For many of my clients, interviews are the single most nerve-wracking part of a recruitment process. They’re often the first time you have face to face contact with someone from the company, and TV shows like The Apprentice don’t do much to allay candidates’ fears of interviewing.
Throughout my career in graduate recruitment and now as a career coach and consultant, I’ve conducted more interviews than I can count.
Here are the 5 most common mistakes, which you can learn from if you want to shine at interview.
1. Overly rushed or excessively long answers
Think carefully about the length and structure of your answers at interview. There’s no magic formula for how long your answers should be, make sure you’re comfortable with the level of detail you are sharing. Make sure you’re answering the specific question they are asking, and don’t go off on a tangent to a completely different topic. Don’t be afraid to take a moment to pause before you start your answer, to help you pick the strongest example you can.
Be mindful of your pace as well. While you want your energy to come across, speaking too fast can be a sign of nerves and may also mean you lose your train of thought in answering. Typically, competency based questions will require longer answers than those in a Strengths based interview.
2. Limited industry or company knowledge
Take time to research and get to know the company and the industry you’re applying for intimately. It’s less important to memorise reams of specific statistics and data from a firm’s website, and more important to have commercial awareness and opinions about what’s going on both within the company and externally in the market.
For motivational questions (“why are you interested in working for this company/in this industry?”) back up each of your reasons with a specific example, as well as explaining why specifically that’s important to you. For example: “I really want to work at your company because of your focus on training and development. In particular, your training course on X really stood out to me as I’m passionate about personal development and want to hit the ground running in my new job”.
3. Poor self-awareness
Linked to the above point, it’s important you know your strengths and weaknesses well, and can back up what you’re saying with specific, real life examples. One of the most overused answers when asked about your greatest weaknesses is to say that you are a perfectionist.
When recruiters ask this question, they want to hear a real answer, not for you to use it as an opportunity to show off about how hardworking and perfect you are. Present a genuine weakness in a positive context, for example by saying what you are doing on an ongoing basis to rectify your development area.
4. Not enough focus on your specific contribution
Most people are familiar with using the STAR structure (Situation, Task, Action, Result) to answer competency based questions at interview, but many people spend too long outlining the S and T part. Sharing the background context is important for answers, but don’t use up too much of your time on this. The two later parts of the STAR structure, and in particular the Action are the most important, so should take up proportionally more of your answer.
When detailing your Actions, make sure you focus on your own specific contribution (avoid using “we”), and consider highlighing your attitude or approach before you start listing your actions. For example, before you launch into the actions you could say “it was important for me to approach this… quickly/with a positive attitude/while keeping everyone in the loop” (delete as appropriate), then go on to list that specific actions you took.
5. Overly scripted, rehearsed answers
This is a tricky one, as it’s obviously a good idea to be well-prepared for your interview. What doesn’t look good however, is excessively polished, scripted, rehearsed answers. These can come across as robotic, in-authentic, and like you aren’t able to think on your feet. It can also cause big problems when unexpected questions come up that you haven’t prepared for.
Rather than prepare answers for specific interview questions, practice talking out loud generally about your successes, challenges and achievements in an enthusiastic, natural, non-scripted way. It’s important to be flexible in your responses to answer any curveball questions that may come your way.
I offer mock interviews with detailed feedback as part of my career coaching programmes, along with other recruitment skills development.