Answering Interview Questions 2

In an earlier article, Answering Interview Questions 1 (you can read the article here), I wrote about interview candidates only needing to prepare answers to a few core questions which stem from four concerns of hiring managers. That article then explored how to respond to two questions – one which frequently starts off an interview (Tell me about yourself) and the other that frequently is one of the last asked (What are your salary expectations?). Here I explore other questions that an interview candidate must prepare for and suggest how to do this.

Focused, Competency-based Questions

As the hiring manager needs to establish during the interview whether a candidate can actually do the job, you can expect to be asked specific questions about how you meet the key requirements for the job. Hopefully your resume was focused on this specific job and therefore listed your skills relevant to the job. If so, the interviewer will ask you about them and these questions usually come in a particular format.

The format for asking about your skills is based on behavioural or competency-based interviewing techniques. The thinking behind this technique is that past behaviour is a good predictor of future performance. Therefore, for each skill that is a key requirement for the job (and for all the skills you list in your resume), you should prepare an answer to this question: “Can you give me an example of a time you did XXX?” (Replace XXX with the relevant skill, job task, or responsibility). Another popular way of asking this questions is: “Tell me about a time you did XXX”.

The interviewer is looking for specifics and detail, and if you cannot provide a credible example, you are deemed not to possess that skill. It is difficult to bluff in answering these questions as the interviewer usually asks deeper, related questions to understand the situation better. Such follow-on questions include “How many people were involved and what were their responsibilities?” Or “How exactly did you go about planning this?” “How did you monitor and track progress?” So your answers need to be based on a real example.

The way to answer competency-based questions is to use CAR stories. C-A-R stands for Context, Action and Results (another form of this is STAR stories – Situation, Task, Action and Results). You explain the Context of your example in terms of how the situation came about and any other background details. You then explain the Action you took or the action your team took but describe your involvement. Finally, you discuss the result or results taking this action led to. If the result involved anything quantifiable such as cost savings or increased sales, quantify the results in monitory (dollars $) or percentage (%) terms.

In addition to credibly demonstrating that you possess the skill being discussed, using C-A-R stories adds impact to your interview performance. Everybody loves stories and pays attention to them, so relating your answer in this format makes you memorable.

Questions relating to your Strengths

A sure to be asked core question stemming from the hiring manager’s four concerns relates to those about your strengths and can you do the job. You can be asked about this usually in one of four ways:

What are your strengths? OR

Why should we hire you over other qualified candidates? OR

What would you say are the main things needed to do this job well? Can you do those things? OR

Why should we hire you?

Whichever way the question is asked, you should approach answering it in the same way. Start by stating that you more than meet the three or four top requirements for the job (these are a mix of skills, qualifications and experience) and give examples of when you used them (use C-A-R stories). Then talk about any skills, education and experiences that make you unique – things other candidates probably don’t have or don’t have in the specific combination of them that you have. Throughout your answer, remain aware that you are trying to show that you meet the key requirements of your job target.

What about Weaknesses?

Unfortunately many interviewers still ask this rather pointless question. No candidate in their right mind is going to sacrifice themselves by discussing a weakness that might mean not being offered the job, and other answers are probably not relevant to the position anyway! Trained interviewers are told to avoid such unproductive questions.

If asked, the way to address this question is to mention one or two shortcomings that are not very important to the job, but to discuss them in a way that shows you are self-aware and that you are doing something to overcome the weakness. You could make the answer even stronger by giving an example of a time you overcame the weakness, and effectively make it sound like a strength!

What are your career goals?

Interviewers ask this question to see if you know where you want to go with your career or are drifting through it. Your answer will also give them an idea whether you will stay short-term or longer with their company, and also whether you have done some research on them. If you sound too short-term or drifting, they may not offer you the job if they have another candidate who knows why they want the job and where it fits into their career plan.

The way to approach this question is to convey that you want to work in companies that match your personal and career goals, and align with your work values – linking this to their company will really prove to be a strong answer and have them already viewing you as “one of them”! So firstly talk about the job responsibilities you want to have a few years down the road in broad terms. Then talk about the type of company and people you want to work with (if you really want the job make it sound that this is them!) and explain how and why the company is a good fit for your goals. This will demonstrate that you have done your homework and researched the company, its people and its culture. It further indicates that, since you know a lot about the company and believe it to be a good ‘fit’ with your goals and values, you will stay more than just short-term.

