Interview Techniques

Preparing your armoury

Self-assessment

Before you even begin the job-hunting process, it is important to spend time assessing your skills, experience, strengths, limitations and personal preferences. Although you may already have an idea of this, it is still necessary to sit down and do a self-audit so that you can go into an interview knowing exactly how to sell yourself. In this chapter we look at ways to prepare yourself thoroughly for the interview so that you can sail through with confidence.

If you are preparing for a specific interview, it’s worth familiarising yourself with the job description or brief (covered at the end of this chapter) before tackling this task.

Firstly, your primary aim is to convince the interviewer that:

• You would be able to do the job competently
• You can bring enhanced benefits to the company
• You are the best candidate on both of the above counts

With this in mind, begin by looking at your background and sketch a profile of your key attributes which best fit the interviewer’s impression of an ideal candidate.

Skills

Using the key skills outlined in your CV, ask yourself what you can do for the company. Until you’re actually at the interview it may be difficult to identify exactly what the role entails, so it’s important that you know which of your skills you can apply to the job.

The interviewer will want to know how competent and adaptable you will be in fulfilling the managerial and administrative aspects of a new job. These are areas which your CV cannot reveal accurately.

The following list of competencies is adapted from national standards identified by the MCI Occupational Standards of Management. Run through the list and assess your ability at each using the following range of possibilities:
1. I am very competent
2. I am competent, but could improve
3. I could do the task adequately
4. My skills are under-developed for the task
5. Maintain operations to meet quality standards
6. Implement and evaluate changes to services and products
7. Make recommendations for budgeting and expenditure
8. Monitor and control the use of resources
9. Define future personnel requirements
10. Contribute to the assessment and selection of candidates
11. Develop teams through planning and organisation
12. Review and improve development of subordinates
13. Develop oneself within the job role
14. Set and update team objectives
15. Plan activities to ensure objectives are met
16. Allocate work and evaluate individual performance, providing constructive feedback
17. Establish and maintain the trust of your subordinates
18. Establish and maintain the trust of your immediate manager
19. Identify and minimise interpersonal conflict
20. Counselling subordinates
21. Obtain and evaluate information for decision making
22. Record and store information
23. Lead group meetings and discussions to solve problems and make decisions
24. Advise and inform others

You will now have a better idea of which areas to emphasize in the course of the interview, and which weaker areas will require some careful diplomacy.

Strengths

Your strengths are those unique aspects of an individual which could set you apart from other candidates. Combining them in the right manner to best suit the job at hand and draw attention away from your limitations is the key to landing the job.

Below is a list of the common important strength areas. They are not ranked in any specific order of importance. It is unlikely that you will be strong in all areas, so be realistic in your assessment. As before, mark each one according to the following criteria:

• Always
• Usually
• Occasionally
• Never
1. Leadership by example
2. Self-confidence
3. Commitment
4. Determination
5. Enthusiasm
6. Stamina
7. Strength of will
8. Competitiveness
9. Good judgement
10. Confidence with decision-making
11. Willingness to take responsibility
12. Ability and confidence to take risks
13. Quick thinking
14. Initiative
15. Creativity
16. Organisational ability
17. Flexibility
18. Commercial understanding
19. Striking a balance between details and the bigger picture
20. Sensitivity to people
Having given each of these a rating, rank them first in order of strength (i.e. those marked as ‘always’ at the top of the list followed by ‘usually’ and so on), and then make a separate list ordered according to how relevant you think these are to the new role.

Now you can compare the two lists, paying attention to those strengths that appear high on both lists, and even more attention to those areas which appear low on the strengths list but high on the ‘required’ list for the new role. We will address these limitations in the next section. It is also worth considering those strengths which have really helped your career path thus far.

Limitations

This is more difficult to pinpoint than your strengths, but equally important if you wish to improve on yourself. You’ll almost certainly be asked the question “what are your weaknesses?” in the interview and it’s advisable to have a few well prepared, confident answers.

It’s easier if you consider the shortcomings you experienced in your previous jobs and how you overcame them.

Ask yourself:
• In which areas can I really improve?
• What were the tasks and situations I had the most difficulty with?
• In which instances did my colleagues react negatively towards me?
• Were there any reasons for hindering my progress and promotion?
• Why am I leaving my present job?

Use the following list of attributes as a guideline for answering the questions above.
• Leadership
• Competitiveness
• Good judgement
• Confidence with decision-making
• Willingness to take responsibility
• Quick thinking
• Initiative
• Creativity
• Organisational ability
• Flexibility
• Striking a balance between details and the bigger picture
• Sensitivity to people

There are two ways of dealing with your limitations in terms of the interview.
You can identify the most critical of the weakness or limitations and explain how you will actively strive to improve on them, but this could be time consuming and impractical. Or you can choose to name limitations that are likely to be of little concern to the interviewer, or ones that you can realistically offer tangible explanations for.

