There are plenty of online articles about clever ways to answer interview questions, tips on how to walk, talk and shake hands with your potential new employer – and there are plenty of ‘Do’s and Don’ts’ regarding your conduct in the meeting.
After interviewing potential short list candidates on behalf of my clients for more than 17 years, I have come to the conclusion that if you prepare well for the interview and stick to your plan then you have nothing to fear.
Whether you have attended scores of interviews, whether you are naturally a confident person or whether you believe the interviewer will not be as senior as you are, if you do not prepare, the likelihood is that you will fail.
And please do not start the meeting by saying that you have been too busy lately to look at the company’s website or that your computer crashed (that may have worked 15 years ago, but is inexcusable with the level of connectivity we ‘enjoy’ nowadays).
So what to do? Well you can’t go far wrong by following these tips:
1. Research the company:
a. Read their website enough times for you to be able to speak knowledgeable about the business.
b. Search the internet for recent news articles on the company.
c. In retail – go and visit the company’s stores, talk to the store staff, observe what works well and make a list of the things you think do not work well / want to ask questions about.
d. If this is a pure play retailer – make a purchase, in order to be able to comment on the customer journey / user experience.
2. Research the interviewer(s):
a. LinkedIn is of course a great source for this, however are there also any articles published by or about your interviewer? Check!
b. Is there anyone in the interviewer’s background, who you know? Can you find out some background information on the interviewer? Even to know where they have last holidayed or what sports team they support can help you find common ground, which is so important in establishing rapport.
3. Make a list of the company’s direct competitors:
a. Who are they / where are they, form an opinion about their strengths and weaknesses.
b. Read their websites and visit their stores.
Btw in the interview do not make assumptions about who they think their competitors are, so before talking about them ask ‘do you consider XYZ to be a direct competitor of yours?’ If affirmative, then talk about them. If negative, then ask who they believe to be their direct competitors.
4. Prepare a SWOT analysis or a brief presentation based on your findings on the business. Preface it with ‘without any concrete information, but more as an outsider looking in, I believe that…’. You need to let the interviewer know in a subtle way, that you have done your home work.
Btw if you (and I suggest that you do) leave a few slides / printed pages behind, then make sure they are printed on good quality paper, make sure that your name is printed on each page and depending on how many pages you leave behind, either put them in a nice folder or have them bound professionally. It is amazing how a few quid spent on a simple hand out can make a massive difference.
5. Find out what the company’s dress code is (even better, find out what the interviewer’s dress code is) and either match it or slightly better it. It’s better to be a bit neater than a bit more casual than expected…
6. Prepare a 10 minute mini commercial about yourself:
a. Expect the interviewer to have read your CV, so start off by giving only a brief overview of the companies and positions you have held (in no more than 2-3 sentences).
b. Then highlight the experience you have gained that is relevant to the job you are interviewing for, ie ‘the biggest team I have managed was at XYZ, where we achieved the following’, or ‘whilst at XYZ I lead the transformation project that lead to a 180 degree change in company culture’.
c. Highlight 2-3 specific achievements that are relevant to the job you are interviewing for. You really want to talk in quite some detail about what the situation was, what plan you / your team came up with, how you implemented it and what the final result was. Note: the more specific you can be in terms of % or £, the more memorable it will be for the interviewer. Achievements ought to be time based, specific and bench marked, it is the difference between saying ‘whilst at XYZ I significantly improved sales’ and saying ‘in 2013 I increased sales by 15% or £1.5m on a like-for-like basis against a market increase of only 2%’.
Btw you prepare this 10 minute mini commercial so that you can answer the ‘so tell me a bit about yourself’ question. You need to practise it, so that you know what you’re going to say and in what order. Don’t be word perfect, because you might come across as a news reader. Make sure to stick to 10 mins – shorter will make you wishy washy, longer may make you verbose (please note that most interviewers will start to switch off after 10 mins), however with 10 mins you’ll come across as succinct, to the point and (hopefully) with great clarity.
7. Make a list of topics you want to talk about / questions you want to ask. The first question after your 10 mins mini commercial ought to be ‘although I have done a lot of research, I wouldn’t mind hearing from you what the company has been through in the last 3 years, where it is today and where it aims to be in 3 years time’. Followed by ‘what has prompted the business to want to recruit a new xyz and what would this person need to achieve in their first 6 months in order to be deemed successful’.
Btw, the more you can find out about the interviewer’s or the company’s expectations for this role before you have to start answering their questions the better it is, because it will give you a good idea of what to highlight in your background later on to pique their interest.
8. Prepare yourself for the difficult questions – ‘what are your salary expectations’ (never give them a number, because you will be committed to it), ‘what are your weaknesses’ (give them a past development need that you have now overcome or a development need that has nothing to do with the job you are doing or the job that you are interviewing for).
9. Before you go to the interview think about how you can give some anecdotal evidence of your achievements. Just quoting facts and figures will ensure that the interviewer will forget your achievements, whilst if you wrap them up in an anecdote and tell them a ‘memorable story’ then that is far more likely to stick. Even better if it is a funny story, if you can make the interviewer smile then you are definitely building rapport.
Btw, don’t tell jokes, stick to the truth, don’t set out to be the funny guy. However, we all have experiences that we can smile about – share them!
10. Prepare a few ‘closes’ to the meeting, so that you can chose which one to use depending on the level of rapport you have built. A pushy, in your face close would be: ‘do you at this stage have any reservations regarding my ability to do the job or my ability to fit in from a cultural or personality perspective’. Less direct would be ‘I enjoyed the meeting, what are the next steps please’. Note: you will learn more from the first one, but it might not always be appropriate to use it.
Good luck and make sure to enjoy the experience, because you will come across as more confident if you set out to enjoy it. If you have any questions or need more advice, feel free to contact me.
Follow Maarten on twitter @maartenjonckers for general natter about the world of retail and links to lots of interesting articles