What did you like most / least about your last position?

In some ways your preparation for the previous question is relevant to this one too. The approach should be to link your answer to the requirements of the job target and not to talk about a list of negatives about your previous company or boss – if you talk about your previous company negatively, it might be assumed that you would do so about the target company too.

Instead talk about how you liked most aspects of the previous job and company, but that you would have liked more of “X” in that position. Here “X” should relate to one of the responsibilities of the new position. You could also mention that you are looking for a new challenge or a role with more of a regional focus (but only if the new role requires this). You could also talk about wanting to work in a company with a more “Y” environment or culture – where “Y” relates to something that exists in the new company. Answering in this way puts a positive spin on your answer by making it sound that you are attracted to the role and company rather than just trying to get away from something you dislike about your current or previous role.

Why do you want to work here and what do you know about our company?

This question too is related to the previous two questions and seeks to establish if you are an ‘informed’ or ‘uninformed’ candidate. An ‘informed’ candidate will have researched the company sufficiently to answer this question competently because they will be able to talk knowledgeably and meaningfully about the company and how it ‘fits’ with their personal goals and values. Hiring managers strongly dislike ‘uninformed’ candidates and in surveys report that they won’t hire them even if they meet all other requirements for the job!

You can read more about this in our article “How to Be an Ideal Candidate for the Job” here.

So you don’t have to prepare separately for hundreds of possible interview questions as this article and particular Answering Interview Questions 1 demonstrates.

Answering Interview Questions 1

You only need to prepare for a few core questions

Preparing for a job interview is a daunting task for most people and many people feel overwhelmed with the seemingly huge amount of work involved. But the task doesn’t have to be so overwhelming if planned properly. One area that prospective interviewees should focus on is preparing for commonly asked or otherwise predictable questions.

The hard way of preparing for these is to do an internet search on “interview questions” because you will inevitably end up with hundreds of such questions – that would certainly add to the feeling of being overwhelmed! However, the majority of possible interview questions only require preparing answers to just a few core questions. Let me explain why.

What the Hiring Manager is concerned with

During the interview, the hiring manager (or recruiter if applicable) is concerned about four things:

  1. Can this candidate actually do the job? Have they got all the ‘key requirements’ (a mix of skills, qualifications and experience)?
  2. Who is this person? What are they like? What type of personality have they?
  3. Will this person fit in with my team or company? Will they fit in with the organisation’s culture?
  4. How much is this person going to cost me?

So you don’t need to research and prepare answers for hundreds of interview questions. Instead, all you need to do is to prepare your responses to just a few possible questions that stem from the four main concerns of hiring managers listed above. If you prepare material so that you can competently and confidently discuss these four concerns of hiring managers, you will have prepared answers to most questions you can be asked at interview! The questions may be phrased differently or come in various forms, but essentially they are asking about these four concerns, and the responses to them will be similar – based on your preparation to discuss them.

Make sure to give the hiring manager what they want

In order to do well in the interview, your task is to provide the hiring manager with all the information they require to put the above four concerns to rest. As many hiring managers are not trained in interviewing skills, they may or may not ask appropriate or sufficient questions to elicit this information, so your additional task is to make sure you address them whether asked about all of them or not. In other words, you need to be proactive in the interview.

That start off question: “Tell me about yourself

Some people, both interviewers and candidates, see this question as one to settle you down – an easy question to answer because it is about you. But it is a mistake to respond to this in a casual or informal manner, and a wasted opportunity too. A well-prepared response is as easy to prepare and deliver as a casual ‘history of me’ answer!

This question provides a great opportunity for you to describe your background (i.e. education and work and other relevant experience to date) in a manner focused on showing that you meet the key requirements of the job [you can read an article on how to identify these key requirements here – it is titled “The Single Most Important Task In Your Job Search”].

Answering the question in this way also helps you steer the interview in the direction you want – that is to demonstrate how you meet these key requirements. From your answer, the interviewer will pick up on a few points you mention to continue the discussion – and conveniently you have prepared for these points.

One useful way to structure your answer to the question is to talk about your education (from university or school onwards, whichever was most recent) and your work experience. Then discuss the skills you developed along the way, especially those that are your strengths (you can read how to identify your skills and strengths here).

The skills and strengths you choose to discuss should of course be focused on some of the key requirements of the job. You can follow on from that by discussing one or two of your work achievements, particularly any you are proud of or are relevant to the job target.