Achievements

Some of us have many achievements to choose from and may have difficulty being modest about them, while others find themselves scratching their heads trying to think of something significant. Achievements needn’t be grandiose or specifically related to your job as long as they can demonstrate your good qualities and show that you have the ability to succeed. Successfully managing a project to a strict deadline is an example of an achievement. So is landing your previous job in the face of stiff competition, or successfully changing your career at the age of 40, or running a marathon. There isn’t room for modesty in an interview. You’ll invariably be asked, “What you think your best achievement was?” A modest answer may show that you lack self-confidence. Of course it doesn’t pay to exaggerate your achievements or over stretch the imagination. It is wise to be brief but affirmative and confident when mentioning your achievements, allowing the interviewer to press for more details.

Profiles

Having completed the previous exercises, it should now be easy to create a profile of yourself. The purpose of this is to summarise your strengths into two brief descriptions of no more than 50 words, starting with ‘I am a…’

The objective is to go into an interview with this ‘sales pitch’ clearly in your mind.
Examples:

Personal Profile: I am an ambitious, organised and highly motivated individual who is goal driven and excels at building long-term customer relationships. My ability to manage people is shown by winning the national sales manager’s award for outstanding team performance. Occasionally I am intolerant of incompetence. After hours I enjoy fitness and recreational volleyball.

This profile highlights at least five desirable traits, one of them should be aimed specifically at the role (building long-term customer relationships), while also including an achievement (winning an award) that simultaneously demonstrates the individual’s people skills. The limitation (impatience) has been turned around into ‘incompetence intolerance’ and two non-work related traits have been included which re-affirm this person’s suitability for teamwork, and the pride they take in themselves.

Business Profile: I am an experienced sales professional with five years specific experience in the car industry, specialising in corporate fleet sales. I have the ability to diversify into LDVs and commercial vehicle sales, with strong product knowledge, and a particularly good understanding of market trends, and competitors. I am also confident that I can direct a regional team.

The business profile shows quantifiable experience, with a specific direction and flexibility for new roles. It is backed up with ‘product knowledge’ and an ‘understanding of trends’. This person knows distinctly where he is coming from and where he intends to go professionally. Clearly he is looking for a sales director position. This sure-mindedness would come across well when used in an appropriate interview.

Self- esteem

Of course none of the above counts for much if you lack self-esteem. Without sufficiently buoyant self-esteem, you may find that you leave an impression that is less than you deserve.

Building self-esteem can be a terrible ‘catch 22’ situation, especially if you are unhappy in your current job. Our job is one of the most important aspects of our lives. Naturally it’s dangerous to our sense of self-esteem if too much importance rests on our job and things are not going well, but it’s important to convince ourselves that around the corner is a better job.

There are two types of esteem:

Internal self-esteem: which rests on your own beliefs about yourself, what you’ve achieved and what you can achieve. It’s healthiest to accept your strengths and limitations objectively, rather than striving to be perfect. See yourself as equal to, but different to others rather than superior or inferior.

External self-esteem:
this is the tricky one, since it comes from our interaction with other people and situations. But this is all relative and subject to our own interpretations or sensitivity. Always remember that ultimately ‘you let others tell you how good you are’, in other words, the same belittling comment from a colleague could mean two entirely different things to you depending on your frame of mind at the time. You can’t avoid them saying it, but you can avoid letting it bother you.

Pay attention to your frame of mind when preparing for an interview. With a balanced sense of self-esteem your judgement is more realistic and it places your strengths and limitations in perspective. It helps to balance positive attitude against over-confidence, and it affects your thinking, your ability to answer, the tone of your voice, your body language, the subconscious first impressions you give off, the rapport between you and the interviewer, the answers you give, and your negotiating skills when it comes to accepting an offer. Most importantly, it is the foundation for positive thinking.

Positive thinking

If you don’t believe in yourself, then how on earth are you going to convince the interviewer to believe in you!

People as diverse as the Gautama Buddha through to modern day sales gurus have advocated the power of positive thinking, and it begins with a conviction from the individual that they ARE good enough, and that they DO have the potential to land the job. Throughout the preparation for an interview, a positive frame of mind is important otherwise you’ll tend to develop negative answers and explanations for your interview.
Here are few points to be aware of when trying to develop a positive frame of mind:

• Humans have a remarkable habit of fearing those things which they cannot do, rather than appreciating their potential and believing in their ability to rise to the occasion.
• Remind yourself that they’ve short-listed you from many other applicants, therefore you must stand a pretty good chance.
• Feeling a little nervous before the interview is perfectly normal, it’s a sign of anticipation and that you’re anxious to prove yourself.
• Never be afraid of failure, remind yourself there’s always something bigger and better out there if you fail to land this job. Remember the interview practise will help you perform better next time.
• Without feeling over-confident, it’s sometimes surprisingly effective if you go into an interview with the attitude that they want you more than you want the job.

The job brief

Assessing your personal profile is only half the task, now you need to familiarise yourself with the job, the company and its expectations.

The agency or HR department may have supplied you with a descriptive brief of the role, and possibly some details on the company. If not ask for one. The more you know about the job and company prior to the interview the bigger your impact. The interviewer will certainly be impressed with your diligence and enthusiasm, and naturally it reflects the thoroughness of your work.

