives us his best advice for acing an interview.
I suppose I have been recruiting people for about 35 years now. I’m often asked to mentor colleagues and almost always it’s to help them take the next step up the career ladder, and that will almost always involve participating in an interview of some kind. So, I find myself dishing out a fair bit of advice. Here are a few pointers you might find useful, and they are ones that I use myself:
- It’s often said you make a first impression once, and that’s particularly true in an interview. Approach, style, attitude – you can put all sorts of labels on it, but how you come across to the person (or persons) on the other side of the table at the inception of an interview will set the tone for the rest of the interaction.
- Body language is a science all of its own, but just a few observations if I may: be in the room. Sounds obvious but I have interviewed people who spent much of the time staring out of the window, clearly wishing they were somewhere else. That’s wasting both my time and yours. Pay attention, be alert, lean forward to show you are listening and don’t fiddle. If bits of you itch, wait until you leave the room to scratch.
- I’m a great believer in personal brand. Probably 80% will be intrinsically you. Any less and you will lack sincerity, anything you say will sound rehearsed or repeated. The remaining 20% will be a cocktail of what you have seen or heard other people do, either friends, colleagues or even someone from TV. It may be a mannerism, a phrase, gestures or a smile. Adopting certain positive aspects into your own brand should be counterbalanced when you observe the opposite. When someone says something that grates on you or has an approach that makes you want to thump them, make sure you do not use similar characteristics yourself.
Prepare, prepare, prepare
- Treat a job interview like a client meeting. Do your research, find out about the organisation you are looking to join and aim to know more about it than the people who will be interviewing you. Ignorance of the hiring firm will become apparent very quickly and will be hard, if not impossible, to overcome.
- Often the hiring company will be a Public Limited Company – or Plc. Details are easy to find online, so get cracking. Find out who owns them, any major shareholders should be of interest. Research them too if need be.
- Check the history of the company, what was it set up to do, how big is it? If the shares are quoted, check the price and have it ready for when you are in the interview. If it has gone up or down recently, have that as a question when the time arrives. Once you know the share price, get the Market Capitalisation number. That tells you what the entire organisation is worth, and you can compare it with the competition.
- Many companies today will publish their values on their website. Check how they correlate to your own. If you have strong beliefs about the environment, then does your prospective employer share those through their published values? Ask about them in the interview.
- Check the senior management of the organisation and particularly check if you will be meeting any of them. If you are, then make sure you remember their backgrounds, so you can engage in conversation.
- Finally, when it comes to questions, have some ready, show you have thought about the business, have read about the company and are aware of what’s going on around you in the world.
Why all this research? Well, it will help you to understand the prospective employer better, but it will also become apparent to the people interviewing you that you have done your homework. That message will land well, evidencing that you are thorough, diligent, prepared and serious about the role under discussion. Don’t be shy to take some papers into the interview if that gives you some comfort.
Energy, enthusiasm and drive
- Before you attend the interview, think about the role itself. Read the job description in detail and think about how to communicate your suitability for the role. The single most common mistake I have seen over many interviews is that the candidate is looking at the role for what it will do for her or him. Is it the right stepping stone to the next level? Will it look good on the CV? Wrong approach! To mis-quote JFK, “Think not what the job can do for you, think what you can do for the job”. The person with a role to fill has a problem. Work needs to be done, the team is one down, workloads are mounting up and opportunities are being missed. Are you the solution they are looking for? Perhaps, but only if you identify the value you will bring to the business, the team or the boardroom and highlight it, and underline it three times in red!
- In my business I’m pretty sure I can teach a novice what the business is all about and the products we are promoting. Over time the required level of competency can be achieved. What I can’t teach however is energy, enthusiasm and drive. If you want the job, then show that energy. Be attentive, bright, smile and give a firm handshake. Make the room yours and drive the direction of the conversation when it’s your turn. That means:
- when you are asked what experience you have had in previous roles, give examples of what you have achieved, how you have made a contribution and what obstacles you overcame.
- double check what technical skills are required and make sure your professional qualifications are understood and noted.
- emphasise any language skills you possess.
- always understand the strategy of the business you are joining. Even if the role is at a junior level, you have the right to understand what that business is looking to achieve and how.
Good luck. If you follow these few suggestions, or even take some time to think around them it will help. It may even get you that job!