The Salary Question

In answering questions that stem from the fourth concern of the hiring manager (How much is this person going to cost me?), the key is to not get into negotiating salary before you are actually offered the job – read how to do this in our article “When Is The Right Time To Talk Money During Salary Negotiation?

Further “Tips for Negotiating a Higher Salary” are discussed here.

Just in case you made a mess of your salary negotiation at an earlier interview or answered too soon or asked for too much in the current interview, read our article “Did You Ask for Too High a Salary During Your Interview? Here’s How to Make A Comeback.”

A following article, Answering Interview Questions 2, looks at other core questions that stem from the four concerns of a hiring manager. You can read that article here.

The Single Most Important Task in Your Job Search

You need to show that you meet the requirement of the job
You need to show that you meet the requirements of the job

Career advisors are often asked what is the single most important task in the job search process. The answer is undoubtedly the identification of the key requirements for the targeted job.

There is an assumption underlying this statement which is that a resume is to be specifically targeted at one particular job and not used ‘generically’ for a wide range of job applications. However, the identification of the key requirements for a particular job is not only to be used for focusing a resume, but it is also of the utmost importance in preparing for interview too, as we shall see.

Firstly, let us consider the importance of the key requirements when crafting a new resume. All career advisors agree that one must have a very focused resume to get called for interview for one’s targeted job. So how do you focus a resume?

To get called for an interview, the applicant or candidate needs to specifically demonstrate in their resume that they meet all or most of the selection criteria for the particular job. The selection criteria roughly equates to the main or ‘key’ requirements to perform in the job reasonably well. These ‘key’ requirements will be a mixture of skills, qualifications and experience.

The task of identifying the ‘key’ requirements is easier for a publicly advertised position because the ad usually lists both the responsibilities of the job and the main requirements needed to do it well. However, it is wise to check that the advertised requirements is complete by doing some research – see below.

When a position comes from the “hidden” job market – that is, through networking where candidates hear about the job through ‘word of mouth’, there usually isn’t a job description or person specification to go with it. In such cases, the job applicant has to do some research themselves. To start, search the internet for previous advertisements of the same or similar roles – what requirements were listed for these? Then talk to people who are already doing that job – or to their immediate supervisor. Ask for their opinion on what the key requirements for the job are. Thirdly, you could also search an occupational database such as O*Net (www.onetonline.org) that will provide data on the tasks, responsibilities and requirements for a huge range of jobs.

The above research will uncover quite a lot of information and you will need to distill this down to a manageable number. As you need to demonstrate in your resume that you match the requirements of the job, you need to identify and determine just the 6 to 8 “key” requirements for the specific position. Print off this list and have it in front of you as you write your resume. The Summary or Profile and the Key Skills sections of your resume need to reflect these 6 to 8 “key” requirements. In wondering what to include and what to leave out – if something is relevant to the key requirements it should be included, if not, leave it out. In this way your resume will have greater impact as it is focused on showing that you meet the main requirements for the job. And because it does, you will be called for interview.

As stated above, knowing the 6 to 8 “key” requirements for the position also guides your preparation for the interview. As you prepare answers to commonly asked questions, the answers should be focused on demonstrating how you meet the requirements. After all, from the interviewer’s perspective, the interview is about discovering if you can do the job and showing that you meet the requirements meets this objective.

Therefore, for these reasons, identifying the 6 to 8 “key” requirements for the job is the single most important task in the job search process.

Managing That First Impression at Interview

You have to manage that first impression

When you arrive in the interview room, it is only natural that you want to make a good first impression. The impression we make is determined by our non-verbal communication – what is usually referred to as our ‘body language’. Our bodies are constantly giving off signals – they continually communicate what we are feeling and thinking inside – that is why it is called ‘body language’. That first impression takes but a moment – it is both a conscious and sub-conscious process in the mind of the interviewer, and within a few seconds they have an initial impression of you.

Your non-verbal communication is something that interviewers pay close attention to. From the very first moment that they see you, they notice how you are dressed, the expression your face, whether you are smiling or frowning, your handshake, and the way you hold your body. These all contribute to that first impression. So you have to manage that first impression. But how?