Here is a suggested list of some of the information worth researching:

• What is the exact nature of the company’s business? It sounds too obvious but don’t be fooled.
• What are its key product portfolios and revenue streams?
• How many staff does it have? What is the average age of staff, the company culture etc?
• What is the company’s annual turnover and profit?
• Who are its main competitors?
• Has it been in the press lately, are there any controversial announcements or decisions?
• Does the company have any major projects or changes planned?
• Who are the CEO, MD and other relevant directors? Especially the person responsible for the department in which the vacancy exists.
• What sort of industry or business climate does this company trade in? What are the trends and potential challenges?

This could prove to be a real drag, but bear in mind you only need to know enough to leave an impression. Furthermore, the role that you’re going for will determine which of the above are worth researching, e.g. knowing competitors would be useful to a sales candidate.

So where you can you find all this out? Fortunately the internet makes life a lot easier for all of us. Visit the company website, or conduct a search on news sites dedicated to that particular industry.

Another means is to contact the company’s PR department and ask for information, such as a company report or recent press releases. They are always happy to promote the company, and you could even pose as a journalist if you have the nerve! Sometimes it even pays to be direct and tell them that you’re a prospective candidate. In small companies this could feedback to the interviewer and your reputation for preparation would then precede you!

Alternatively, if you applied for the job through a recruitment agency, you could ask for their advice on the company’s profile. The agency may have placed several people within the company and would therefore be very familiar with its activities.
And finally

The amount of preparation is a reflection of how seriously you want to land the job.

Key points to remember:

• Aim to refine your profile into a 50 word description which you can memorise and take into the interview with you.
• Remember that the aim is to make the interviewer feel you are the most suitable and competent person for the job.
• Assess your strengths and skills and prioritise them according to the needs of the new role.
• Cover your limitations with valid alternatives.
• Build your preparation on solid self-esteem.
• Think positively!
• Know the job and company thoroughly before going into the interview.
• Find out exactly where the interview is, and how long it will take to get there, adding a reasonable amount of time to account for delays.

Body language

Having a slick résumé and all the right answers to tricky interview questions won’t get you anywhere if your body language gives an entirely different message.
Research has shown that:

• Tone of voice and body language accounts for 65 percent of what’s communicated. Words account for 35 percent of the message that’s communicated.
• Body language can give away a lot of our feelings, regardless of whether we keep our mouths shut or not, and without an awareness of our actions, nervousness, dishonesty, boredom and other negative attributes can become dead give-aways.
• Before taking a seat, be mindful of what you’ll be staring at. If you have a choice, avoid staring at a bright window. If you don’t apparently have a choice, don’t be afraid to ask. Ensure that you have room to move and re-position yourself if you become stiff or restless.
• To begin with, you need to set yourself up in a confident and comfortable position to help avoid negative body language habits. Make sure you are comfortably seated in an upright position ensuring that no particular part of your body is under strain (e.g. your neck). Keep your hands rested in your lap, your head raised, showing an expression of interest and relax your shoulders, without slumping into the seat.

Although we’ll cover specific body language signs later, here are the obvious ones to watch out for.

• Fidgeting shows boredom and restlessness
• Crossing arms indicates an unwillingness to listen
• Tapping your foot, is distracting and a sure sign of boredom
• Doodling on paper shows you’re not paying attention
• Touching your face or playing with your hair can be a sign that you’re hiding something
• Looking away or hesitating before or while speaking indicates that you’re unsure of what you’re saying
• A fixed, unfocused stare shows your attention is elsewhere

Voice

A good CV and all the right answers to the toughest interview questions won’t land you the job if your voice gives off an entirely different impression. It is important to project yourself confidently in a clear, controlled and steady voice that can be easily understood.

Take some time to practise, even staging a mock interview with a friend or colleague. Try to be aware of the following:

• Speak clearly in a controlled range of tones, avoid a monotone
• Always pause before speaking, this avoids instinctively reacting and saying the wrong things
• Speak slightly slower than normal, don’t over do it though
• Vary your tone and dynamics, but try not to speak too loudly or too softly
• Don’t mumble or gabble on excitedly
• Keep your hands away from your mouth as you speak
• Watch your pitch (high-pitched voices are tough on the ears) and avoid a ‘sing-song’ tone
• Let your voice show your enthusiasm and keenness

Body signals

Whether we intend it or not, our body language gives off very subtle signs which are subconsciously interpreted by the other party. We likewise read the same into other people’s behaviour. Imagine conducting an interview with someone behind a two-way mirror, we wouldn’t have the benefit of responding to their facial expressions and would feel quite unnerved by the experience. Every little frown or smile gives us the caution or confidence to make our next statement and it is a sublime skill which every human being has developed since childhood. Some people are more receptive to body language than others, but as a candidate striving to make a good impression, it is important to be aware at all times of the body language that may give out a negative impression.

