How to ensure interview success

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

Don’t lose out because of your body language

It doesn’t matter how good your CV is on paper, you can destroy all hope of being successful through negative body language. After all, over 90% of our communications are conveyed by tone of voice and body language, or ‘non-verbal communication’. While most of us can recognise the obvious body language signals, it’s important to be conscious of the signals that you’re giving, as well as reacting to those that you are receiving. 

In business, your colleagues, boss, suppliers and clients will all be reacting to your gestures and mannerisms and mentally calculating:

• Are you trustworthy?
• Is what you’re saying credible?
• Do you have their interests at heart rather than your own?
• Can they believe in your message?

So how can you make sure that you come across as an honest, trustworthy, credible and believable person?

Positive body language

• Sit or stand tall and strong
• Offer a firm (but not crushing!) handshake
• Make eye contact but don’t stare. Look at the space between the eyes if it helps.
• Speak clearly and confidently. Don’t mumble.
• Simple manners go a long way. If someone gives you something, say thank you. If you ask for something, say please. If you don’t know somebody, introduce yourself. If you need to interrupt, say excuse me.

Negative signals to avoid

Fidgeting is a sign that you are not comfortable – drumming your fingers, tapping your foot, playing with your pen and darting your eyes around the room are all indications that you would rather be somewhere else.

Touching your face, rubbing your nose, eyes and ears or scratching your head shows doubt in what you’re saying or hearing.

Closed postures such as crossing your arms suggest you are not open to discussion, you are not listening, or you are not interested. It can also be a defensive gesture.

Nodding impatiently to rush the other person to finish what they are saying so that you can answer, or looking down, preparing an answer while they are still speaking are antagonistic gestures.

Once you become aware of these habits, it will be easier to control them, and focus on displaying positive mannerisms.

Signs the meeting is not going well

If you are in a meeting, or being interviewed, these are all warnings that you are not making the positive impression you hoped for:

• Your interviewer is leaning back, looking around
• Fiddling, pen tapping, jiggling feet
• Not making eye contact
• Little or no friendly conversation or smiling
• Frowning and pushing themselves back from the table
• Confused face, pursed lips

What to do?

If you are conscious that somebody is not responding well, change your tack. Don’t plough on regardless, ignoring all the signs.

If the person you are talking to seems disengaged, try asking a question to bring their attention back.

If you’re faced with a confused or frowning face, offer clarity. “I can see that I haven’t explained this very well – can I give you a better example?” Don’t suggest that they are at fault for not understanding. That will alienate them further.

When 2 people are getting along, they often subconsciously copy each other’s gestures. ‘Mirroring’ is a technique that is often used to consciously create rapport. It is widely used by those that practice Neuro-Linguistic Programming (NLP) and it can be very effective. The essence of it is to subtly copy (or mirror) the gestures of the person in front of you. For example, if they stand with their hand on their hip, you do the same. If they lean against the desk, you follow. However, it should be approached with caution, as it can be too obvious and you may end up offending them! It’s worthwhile observing others interacting though, to see if you can spot this in action.

A longer term strategy is to indulge in a bit of people watching – observe interactions between others and see which behaviours you can spot. What works well? What makes people react badly?

In summary

Looking and sounding positive and confident will convince others that you are – and even if you’re not feeling 100% confident, acting in a positive way will help you achieve much more than you would if you give in to negative thoughts.

Follow @maartenjonckers on twitter for links to lots more related articles and general tweets and discussion about the world of retail

 

The One Question Interview

We really loved this post from Bob Baxley and wish we’d written it ourselves. But the next best thing is to share it with you:

The One Question Interview

And so there you are. Ten minutes late for a thirty minute interview. With a glance at your calendar you confirm once more that you have a hard stop on the half hour.

A handshake, a smile, you’re seated and you’re ready. Having already met the candidate on multiple occasions, witnessed the morning’s portfolio review, and heard the afternoon’s commentary by the other interviewers, you know that the person before you is someone the team wants and given the demand for talent, indeed someone the company needs.

But it’s your job to be sure, for you know from experience that a bad hire is far more costly than no hire at all.

With only a few minutes to evaluate, to process, to decide; you find yourself with time for only one meaningful question. And that question is this:

“Let’s imagine for a moment that you get this job and choose to join us.