There are a few exercises that will help you make a stronger, more positive impact in that first impression. The first of them is something you do before the interview and involves deliberately changing your body posture to control the levels of two hormone. You want to increase your testosterone level and decrease your cortisol level – cortisol is the stress hormone. Power-posing is how you do this, and by power-posing for just two minutes before an interview (or any other evaluative event such as speaking in public), your performance will be significantly better.

Dr Amy Cuddy, a social psychologist in Harvard Business School, gave a TED Talk on how to do this – watch her most interesting talk here, or go to: https://www.ted.com/talks/amy_cuddy_your_body_language_shapes_who_you_are.

The second exercise involves taking control of your breathing. When we feel stressed – and being interviewed is a stressful situation – our breathing tends to be shallow and higher in the chest. By breathing deeply so that our diaphragm pushes our stomach out, we relax our body (again bringing the cortisol level down). But breathing deeply has another positive effect – it bring energy into our body, an energy that can be used to show enthusiasm and interest in the job and organisation you are being interviewed for. This extra energy in your body deepens your ‘aura’ and projects confidence and poise.

To achieve the correct breathing, get balanced with your feet firmly on the floor (whether you are standing or sitting). Breathe in deeply through your nose all the way down to your stomach, and hold the breath for a couple of seconds. Then exhale the breath out through your mouth more slowly – the ideal ratio of out-breath to in-breath is 2:1. Do this for five minutes in the waiting room and you will feel calmer, more relaxed and more energetic – ready to perform better at the interview.

The two exercises above will help you appear more confident, poised and relaxed when you sit in that interview chair. More importantly, inside you will “feel” confident, poised and relaxed.

To round things off, pay attention to your handshake as this too gives off a sub-conscious signal. A wet, limp, cold handshake portrays fear and a lack of confidence, and produces an “ugh” feeling in its victim! On the other hand (no pun intended!), a firm, strong handshake portrays confidence and self-belief, and is a pleasant experience for the recipient, especially when it is accompanied by a smile. But firm and strong doesn’t equate to hurting – so get the balance right. Practice your handshake with a few friends or family members, and smile as you do it. Get their feedback and adjust your handshake as suggested.

When you are in the interview, sit upright but relaxed in the seat with your lower back touching the back of the chair, and your feet firmly on the floor. Take two deep breaths before speaking as this will bring back the effects of the earlier breathing. Now you are set for a good interview!

The Most Important Task in Preparing for Interview and Answering Interview Questions

Its crucial to identify the 6 to 8 “key” requirements of the job

Your objective at interview should be to demonstrate that you are the most suitable candidate for the job. To do this, you need to show that you meet all of the key requirements for the job – but how do you find out what these are?

If the job was advertised in the newspapers or on job boards on the internet, then the task is simpler. Usually a job advertisement will list the main tasks and responsibilities of the position, as well as essential and desirable requirements. The requirements will be various skills, qualifications and experience. However, do not stop there but do some research as well such as that suggested below.

Interviews for positions secured through networking (and as much as 50% of jobs are found through networking) present a bigger problem – there is no advertisement to identify the responsibilities and requirements. So what should a potential interviewee do then?

Search the internet for previous postings of similar jobs. Try to gather the information for a few postings as there will probably be slight variations across different companies for the same or similar jobs. From these, identify the common elements and what seem to be the key requirements.

If you know people who are doing the same or similar jobs, especially in the company you are to be interviewed for, talk to them. Ask them for their opinion of what they believe to be the key requirements to be able to do the job. If you know a manager or someone who has been involved in interviewing for your target job, even better! As them about the key requirements. And if you don’t directly know anybody who can help with this, ask your wider network if they know someone you can talk to.

You can also do a Google or LinkedIn search for people either doing a job similar to your target job or the manager of such people. Connect with them on LinkedIn and then ask for their advice – people like to be asked for advice because it shows you respect their opinion!

Lastly, you can search an occupational database such as www.onetonline.org – this site contains details on nearly every job you can possibly think of.

When you have completed the research suggested above, you will have an unwieldly long list of responsibilities and requirements of the job. You need to distil and reduce this list to the 6 to 8 “key” requirements to do the job effectively, so prioritise and group similar requirements. Having just 6 to 8 “key” requirements is more manageable and easier to focus on, because they are the focus of all your interview preparation.