Guide to body language

Positive
Responsive/eager: Leaning forward, open arms, nodding
Listening: Head tilted, constant eye contact, nodding and verbal acknowledgement
Attentive: Smiling

Negative
Bored: Slumped posture, foot tapping, doodling
Rejection: Arms folded, head down, subconscious frowning
Aggression: Leaning to far forward, finger pointing, grinding teeth
Lying: Touching face, hands over mouth, eyes averted, shifting uncomfortably in your seat, glancing

And finally…

Seven signals for a successful interview
25. A smile is the most positive signal you can give, it re-affirms your enthusiasm and good nature, but be careful of over-grinning stupidly.
26. Maintain regular, attentive eye contact, but remember to avert your gaze from time to time to avoid staring.
27. Relax! Give off calm signals and don’t rush through the interview, be mindful of time, but let the interviewer dictate the pace of the interview.
28. Mirror the interviewer’s techniques. If they laugh, laugh with them, if they lean forward to impress a point, respond by leaning forward to show your attention.
29. Do not hurry any movement, if you’re challenged with a difficult question, remind yourself about negative body language habits before answering the question.
30. Try to maintain an alert position, sit up straight, don’t slump, and adjust your position slightly if you get uncomfortable but don’t fidget.
31. Always try to adopt an open, honest and confident attitude: this is the starting point of managing subconscious body language, there is one very simple way of giving the impression of being honest –tell the truth!

First impressions

First impressions

So, you’ve finally made it to the interview. Hopefully you’ve prepared adequately and can tackle even the most challenging and battle-hardy interviewer. Remaining confident about your preparation and ability to impress the interviewer is important. The last thing you want is to get nervous and fall to pieces.

Before you sit down

Here’s a few important things to consider. It’s a good idea to accept a glass of water, you’re going to be doing a lot of talking, but if your nervous don’t ask for a hot drink, the rattling of a cup on a saucer will make you feel even more uncomfortable. Make sure you’re seated comfortably in a position where you can easily address all the interviewers. Above all make sure you remember the names of your interviewers, this means paying particular attention to them when you are first introduced, and taking note of their various roles.

First Impressions

Although a professional interviewer will strive to get a thorough idea of your skills and personality before making a judgment, the reality is that almost everyone makes an initial opinion of a stranger within the first few minutes of meeting them.
From the moment you enter the building, you should think of yourself as a potential employee. Be polite to everyone you meet from the receptionist onwards because it’s possible that anyone you meet could be asked whether or not they liked you!
The best advice is to try to remain calm and confident with a firm (but not wrist-crushing) handshake, remembering to make eye contact. Putting the interviewer at ease by being down-to-earth whilst remaining business-like, always gets you off to a good start. Sometimes it’s a good idea to have a few conversation openers handy, such as commenting favourably on the premises, to help break the silence.

The first few minutes

According to research, employers’ impressions are made in the following way:

• Body language and image (70%)
• Tone of voice (20%)
• What you say (10%)

The way you walk into a room and sit down is very crucial, it can set the tone for the entire interview and if you make a bad start it can be an uphill struggle to recover lost ground. So try to avoid slouching, or sitting defensively with your arms and legs crossed.

A well-trained interviewer will usually break the ice by opening the interview with a few vague questions such as “did you find the place ok?” etc. Sit back and allow them to direct the course of the interview and don’t be too anxious to prove yourself right away. Remember your preparation and await the ideal moments to impress upon them your key selling points.

Profiles

As we covered in the preparation guide, it’s a good idea to create a profile of your unique selling points. You cannot dictate what sort questions you will be asked, but you can repeatedly weave these details into your answers.
You should try to have two clear profiles, a personal profile and a business profile. Here are two examples.

Personal Profile: I am an ambitious, organised and highly-motivated individual who is goal driven and excels at building long-term customer relationships. My ability to manage people is shown by winning the national sales manager’s award for outstanding team performance. Occasionally I am intolerant of incompetence. After hours I enjoy fitness and recreational volleyball.

Business Profile
: I am an experienced sales professional with five years specific experience in the automotive industry, specialising in corporate fleets. I have the ability to diversify into LDVs and commercial vehicle sales, with strong product knowledge, and a particularly good understanding of market trends, and competitors. I am also confident that I can direct a regional team.

Dos and don’ts during the interview

It’s impossible to predict the course of the discussion but there are some fundamentals to be aware of at all times.
• Always adopt a professional and business-like manner
• Listen intently
• Use strong positive language
• Be honest, but be prepared to ‘bend’ the truth if it suits the situation and you can get away with it
• Ask relevant questions
• Wear a smile at all times
• Never indicate that you’re desperate for a job
• Don’t get into discussions about your personal life, and decline any bait to mention secrets of your present employer, the interviewer should respect your trustworthiness and integrity
• Ensure that you don’t smell of any strong odours, e.g. alcohol, garlic or even perfume
• Don’t fidget or play with your hair, clothing, items in your pockets etc.
• Avoid negative phrases such as: ‘I don’t know’, ‘I’m not sure’
• Be persuasive, speak in terms of what benefit you can bring to the company, rather than the other way around
• Remain calm and don’t rush your answers.

Additional techniques

Strengthening your case with a presentation or portfolio may be a good idea, particularly if it is a creative job vacancy. But unless doing a presentation is a required part of the interview, do check that this is agreeable to the interviewer.

A visual presentation can make a far stronger impression than verbal description, it shows beyond doubt what you can produce, and adds a more informal and interesting aspect to the interview. Microsoft PowerPoint is the most widely used and dynamic program available, and it’s worth spending a hour or two putting together a dozen slides which outline (in point form) your ideas, your previous successes (with examples), and attributes which you could bring to the company. If you’re a web designer, for instance, then ask for an internet connection so that you can show examples of your work.

