There is a certain injustice in the fact that interview performance is so important and that interviewers judge interviewees purely on what they see. If they see the product of someone who has learnt from 3 or 4 recent interviews against someone who is attending their first interview for several years, the former has a significant advantage. But thereís no point in feeling sorry for the person who simply hasnít been to many interviews or had the opportunity to do so, itís a simple fact of life.
However, proper preparation can make a real difference, particularly to this latter group who have had minimal recent interview experience. And if you ever question how worthwhile taking time to prepare for interviews might be, just think about how many hundreds, if not thousands, of hours you have spent preparing for academic and professional exams ultimately to provide you with opportunities in the recruitment market. By comparison, the time taken to prepare for interviews is tiny.
Interviews are not that different from examinations. Successful students, often independently of their teachers, establish exactly what is required to pass and then ensure that on the given day they deliver against those standards. Both examinations and interviews require preparation for what is essentially a series of questions - some easy: tea or coffee? Others more difficult: why are you sitting there in the first place?
Preparation can be broken down into two parts - general preparation, which is required for any interview, and preparation that is specific to a particular role.
Like any examination, it is possible to predict a significant number of questions that you will be asked. You are almost certainly going to be asked a series of questions about your life and career to date. Look at your CV. Starting from the age of 16, anticipate questions covering every significant decision you have made. They will all begin with "why?". Having posed the questions, spend some time formulating answers. The process is best committed to paper with the objective of allowing you to describe your life and career to date as a series of logical decisions. It does not matter that, with the benefit of hindsight, you made a wrong decision. What matters is that, given what you knew at the time, the decision was made for positive reasons. Taking this process to its logical conclusion you will come to perhaps the most important question of them all. Why are you sitting in the interview?
Another block of questions is likely to be about your professional experience. To avoid appearing foolish, ensure that there is nothing on your CV than you cannot convincingly substantiate. Anticipate being randomly challenged on any skill or experience you claim to possess.
Finally, address all the questions that are personal and pertinent to you as a corporate governance professional. For example, what does being whatever your job title is mean to you? What are your purpose, objectives and ambitions? Your strengths and weaknesses? This doesnít require you to bare your soul in the cause of honesty but to strike a healthy balance between truth and fairness.
This exercise may take a little time. When it is completed, take a long hard look at your answers. Put yourself in the position of an interviewer and address any contradictions. If you have done exactly the same job for 10 years why should you suddenly have become consumed by ambition? If you are not impressed with any of your potential responses, it is unlikely that an interviewer will be. Donít be too proud to run your thoughts and ideas past other people, particularly those who appear to have a demonstrably good track record of being successful at interviews. The benefit of this preparation is that there will be few questions that will take you by surprise and you will not find yourself embarking on explanations or making statements that you regret even before you have finished speaking. Anticipating questions and providing logical and coherent answers will improve your confidence and your chances of success.
Prior to attending an interview, you need to do some specific preparation. Find out as much as possible about the organisation and the position. If you have not worked in a particular industry sector before, find out what the major issues are. Time spent thinking about the industry sector, the organisation, the role and the relevance of your background and experience is never wasted. Anticipate any deficiencies in your experience and the ways that these can be overcome.
The most common reason why people fail interviews is that they are viewed as not having the right experience. Outside of this, the most prevalent reason is appearing nervous or demonstrating what is perceived as a lack of confidence.
There are very few people, if they are taking the process seriously, who do not feel at least a little nervous before an interview. Such feelings are quite legitimate. Most interviewers recognise this and, during the first minutes of an interview, will make allowance for it. A faltering voice during the first 5 minutes should be readily excused. What is less likely to be excused, is a continual display of nervousness throughout an interview. Corporate governance generally requires its practitioners to regularly meet with people, in circumstances which are not always convivial. If your interview nerves are symptomatic of an aversion to confrontation or hostility, then perhaps it is a fundamental character trait, and there may well be other occupations to which you would be better suited. However, if it is simply interview nerves, the problem can be addressed.
Another benefit of tackling the problem of nerves, independent of the impression they create with the interviewer, is the affect they can have on the clarity of your thought processes during the interview and the dialogue that results.
Without doubt, the majority of people become less nervous as they progressively attend more interviews. This is a result of being able to anticipate questions and the comfort people derive from a familiarity with the interview process - the heart of which is to be able to speak confidently about the one subject on which you should be an authority - yourself.
Recognising the demands of the process and finding a solution, should not be beyond the scope of a resourceful corporate governance professional. There are any number of books, courses and related activities that can help address the problem. For example, public speaking and amateur dramatics place demands not dissimilar to the interview process. The more you do it, the easier it becomes.
If you suffer from interview nerves, as part of your general career development, any investment you make in finding a solution is likely to pay dividends and raise your confidence, not only when dealing with selection interviews, but other work-related demands. Do it now, not the day before you are going to attend an interview.
How you say things is important. Speak clearly and correctly and, for the listener, comfortably loudly. Softly spoken people are often perceived as lacking confidence. Try and appear to be enjoying the process. Be friendly and relaxed, but alert. Resting back in your interview chair may be comfortable but sends out the wrong message. Before you attempt to be amusing, be sure the interviewer is going to laugh. Finally, it is better to say simple things well, rather than difficult things badly.
When to talk about money
In good business practice you first sell the benefits of your product to the customer before you tell them how much it will cost. In an interview, you are a product and your initial focus should be on establishing your suitability for the position and not the position's suitability for you. It is not unusual for interviewees to fall out of contention for a position because they addressed the remuneration level at the wrong time. Only bargain on terms and conditions, for example, salary, hours, away travel, expenses, holiday entitlements, study assistance, location and relocation once the product is sold, not before.
Never forget that interviewing is a two way process. You need not only to win over a potential employer, but also to be sure that they are the right employer for you. The questions you ask are the ideal opportunity to explore key issues. At the end of the interview process you should be quite clear as to the exact nature of the position and what will be expected of you. If you are unsure about something, ask about it, and if even if a subject has been covered but you are still in the dark, donít be shy to ask for clarification. Employers will respect this thoroughness.
Equally, questions are an important part of the selection process and the questions you ask an interviewer will reveal a lot about yourself. Your questions should be relevant and indicate your interest in the position. Most organisations will welcome (and be wary of those who do not) questions on the nature of the role, the department and the wider group. It is quite legitimate at a final interview to ask to see examples of programmes, plans, files and completed reports.
Questions on staff retention and promotion and even the opportunity to speak to existing staff are unlikely to be refused. Remember, as a corporate governance professional, you should be able to gather the information you need to make an informed decision in an efficient but pleasant way.
A number of housekeeping points are worth mentioning. Presenting yourself at interview smartly and on time should go without saying. Answer the questions you are asked rather than give replies to questions that you would like to have been asked. Do not waffle. Long monologues are likely to bore the interviewer. If you do not know the answer to a technical question, be honest, but attempt a constructive reply, such as how you would go about finding an answer.
It can be very depressing to attend an interview for a position you wanted and then be rejected. However, there could be many reasons why you havenít been successful. For example, you may have been in pole position, right to the last, then been trumped by a simply excellent and better qualified candidate. Alternatively, you may have been weak in one particular area which was felt to be vital to the role in question or you may have come across very badly for one reason or another.
In the case of rejection, a good recruitment consultancy should be invaluable in ensuring you get the fullest and most constructive feedback, to help tackle any problems and to improve the chances of succeeding at the next interview. If you were very close to being offered the job, they should also help you keep the door open for any opportunities which may arise with the same company, perhaps at a later stage in your career. It never hurts to leave a positive impression.