Your task then is to match yourself against these 6 to 8 “key” requirements – do you have them all? As stated earlier, these requirements will be a mix of certain skills, qualifications and experience. To present yourself as the most suitable candidate for the job, you will have to illustrate at interview that you possess each of these. In preparation, you should expect questions such as those asked at behavioural or competency-based interviews: “Can you give me an example of a time you XXX (used X skill or gained X experience)?” The answer to such a question demands a story which demonstrates how you used the particular skill or gained a particular experience. The best way to do this is with a C-A-R story (Context or Challenge – Action you took – the Result you got) or a S-T-A-R story (Situation – Task – Action – Result). Phrasing your story this way will give it impact and make it credible.

Your focus then at interview is to make sure that you get the opportunity to demonstrate that you have all of the 6 to 8 key requirements and, of course, tell them as CAR or STAR stories.

Why You Need to be Proactive during an Interview

To succeed at interview, be proactive in the process

To ensure success in an interview, you need to be proactive in demonstrating that you meet the main requirements of the target job. To understand why, you need to know what typically happens in a company before it gets to the interview stage.

The interview is happening because a job vacancy has occurred due to either:

  • Someone leaving (voluntarily or otherwise!); or
  • Someone is being promoted; or
  • The team is being expanded (more work, expanded scope, etc).

Either way, once the job vacancy is identified, it will be filled according to a process something like this:

The hiring manager (i.e. the manager who has a vacancy) wonders if there is someone he already knows who could do the job. If yes, then great! If not, he will ask his team and other internal managers if they know of someone. If yes, again great! But if not, the next step is to ask his wider network if they know of someone suitable (he will ask managers he knows in other companies; those he has met at conferences, seminars, meetings, etc; and people he knows socially or plays tennis with, etc).

This networking process frequently produces someone to have a ‘chat’ with – this may or may not be a formal interview, but either way, in the hiring manager’s mind, it is an interview to fill the vacant position. Even though the person has only been ‘referred’ to them, the hiring manager usually takes this as a ‘recommendation’. Unless there is something obvious that indicates the candidate won’t be able to do the job well, they will usually be offered it.

Without a formal job description and person specification, the hiring manager will ask questions based on the presented resume and about some of the key skills involved in the job. The decision will mainly be by ‘gut instinct’ on the basis of “I’ll know it when I see it!

The result of such a process can be very ‘hit and miss’ from both sides. If the candidate doesn’t work out, the company has to go through the expensive process of finding a new person. For the candidate starting in the job, if they don’t have most of the actual requirements for the job – many of which may not have been articulated during the interview – the job won’t be a good ‘fit’ for them, and not only will they not perform well, but they won’t be happy in the job either.

If the networking process doesn’t produce a ‘suitable’ candidate, the job vacancy will have to be advertised in the newspapers or on job boards – or given to a recruiter in an employment agency. The recruiter will usually advertise the job, but will also conduct LinkedIn and Google searches – hence the value of having a LinkedIn profile and even a personal webpage.

For either to happen, the HR department are usually involved, and they will ask the hiring manager to create a job description and a person specification – they will offer to help with these, and with turning them into Selection Criteria.

This is a lot of work and hiring managers hate it! They already have too much work to do and don’t want to be bothered with something they have little expertise in. Even when completed, sometimes the job description and person specification are incomplete or not properly focused. When faced with this work, hiring managers often try to hold out until their networking eventually produces someone!

Whatever the process is that leads up to the interview, it has to go ahead. One or more candidates will be interviewed. And here is the problem – not only are many hiring managers not trained in developing job descriptions and person specifications, they are not trained in interview techniques.

So you as a candidate and interviewee need to help them. You need to be proactive and help steer the interview in the direction it needs to go – and that’s to demonstrate that you have the key requirements for the job and will ‘fit in’ to the team and company.

A following article will elaborate on how to demonstrate this.

How to Identify Your Skills and Strengths

Identify Your Skills and Strengths

To properly prepare for a job interview or to craft a more impactful résumé, at some point you need to identify your skills and strengths. As in previous articles, a ‘strength’ is a skill that you are both good at and enjoy doing. Everybody has skills they are good at but don’t really like doing, so it is better to focus on those that you do enjoy – work using your strengths leads to job satisfaction, fulfilment, and happiness at work.

So, how should you go about compiling your skills and strengths? Firstly, look at your current job – what skills do you use everyday, regularly, and infrequently? Open a file on your computer and start listing these skills. You need to reflect on your job – on what you actually do to meet your objectives. As you list your skills, make a separate list of those you are good at and those you enjoy doing – i.e. your strengths.