The one thing I am absolutely certain you will do is the one thing that everyone in every job eventually does. You will quit.

So now imagine that you are back in this very room some three to five years from now only instead of an interview, you’re telling me that you’re leaving. We’ll be sad and we’ll be bummed but we’ll both know it was time and that everything will be okay.

At some point after that, you will sit down to update your LinkedIn profile with a handful of bullet points encapsulating your experiences and accomplishments here.

What are those bullet points going to say?”

What would yours say?

 

The original article was posted here

What interviewers need to know before they interview

You have become a manager / team leader / started your own business, but nobody taught you how to interview prospective employees / team members. Sound familiar? You’re in good company. A recent survey showed that more than 70% of leaders have had no formal training in interviewing candidates.

Why is that important? A whole bunch of reasons:

  • The interview process or the interview itself wasn’t a great experience, yet you hired a person. What will they think of you as a professional?
  • Equally, if you haven’t hired a person, will they look back on the experience with fond memories? What negative impact does that have on brand perception?
  • If the interview wasn’t prepared properly and wasn’t thought through, but you have hired someone, what criteria have you used for hiring the person? Sounds a bit like Russian roulette to me…
  • If you did not hire due to your poor interview skills or preparation, and therefore forgone the opportunity to get a superstar on board, what impact does that have on the business in opportunity cost?

I can go on. However, I’m sure you’re getting the picture: you wouldn’t do a half-hearted business pitch to a potential client, so why would you expose your business by conducting ill-prepared interviews?

So here is a list of points for the bare minimum interviewer preparation:

1. Read the brief that was used to find candidates, whether that is a job description, a search brief or shopping list. You need to remind yourself of the criteria by which you will judge the candidate. Make a list of these criteria. Which are non-negotiable, which are ‘nice to haves’? After the meeting, score the candidate against each point on a scale from 0-10, so that you have some way of comparing candidates objectively.

2. Know your source. How was the candidate found? Did they apply for the job, did they send in their CV speculatively, did they come through a database agency. Were they actively looking or were they head hunted? (and probably quite happy where they are, but coming to have a look-see). This is important because depending on what their circumstances are, their motivations are different. Forgive the generalisation, however an unemployed candidate or someone desperately unhappy in their current job may just want a new job – their objective is achieved on day 1, as they walk through the front door. Someone who is actively managing their career and who may have been head hunted would probably be more interested in the medium to long term opportunity that this position might offer – their objective may only be reached a year after start date. Would you ask candidates with two different motivations different questions? I’d like to think you would…

3. Read the CV. Twice, three times. Highlight the interesting things, underline the things you want to question further, circle the spelling mistakes (yes, really). Now you have a working document. Have they been in any businesses where they may have overlapped with people you know? If so, ask them about those people. Generally speaking, people will be careful not to embellish the truth if they think you have an easy way of checking. Look for achievements on the CV – so many candidates just list their responsibilities. I would want to hire based on what they have done, not what they have been responsible for. Btw, you’ve circled the spelling mistakes, because you want to know how much attention to detail they have. If this is how they represent themselves to the outside world, how do you think they will represent your business to the outside world?

4. Decide the format of the meeting. Will you meet the candidate in reception, so that you can chit chat on your way to your office? Will you have the candidate brought to you, so that they can be intimidated by making them wait in the meeting room? A side note here: if you cannot be punctual for a pre-arranged interview, what message does that give the candidate? (answers on a post card). Where is the best place to conduct the interview? Your office? A meeting room? Off site? Decide beforehand who is going to sit where, how you will get drinks organised (is there an assistant on standby or are you going to fetch them yourself, showing the candidate that you’re a really down to earth kind of person?). How are you going to open up the meeting – will you give an overview of the business first or do you expect them to start? No rights or wrongs here, but just do not leave it to chance if you want to stay in control of the process.

5. Make sure you compile a list of questions or topics that need to be addressed in the meeting. For starters, everything you have highlighted and underlined on the CV. Then of course, questions around the criteria you listed. You probably want to know more about the person’s home life, where do they live (how long is the commute), do you share out of work interests? Let’s find out more about their work achievements, how they did it, who else was involved, how were they rewarded for it?