It’s usually better to make the presentation at the beginning of the interview, but let them give you a description of the job first. Above all, the effort you’ve taken will show your enthusiasm.

Here are a few tips to remember when using PowerPoint:

• Use ‘white space’ liberally
• Avoid cluttering the page with long sentences or too much detail (three to four points is ideal)
• Try not to use more than 10 slides
• Check spelling and facts thoroughly
• Use your own laptop, and create a shortcut on the desktop page to avoid any confusion
• Avoid too much animation and trickery, and use the ‘mouse-click’ transition, so you can proceed at the interviewer’s pace.
• Alternatively, when saving onto a disk use the ‘pack and go’ function (file menu) to compress the presentation onto one disk, and make a copy which runs on PowerPoint 95, just in case!
• ‘Tell them what you are going to tell them, tell them, and then tell them what you have told them’, in other words set the agenda, give your presentation, and the summarise.
• Practice your presentation until it is flawless ( An amateur practices until they get something right a professional practices until they never get it wrong)

Killer answers to tough questions

The heart of the interview is the question and answer session. Candidates can rapidly find themselves on the defensive, trying to justify themselves in the face of tough questions rather than having the chance to ‘sell’ their attributes. A well-trained interviewer will throw all sorts of odd and challenging questions at you in an attempt to assess your true suitability for the job. They often deliberately create stressful situations to see how you react. In fact, the tougher the questions, the better you’re doing. Knowing how to answer them with the ‘correct’ type of answer is the key to sailing your way through the stormy waters.

By using some of the suggested answers below, we’ll show you how to confidently deal with any negatives or objections from the interviewer and use the situation to emphasise your strengths. Having pre-prepared answers, or anticipating the ‘minefields’ will significantly help to reduce the stress during the interview and help you to shine.

To help you get to grips with the range of possible questions you might get asked, we’ve listed them under four sections as follows:

Selling yourself: suggests ways of answering questions that are good opportunities to mention your strengths and good attributes.

Information-giving: suggests ways of answering questions that are looking directly for information on your experience and skills set.

Dealing with objections: gives suggestions for satisfactorily answering direct objections that the interviewer may have with your profile.

Turning negatives into positives: provides examples of how an interviewer’s attempts to weed out your weaknesses can be turned into an opportunity for you to show your strengths.

Stress busters: provides examples of answers that can diffuse potentially stressful questions.

Selling yourself

What kind of experience do you have to benefit this particular job?

This is a golden opportunity to sell yourself, but the interviewer will be looking for an individual who is a problem solver and can ‘hit the ground running’. The answer to this question lies in understanding the role when it is first described to you and taking the trouble to ask lots of questions about tasks involved. This opens the door for you to respond with suitable skills and experience showing you could accept the role with confidence. In effect they are really asking ‘how much training and instruction are we going to have to give you before letting you loose on this project?’

Can you work well under pressure?
This is a closed question and can be a sign of an untrained interviewer. Use the opportunity to give a comprehensive but brief answer focusing on several clear-cut examples showing your ability to cope under pressure.

What is your greatest strength?
If you’ve done your homework before the interview, you would have several strengths to choose from. The obvious choice would be the strength which best suits the demands of the job. This common question is a good opportunity to assert your profile.

What interests you most about this job?
Answering this question properly requires that you fully understand the job description, and if you ask plenty of questions then you should be able to respond with some specific explanations that show your enthusiasm. Some good responses include: challenging, exciting, scope for learning and developing, departmental growth, teamwork etc. This question can also be turned around so that you can glean more information from the interviewer regarding the role and the company’s expectations.

What are you looking for in your next job?
You want a role where your skills and experience can be put to best use in contributing to the company. Avoid an over emphasis on what you hope the company can do for you.

Why should I hire you?
Be careful not to answer with a broad description. Keep it brief and to the point. Each point should be a direct link between your skills and experience and the demands of the role. A precise answer shows that you accurately understand the role and what you can bring to it.

Do you have any questions?
This is when you can breathe a sigh of relief, it usually means that the interview is coming to an end and if there’s something you haven’t yet had a chance to impress upon the interviewer, this is your chance.

Be aware that this can often be a Buying Signal, ask for the Job, second interview etc.
See interviewing the interviewer

Useful questions include:
• The personality of your immediate boss
• What your first assignment would be
• What type of training is required or given
• Requesting to see a job description
• How regularly performance appraisals take place
• Who the company’s major competitors are
• What scope there is for promotion within the company
• How have you benefited from your disappointments?

Don’t confuse ‘disappointments’ with ‘failures’. This question is a classic opportunity to shine in the interview and also indicates that the interviewer is well trained. You should be portraying disappointments as positive learning experiences which have enriched you. Reciting a disappointment and explaining a subsequent success that resulted from your experience and knowledge of the incident can really score points.

Informative answers

Do you consider yourself a natural leader?
The ideal answer to this is ‘yes’, but in reality not all of us possess the confidence required to lead. You can substitute ‘natural’ with ‘competent’ or ‘conscientious’, focusing more on leading by example with good organisational and interpersonal skills. Most professional jobs require an element of leadership that you should be taking the trouble to cultivate, whether it comes naturally or not. The interviewer is more interested in your ability to lead, when necessary.