Then examine what you did in your previous job and list the skills you used for that. There is no need to repeat any skills you have already listed. You will probably find that there is a large overlap between the skills you use in your current position and those you used in your last job, but make sure to identify those that you no longer use.

Move on to the next job, and then the next, and so on until you have listed all the skills you have used in every position you have held to-date. Depending on your age and experience, identifying and listing your skills can be a tedious task, so perhaps do it over a few days. Doing it this way will not only prevent becoming overwhelmed by the task, but will also result in a more complete list of your skills as your subconscious mind will still be working on identifying your skills even when you are not consciously doing so!

When you have listed all of the skills you have used in your work, both current and past, write a list of all the achievements you are proud of in your life. These achievements will be from both your work life and non-work life, and may include events such as getting a degree, getting married, becoming captain of a sports team, etc. When you have listed the achievements you are proud of, ask yourself what these say about you. For example, getting a degree might say you are studious and disciplined, while passing your driving test at the sixth attempt might say you are determined, motivated and resilient. Then identify the skills you used in these achievements. Since you are proud of these achievements, you most likely used skills you are both good at and enjoy doing – i.e. strengths.

The next step is to identify skills you use outside of work – these are important too. For each of your leisure activities and hobbies, list the skills you use in each. If you are in a leadership position related to any of these, note the skills associated with that role. Some people realise that they have finance ‘strengths’ they use as treasurer of a club, or organising skills they use as secretary of a group. Others identify counselling related skills from voluntary work they do with their faith group or from their involvement in a local youth club or elderly befriending group. List all these skills as some will be strengths and many may well be transferrable skills that an employer might be interested in.

This exercise of identifying your skills and strengths may be a tedious task, but it is also very revealing about yourself. Most people are not aware of all the skills they possess, nor of their strengths, and the process of identifying them is great for their self-esteem. One of the rewards of completing this task is that you will feel better about yourself afterwards. You will also have a realistic list of your skills for updating your résumé, and won’t have to think too hard when you are asked to discuss your strengths at an interview.

For any job interview, you need to have two clear objectives

Have clear objectives for your interview

People spend a lot of time preparing for interviews. They try to guess the questions they could be asked and prepare answers for them – hopefully they even practice answering the questions out loud. But preparing for interviews is much easier if you have clear objectives of what you are trying to achieve during that interview. For any job interview, you need to have two clear objectives: Firstly, to demonstrate that you can do the job; and secondly, that you will ‘fit in’ to the company or team you are being interviewed for.

Of course, both of these objectives require that you have properly researched the target job and company – preferably before you finalised the resume you sent with your application. Failing to learn as much as you possibly can before an interview can lead, not only to failing to secure a job offer, but to having a very uncomfortable experience during the actual interview. Incredibly, far too many candidates don’t seem to know sufficiently about a company to be able to adequately answer the questions “why do you want to join our company?” or “what do you know about our company?

Hiring managers hate uninformed candidates, and many state that they will not employ someone who comes across as uniformed. Not properly researching the company means you will come across at interview as uniformed.

One of the most important things you need to discover in your research of the company are the specific requirements of the job. These will form the selection criteria for the interviewers to evaluate and score during the interview process. These are the set of skills, experience and qualifications that you need to demonstrate you have in order to be selected as a suitable candidate for the job. These are what you have to demonstrate that you have in order to meet the first objective of convincing the interviewers that you can do the job.

Your research should have a general and a specific aim. The general aim is to discover the requirements of that type of job wherever it is situated or in any company. The specific aim is to discover the particular requirements of the job for that one company as the requirements may differ slightly from company to company. This research may lead you to discover dozens of requirements for the job and you must break this down into the six to eight “key requirements” for the job. These six to eight “key requirements are then the focus of your interview preparation and you must be able to demonstrate that you possess these. To do this effectively, you should have an example of a time you used that skill or gained that experience. Having these little stories will add impact to your interview.

Your research should also uncover what the culture of the company is. To understand their culture, you need to know what they value and the type of people who work there. Is it the type of company that values creativity over bureaucracy? Do the people working there look for new ways of solving a problem or are they more likely to follow standard procedures and proven ways of doing things?

