How to Catch an Employer

First appeared in ‘The Guardian’ (U.K.)

To land a fish, start thinking like one – six tips for interviewees

There are a number of rules to the ‘interviewing game’. What makes it different to other games is that most of these commandments aren’t written down anywhere. But the best piece of wisdom I can give you is “Think like a fish”- the sage advice handed to a colleague of mine by his granddad, along with his first rod and reel. If you want to catch a fish, you need to think like a fish, study the currents, shade and wind. And ask yourself, if you were a fish, where would you swim?

1. Test the water

Find out as much as you can (legally) about the organisation you’ve applied to join and the people who will be interviewing you. What’s happening in the organisation at present? Check its website, look in newspapers and relevant trade magazines, talk to people who’ve worked for or with the organisation.

As for the interview panel members – what can you find out about them? Which department do they work in? What interests do they have? You’ll get a much better feel for the conditions in the ‘water’ this way. There’s no guarantee that because someone on the panel works in IT that they’ll ask you questions about the company’s website. But if it were you, it’d be at the front of your mind, wouldn’t it?

2. Swim with the fishes

See the interview from the fish’s perspective. The paperwork the interviewers will have in front of them consists principally of the ad for the job and your application form. You need to know both these documents inside-out. Look again at your application form. What stands out? What are your strengths, weaknesses? Is there anything on the form that looks slightly odd? For instance, have you had an unusual job at some time? If you’ve been orange picking in the Andes for three months one summer, can you explain why?

3. Baiting and luring

Give the job ad another thorough examination and any other information about the role that you’ve been sent. What are the criteria or skills that the interview panel is looking for? Sit down and write at least one example of how and when you’ve met each skill or competence required. It’s so much more impressive to answer a question fully. For example, say they ask: “So tell me about your communication skills?” A good reply? “Well, I believe I’m an effective communicator. An example of this was when I worked in a call centre for eight weeks in the summer and I had to deal with a number of difficult situations. For instance, once…”

Spend a great deal of time thinking of evidence you can bring to the panel that will show you meet the criteria. It will do wonders for your confidence. Interview panels don’t want to take chances. They want to make risk-free judgements. They want solid performers, and the more evidence you bring to the table, the safer the panel will feel. They want people with ideas, of course – but more importantly, they want people with a record of turning those ideas into action.

4. Take me to the river

Do a ‘reccy’ of the interview location before hand. You don’t want to be worrying about parking spaces, train problems or where the office is on the day of your interview.

Do a dry run. Arrive for the interview on time. On time doesn’t meet ten minutes late, nor does it mean 45 minutes early. If you’re too early either the overworked secretary will feel obliged to amuse you for three-quarters of an hour or you’ll have to sit in a lonely room imagining the worst and desperately wanting to go to the toilet. You will be stressed and feel that you need to go to the toilet. So go. Then when they call your name and you think you need to go again, you can reassure yourself that it’s just nerves.

5. Go with the flow

At the interview, be yourself. Don’t turn into Mr or Ms Serious Interview Person (unless that’s who you really are). You’ve got the interview because of who you are – don’t try to be someone different now.

6. Reel ’em in

As the interview approaches its climax – be careful. You have two options.

If at the start you were so nervous that you talked of your experience at Microsoft but couldn’t remember who Bill Gates was, explain that now along with any other factual inaccuracies – but nothing else. Alternatively a simple “Thank you very much” and “Goodbye” will suffice.

The panel is already thinking about the next candidate, so walk out, close the door – and stop thinking like a fish.

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