Tell me about yourself
This can be a frustratingly open question. It’s a good opportunity to reveal the strengths that you would have identified in your personal profile (see ‘First impression, lasting impression’). Aim to keep it professionally-orientated, specific to the characteristics that the interviewer may want to hear. A few personal attributes can also be mentioned, perhaps even with humour, this is a useful way of lightening atmosphere of the interview and increasing your confidence. Although your objective is to show you’ve got the perfect profile to fulfil the role, the interviewer will be pleased to discover that you have an agreeable personality. You may also want to ask which particular aspects of your background the interviewer is particularly interested in.

What are your biggest accomplishments?
Answers to this should be job-related. Modesty should again be applied, hinting that your best work is yet to come. A big accomplishment doesn’t need to be overly impressive, but rather show your competency. Efficiently managing a small team of diverse people, or ably dealing with a shortage of resources is an accomplishment that can be meaningful, but claiming your bit part in a huge project sounds fanciful and isn’t likely to leave a favourable impression. Don’t be hesitant or vague when answering this question. Show that you have a clear idea of your achievements to date.

Where do you see yourself in five years time?
The obvious answer would be “part of the management team within your company”. We all know this may not necessarily be true, but the interviewer needs to know that your intentions are to move up the career ladder within the organisation. Be careful not to sound overly ambitious, the interviewer may be your future boss. The safest option is to modestly express your desire to grow with the company. Stress that you want to do the job on offer successfully before climbing the corporate ladder.

Dealing with objections

What did you like or dislike about your last job?
Ideally you would answer ‘there was nothing I disliked’. Hiring someone who easily fits into the existing complement of staff is very important, therefore steer clear of criticising former colleagues, managers etc. Once again, if you pay attention to the company culture when they described the role to you, you can mention factors that wouldn’t bother the new company, or would impress them, such as “my previous employers underestimated the importance of attention to detail”. But taken out of context, the interviewer may see you as a knit-picking pain.

How long have you been looking for another position?
Whether you are employed or not, this question can be potentially fatal. If you are currently unemployed and have been looking for some time, try to minimise the ‘time gap’ by mentioning any other activities in which you have been involved, such as study or charity work. If your work is of a specialist nature and you’ve been fussy, or determined to continue in that field, point this out provided it isn’t at odds with the demands of the new role. A resourceful answer here can certainly score you points, instead of putting you at a disadvantage.

Why were you made redundant?
If you were made redundant then this is a legitimate excuse which most recruiters will understand, seeing as they have most probably been involved with laying off people themselves. Try to give acceptable reasons (such as downsizing, restructuring etc), be brief and move on to the next question.

Why were you fired?
If, however, you were clearly fired and cannot realistically pass it off as a retrenchment, then it’s advisable to be open and honest (honesty is a virtue that always scores points), minimising the reason for your dismissal. Try to portray the incident as ‘one of those unlucky things that happens to the best of us’ and modestly explain how you’ve learnt from the experience and the steps you’ve since taken. The objective is to put the interviewer at ease in the hope that they won’t place too much importance on a reference check. It is however a good idea to reconcile with your former employers (who fired you) and plead with them to at least give you a fair reference should anyone enquire about the incident. Bear in mind that even some of the most successful captains of industry get fired during the course of their career, and football managers have a particularly poor track record!

How long would you stay at this company?
Answering this could be tricky in today’s culture of job ‘hot seating’, or if your CV reveals a tendency for you to move around. You could emphasise your desire to settle down with the right company, and that you feel this is it. Alternatively, throw the question back at them: “Would this company be able to offer me a long term future?”

How do you handle criticism of your work?
This can be a doubly dangerous question. Firstly, try to portray an attitude that all criticism has a benefit, and provides a chance for improvement. Secondly, try and elaborate on this question then give an example of a poor idea that was criticised, rather than substandard work which you had produced.

What are some of the things on which you and your supervisors disagree?
The safest answer is, “none” but be careful that this doesn’t portray you as a ‘yes’ person. If this sounds too short, then mention only insignificant ‘creative’ differences, or better still, turn the question around and elaborate on the ‘wonderfully productive’ relationship you shared with your boss, if it is realistic to do so.

Do you make your opinions known when you disagree with your supervisor?
This is a sticky question. If you have previously successfully dealt with a situation like this where the process and outcome was very satisfactory to both parties, then mention these examples. Aim to show that you’re a mature individual with the confidence and intelligence to approach your supervisor in private to discuss your objections in a constructive, calm manner.

How will you be able to cope with a change in environment?
This sort of question is usually posed if you’ve spent a long time in one particular job. It sounds like a negative but can be turned into a positive especially if you’re looking for a change, or a chance to grow.

Why aren’t you earning more at your this stage of your career?
Another implied negative which can be turned into a positive by emphasising your desire to gain solid experience instead of continually changing jobs for the sake of money. This question gives you scope to ask; “How much do you think I should be earning?” This could possibly lead to an offer.

Why have you changed jobs so frequently?
This is another syndrome which is difficult to conceal or explain. A number of different explanations for each instance won’t do much good either, so it’s better to blame it on ‘youthful capriciousness’, and emphasize that the variety of jobs has been good experience and that you’re now more mature and settled. Questions like this can be turned around to portray a positive, but be careful not to dwell too much on the subject, or over justify yourself.