There are two benefits of knowing a company’s culture, values and the type of people working there. Firstly, you will be able to discuss how you will ‘fit in’ to such a company – this is always a major concern for hiring managers. Secondly and more importantly, when you discover the company’s culture, values and the type of people already working there, you can decide if that really a place you would like to work in? You don’t want to work in a place where you are so different to the majority of people working there – that would lead to constant stress and conflict for you. If you don’t fit, don’t waste your time and that of the interviewers!

So, proper research will help you demonstrate that you can do the job, and ‘fit in’ to the company and team‘s culture and ways of doing things.

How to be an ideal candidate for the job

An ideal candidate is an informed candidate

One of the more annoying aspects of the recruitment process for hiring managers are uninformed candidates. This manifests itself in generic resumes been received which are a complete waste of time for busy managers – they spend less than thirty seconds on them before they are thrown into the garbage bin.

Another manifestation of uninformed candidates are those who get invited to interview because their resume was somewhat focused and relevant, but turn out not to know much, if anything, about the company, its structure, its vision and plans, etc. Worse still are those candidates with completely unrealistic expectations of salary, benefits and working conditions. These candidates didn’t do their research and come to the interview uninformed. The majority of hiring managers admit that they will not consider an uninformed candidate even when their qualifications are a match for the job.

So what, you might ask, is an ideal candidate? From what I’ve written above you can already guess that an ideal is an informed candidate – but informed in what way?

Firstly, an ideal candidate’s cover letter will be addressed to the correct person and will briefly and concisely explain how the applicant meets the requirements of the job (which mostly will form the selection criteria for the job). Hiring managers love such cover letters because this entices them to read the attached resume – where the second mark of an ideal candidate should be.

A resume must be focused on the requirements of the job (or the selection criteria if you can discover them – try asking HR for them!). Anything that is not focused on these requirements is fluff and irrelevant. The resume of an ideal candidate will demonstrate how they match against the requirements of the job in terms of experience, skills / competencies and qualifications. For each such resume, the hiring manager will say: “Great! Let’s have a chat with this one.” They know that such a candidate has done their research and is informed.

The third mark of an ideal candidate is that, at interview, they can relate their skills and experience to the requirements of the job, and do so in such a way that they provide appropriate examples of using those skills. Being able to do this is especially important for competency-based or behaviour-based interviews which are becoming more common. Furthermore, the ideal candidate will ask pertinent questions and exhibit knowledge of the company’s culture, values and public strategy while they talk. In short, they demonstrate that they are informed during the interview.

Hiring managers’ view informed candidates as being more reliable and more likely to stay with the company because they know about it from their research. Informed candidates are also seen to be more likely to settle into the job quicker and be productive because they know about the actual job.

So demonstrate that you are informed about the company, the job and its key requirements. You will then be seen by hiring managers as an “ideal” candidate.

Don’t Forget Small Talk During Your Next Job Interview

Want to stand apart from your competition during your next job interview? Employ your small talk skills, or develop some. New research suggests that building rapport quickly with your interviewer is a sure way to ace your job interview.

According to a recent study by Atlanta’s Georgia Institute of Technology, a first impression is often one of the most crucial factors in turning heads during a job interview.

The study consisted of 163 mock interviews, after which interviewers were asked to rate applicant competence. All interviews comprised of a segment for small talk followed by 12 job-related questions.

A general ability to converse with a stranger worked favorably for the applicants who excelled at the small talk portion of each interview. Even though many applicants scored similarly on the technical job-related questions, interviewers were much more likely to favor applicants who did well in both areas.

According to the study lead, Dr Brian Swider, in an interview with the Wall Street Journal, “An applicant’s ability to spark rapport seems to have a unique influence on whether he or she gets the job.”

Good people skills are becoming increasingly important in almost every job role. Applicants who excel at small talk indicate an overall penchant for relating well with others and carrying on conversations through the course of their work.

Finding common ground is an added benefit of small talk, as it opens the opportunity for applicants and interviewers to make a personal connection. This connection may place one applicant in a more favorable position if, say, he and his interviewer share an interest in the same sports team or collecting rare coins.

Humor, too, can set the interview off on the right foot. So before you head to your next interview, brush up those small talking skills with your partner, favorite barista or even your cat to make your first impression really stand out from other candidates.

Did you ask for too high a salary during your interview? Here's how to make a comeback

One tough job interview question to prepare for is this: “What were you expecting salary wise?”