6. Explain what’s coming. Once you have both sat down (and you have made up your mind in the first 30 seconds…), explain the format of the meeting that you have decided upon and how long it might take, so that the candidate knows what to expect. Ask them what their objective for the meeting is. If the answer is: to get the job, then that is not necessarily a good thing. If they’re there to find out more about the opportunity, then you know that you may have a bit of selling to do.

7. Ask pertinent questions. I will let you do your own research on what type of questions to ask, there are myriad opinions, styles and views. That is material for another 5 articles…

8. However one question you must ask is, how they have prepared for this interview. I would expect them to at the very least have read the company’s website from start to finish. If they have also looked at your competitive landscape, visited yours and your competitors’ sites (or stores where appropriate), read all recent press clippings and have done a SWOT analysis then that is a pretty good indicator of their level of interest / professionalism / attention to detail, and as such you will be able to have a much more informed conversation with them than those who have just turned up and have been ‘too busy’ to even look at your website.

9. Deal with reservations. At the end of the meeting, if you have any reservations with regard to their ability to do the job from a skill set perspective, then you may choose to share that with them. They will either try to overcome that reservation and that may put your mind at rest, or they will confirm your concern, in which case it will be easier to manage their expectations about the outcome of the interview process.

10. After the meeting make sure that you provide feedback within 24 hours to the person who found the candidate, be that HR or an agency, so that they can share the feedback with the candidate. If they are left waiting for days on end, it will reflect badly on you and your brand.

Hopefully the above 10 points will help you obtain better results. As always, feel free to contact me for further advice or to bounce ideas around. Good luck! Maarten

Follow me on twitter @maartenjonckers for general natter about the world of retail and links to lots of interesting articles

 

Interview howlers – Top 10 fails!

We all have foot-in-mouth situations and some of us open our mouths just to change feet (think Prince Philip!) Most of the time you can laugh these things off, apologise and move on. However in an interview situation you are judged by everything you say and do, and it would take some skill to overcome the following howlers. These are from my own experience, having interviewed 1000’s of people in the last 20 years. Enjoy or cringe, but make sure never to repeat these!

  1. Candidate arrives late without calling to apologise. He’s very rude to the receptionist and completely unconcerned by being 20 minutes late. He was unaware I was in the meeting room waiting for him and could hear the whole thing play out. I greet him as he comes to the room, he attempts to lie, and offers a half hearted excuse for being late. I suggest he doesn’t sit down and politely show him the door. (My quickest interview ever).
  2. ‘Why I am interested in the job? Well, it has a Director’s title, hasn’t it?’
  3. Says female interviewee to male interviewer, whilst leaning forwards on to the desk: ‘You look fit, are all men in this business as attractive as you?’
  4. Interviewee: ‘I’m really sorry, I was supposed to do a presentation to you today, however I was abducted by my friends for my 40th birthday and I have not had a chance to prepare anything’. It was the truth, the client liked his candour and he did get the job!
  5. On having been notified that his flies were open. Candidate: ‘Yeah, sorry, they’re broken, I don’t seem to be able to fix them’. … … er, why wear them then?
  6. Male interviewer to female interviewee: ‘Do you mind buttoning up your blouse a bit, I’m finding it hard to concentrate’.
  7. Candidate, who had arrived 5 minutes late for an interview and was perspiring profusely: ‘Do you mind if I change my shirt? I don’t seem to be able to stop sweating’. Who goes to an interview with a spare shirt? Bizarre.
  8. A brilliant one! Female candidate: ‘Yes I am actively looking for a new job, however I seem unlucky in getting job offers. Every time a company hears about me being dismissed for sexual misconduct the interview process comes to an end’. Wow. Wasn’t sure what to say.
  9. Candidate who arrived to be interviewed for a senior retail position in torn jeans and with hair dyed green, was greeted by a ‘Glad to see you have dressed up for the occasion’, responded ‘Sorry, I’m hung over, you should have seen me yesterday!’.
  10. ‘Please tell me a bit about your achievements in the last 5 years. Candidate: ‘Well I could, but I won’t. It is all confidential information, can’t possibly discuss that. Do you have any other questions?’. Well, no. Goodbye!

Good luck with your interviews, prepare and rehearse, don’t make stupid mistakes please! If you have any questions, don’t hesitate to contact me.

Follow @maartenjonckers on twitter for general chit chat about the world of retail and links to many more retail and career related articles