Stress Busters

What kind of decisions are most difficult for you?
The interviewer will want assurances that you are not frequently indecisive over important issues. A good answer is to mention that you have difficulty making a decision where there is insufficient knowledge or information at hand, and that you try to avoid such instances by taking the trouble to remain informed. Try to imagine what sort of decisions would frequently be made in the new role, and steer clear of mentioning any of these as ‘difficult’.

How do you handle rejection?
This is a popular question, particularly if you’re in sales. Much of today’s world is commercially orientated and therefore the interviewer will be keen on how rejection affects you. A good answer would be something along these lines: “I accept rejection as part of the sales process, I’m accustomed to forgetting about it and moving on with the conviction that the experience may bring me a little closer to my next sale.”

Why were you out of work for so long?
This needn’t be a sticky question, provided you have explanations to cover the gaps on your CV. It is now quite acceptable for people to take time out to travel or for personal reasons. The interviewer needs to be reassured that you haven’t been sitting around doing nothing. You could point out that you were studying or planning a career change. Whatever your excuse, make sure that you have adequately prepared your answer before hand and that it doesn’t suggest that your commitment to the new job would be less than 100 per cent.

Why do you want to leave your current job?
Obviously we all want to improve our work situation, this however can be a trick question. Avoid stating any personal reasons, such as “I didn’t fit in with the company environment”. Instead consider using one or more of the following reasons from the employment industry formula CLAMPS.
Challenge, Location, Advancement, Money, Pride, Security.

What interests you least about this job?
A tricky question which can be answered by hinting that you couldn’t answer this fully until you’ve experienced the job in detail. Alternatively, choose an area of the job which is understandably mundane (by anyone’s standards), but not vitally important, such as clearing out your email inbox.

I’m not sure you’re suitable for the job
Don’t let this trick question throw you. If they felt this, they would be terminating the interview. What the interviewer is in fact doing is giving you an opportunity to sell yourself and seal any doubt. Remain calm and re-emphasise several points that lend support to your suitability. You could phrase the answer by saying: “I’m surprised to hear that, I would’ve thought that my experience in telesales would be very useful in developing the customer services portfolio, for instance…” Questions like these crop up towards the end of an interview and can make or break your case. It is a good idea to keep a trump card in reserve for this occasion.

Wouldn’t you feel better off in another firm?
This is a rather flattering question that can be a good sign that the interviewer has a high regard for you. What they’re really asking is “Aren’t you going to get bored here and move on?” You need to reassure them by throwing the flattery back at them, emphasising the appealing aspects of their company, showing that you know a lot about the company. Answers such as, “I prefer smaller companies”, “this company has good potential for growth”, “I feel I can thrive best in an environment like this” or “I relish the challenge of turning the department around” are good examples. Quite often questions like this catch us off guard, throwing our confidence. If you counter with a question such as “Why do you say that?” you can successfully buy yourself time to think while they answer or elaborate.

Discriminatory questions
Despite sex and other discriminations being illegal, refusing to answer these questions isn’t going to land you the job. The interviewer’s motive may not be discriminatory, but who they ultimately hire is their prerogative. In the case of enquiring about your age, they may be looking for reassurance that you’ll fit in with the company culture and thrive, an older person with a youthful outlook, has the double advantage of youthful energy and mature experience. If they don’t see the benefit of this, then you probably don’t want to work there anyway. Emphasize the advantage of experience in your response, don’t make excuses for your age.

Likewise, asking if you’re married or plan to start a family may be an attempt by the interviewer to get an idea of your personal character. Looking at the positive, married people are seen as more settled, and those planning a family are less likely to move. On the flip side they may be trying to ascertain whether you’re likely to disappear on maternity leave within a year of joining them, so you’ll have to use your own judgement here. As with many negative questions, these can be turned into positives with the right response.

Turning negatives into positives

What can you do for us that someone else cannot do?
This is a tough question but don’t let it intimidate you. If you have properly understood the details of the job then try to answer with a unique combination of your skills/experience which others are unlikely to have. For instance, you may be a web designer with previous experience as a marketing executive, which shows you have a commercial understanding of the objectives of the website. This is a good occasion to end a question with a question, giving further scope for elaboration (e.g. would this role require me to participate in product development forums?)

Describe a difficult problem you’ve had to deal with
Another favourite tough question which is ideal for turning to your advantage. Outline an example of your success in troubleshooting and organisation. It’s always good to go into an interview armed with one of these. Clearly explain how you approached the problem, the result and how a difficult outcome was averted. This is a good opportunity to show that you have a positive attitude to all challenges, and that you were not discouraged or intimidated by the situation. Try to give an example which is relevant to the new role.

What is your greatest weakness?
We all have weaknesses and the objective here is to show that you have clearly identified them and are actively working at reducing them. For instance, you may lack a certain skill or experience in a particular field, and can express your desire to fill the gap (hence one of your motivations for applying for the role), or mention that you’re busy studying to rectify this. On a personal level you may be impatient or lack analytical ability. This can be turned around by mentioning the progress you’ve made in dealing with this, briefly giving an example which shows how much you have improved.