Although this question may seem simple, it is often one the last questions you will be asked, making it of utmost importance that you end on a strong note.

In reality, there will always be times where an employer states/thinks that your asking price is above their means.

When this happens, you need to know how to make a comeback, and recover from stating an expected salary that is too high.

Here are some effective ways to approach this important interview scenario:


Request Information about the Full Salary Package

Once you’ve felt tension, simply ask the employer if they can share a realistic salary range with you.

Although it may be somewhat broad, it is unlikely the employer will state a range that is far off from what you can realistically expect.

Additionally, be sure to request information about additional compensation, such as allowances, bonuses, stock options and benefits associated with the position, as these can add major value to your negotiating power.

Sometimes the basic salary for a position might be low but the add-ons can make up for this. Also some companies might not allow much negotiation with the basic pay but are more flexible with the additional compensation.

In case you feel you asked for too much, you can also say that you were including add-ons and can adjust your figure once you have more details. You can also request for some time to go over the information and think about it.


Research Before Asking Again

Most people do research about salary expectations before an interview to avoid this situation in the first place, but occasionally your research may be misguided.

After you’ve experienced an awkward knockback from your requested price, it is time to sit back and do more in-depth research on platforms like Glassdoor and Quora using the new information you have received.

It’s also very useful if you can speak with ex-employees of the company to get a good sense of the typical compensation. Previous employees are more likely to share detailed information. Use your network to find such people – LinkedIn make it very easy to do this.


Reach a Decision

After you’ve determined a fair salary that you can realistically expect an employer to pay, you must make a decision on whether or not to take a job.

Be sure to consider all living expenses and needs before coming up with a number you will present to the interviewer during a follow-up. Also take into account how much you like the job/company and the prospects for future career growth.

Be firm with yourself about the smallest salary you are willing to accept, that way you can stay vigilant about reaching that bottom line when approaching the interviewer with your newly determined salary expectation.


Don’t Beat Around the Bush

Once you’re clear on the course of action it’s time to get back in touch with the interviewer for a follow-up.

Always make sure that you deliver this salary expectation with purpose, directness, and honesty, that way they know you are sincere in your request.

If you feel a higher salary is justified, let them know why, and they can then make a decision on whether or not they value your talent enough to pay the requested amount.

Overall, by avoiding wishy-washy requests, you will save both you and the interviewer a lot of time and frustration, allowing everyone to walk away from the situation happy.

7 Tips for job interview success (backed by research)

To help you get ready for your next big job interview, here are some research-backed techniques that will help you get that new job successfully.


Have a Conversation With Yourself

Studies have shown that this is a perfectly effective way to prepare ourselves for situations such as job interviews.

Simply telling yourself that “you can do this,” or “you’re going to do great,” has the potential to help you feel more confident in yourself.


Compliment, but Avoid Self-Promotion

Research has found that people had the most success at job interviews if they complimented the company and the interviewer.

While you shouldn’t over do the compliments, you should always show your interest, admiration and knowledge of the company and the position you’re interviewing for.

The research also showed that it’s best to avoid self-promotion beyond the factual presentation of your skills and achievements, otherwise you risk coming off as conceited, which will hurt your ability to be hired.


Stop the Fake Smiling

Positive body language and eye contact is extremely important in the interview.

Smiling, leaning forward, body orientation, strong eye contact and more have the ability to impress.

Fake smiling or other insincere body language, however, will work against you.


Visualize Your Confidence

Did you know that top athletes often use positive mental imagery to help boost their performance?

Just as athletes do this, you can use this same technique to visualize your own success and picture how you would look/feel/behave during an excellent job interview.

Candidates who approached job interviews in this manner performed better than those who did not.


Don’t Hide Your Weaknesses

Everybody has a weak spot in their personality, resume, or skillset, so don’t try and pretend like you are the one perfect candidate out there.

Instead of hiding your weaknesses, think of a way to bring them up early on and be upfront about how you’re working to improve them.

Additionally, if you bring up these weaknesses near the beginning as opposed to the end, the recruiter is more likely to remember the positive qualities they learned about you at the end of the interview.


Be a Bit Different

In one study, researchers found that interviewers gave higher ratings to candidates who answered the typical interview questions in a different/unique way.


Your Handshake is Important

Having a firm and confident hand shake has an effect on hiring recommendations, especially for women candidates.

Try practicing your handshake with someone you can trust and get honest feedback.