What type of decisions did you make in your last/current job?
A straightforward question, the answer to which should be carefully prepared before the interview. Whether or not you made lots of decisions in your job, ensure that your answer reflects that they carried responsibility, were important within the role and required sound judgment.

How do you handle tension?
The smart answer here is to explain how you avoid tension in the first place. Avoid a vague and simplistic answer like “Yes, I can handle tension”. You might also want to mention what you do outside of work to reduce stress (eg. going to the gym, exercising etc.)

How do you take direction?
The model answer here is to show that you are the type of employee who can be easily briefed and finish the task at hand without any unnecessary disagreements or issues with your colleagues. Don’t give simplistic or vague answers. Try to give examples from your previous or current job showing your ability to follow instructions without being difficult.

What are your pet hates on the job?
Be careful not to shoot yourself in the foot here. Keep this answer short and sweet, using words like ‘challenge’ rather than ‘I hate’. Try to show that your ‘objections’ in the work place are conscientious ones, such as lateness, not answering phones etc.

Do you prefer working with others or alone?
Answering this depends on the nature of the job you are going for, but team players are usually favoured, so it’s best to show that you function well in both situations depending on the nature of the task.

Describe an atmosphere that is conducive to work
Without a clear idea of the company’s office environment, you run the risk of saying the wrong thing. Keep this answer short, base it on your previous role, mention conscientious factors, such as ‘a professional team’, ‘not too noisy’, ‘well equipped’ etc.

What kind of people do you like to work with, or have difficulty working with?
Don’t get into personal details here, just give a short, sweet and obvious answer that you prefer working with people who are motivated and have integrity and pride in their work. No one likes working with slackers so you’re not likely to offend or influence the interviewer negatively with this comment.

Stress Busters

What kind of decisions are most difficult for you?
The interviewer will want assurances that you are not frequently indecisive over important issues. A good answer is to mention that you have difficulty making a decision where there is insufficient knowledge or information at hand, and that you try to avoid such instances by taking the trouble to remain informed. Try to imagine what sort of decisions would frequently be made in the new role, and steer clear of mentioning any of these as ‘difficult’.

How do you handle rejection?
This is a popular question, particularly if you’re in sales. Much of today’s world is commercially orientated and therefore the interviewer will be keen on how rejection affects you. A good answer would be something along these lines: “I accept rejection as part of the sales process, I’m accustomed to forgetting about it and moving on with the conviction that the experience may bring me a little closer to my next sale.”

Why were you out of work for so long?
This needn’t be a sticky question, provided you have explanations to cover the gaps on your CV. It is now quite acceptable for people to take time out to travel or for personal reasons. The interviewer needs to be reassured that you haven’t been sitting around doing nothing. You could point out that you were studying or planning a career change. Whatever your excuse, make sure that you have adequately prepared your answer before hand and that it doesn’t suggest that your commitment to the new job would be less than 100 per cent.

Why do you want to leave your current job?
Obviously we all want to improve our work situation, this however can be a trick question. Avoid stating any personal reasons, such as “I didn’t fit in with the company environment”. Instead consider using one or more of the following reasons from the employment industry formula CLAMPS.
Challenge, Location, Advancement, Money, Pride, Security.

What interests you least about this job?
A tricky question which can be answered by hinting that you couldn’t answer this fully until you’ve experienced the job in detail. Alternatively, choose an area of the job which is understandably mundane (by anyone’s standards), but not vitally important, such as clearing out your email inbox.

I’m not sure you’re suitable for the job
Don’t let this trick question throw you. If they felt this, they would be terminating the interview. What the interviewer is in fact doing is giving you an opportunity to sell yourself and seal any doubt. Remain calm and re-emphasise several points that lend support to your suitability. You could phrase the answer by saying: “I’m surprised to hear that, I would’ve thought that my experience in telesales would be very useful in developing the customer services portfolio, for instance…” Questions like these crop up towards the end of an interview and can make or break your case. It is a good idea to keep a trump card in reserve for this occasion.

Wouldn’t you feel better off in another firm?
This is a rather flattering question that can be a good sign that the interviewer has a high regard for you. What they’re really asking is “Aren’t you going to get bored here and move on?” You need to reassure them by throwing the flattery back at them, emphasising the appealing aspects of their company, showing that you know a lot about the company. Answers such as, “I prefer smaller companies”, “this company has good potential for growth”, “I feel I can thrive best in an environment like this” or “I relish the challenge of turning the department around” are good examples. Quite often questions like this catch us off guard, throwing our confidence. If you counter with a question such as “Why do you say that?” you can successfully buy yourself time to think while they answer or elaborate.

Discriminatory questions
Despite sex and other discriminations being illegal, refusing to answer these questions isn’t going to land you the job. The interviewer’s motive may not be discriminatory, but who they ultimately hire is their prerogative. In the case of enquiring about your age, they may be looking for reassurance that you’ll fit in with the company culture and thrive, an older person with a youthful outlook, has the double advantage of youthful energy and mature experience. If they don’t see the benefit of this, then you probably don’t want to work there anyway. Emphasize the advantage of experience in your response, don’t make excuses for your age.

Likewise, asking if you’re married or plan to start a family may be an attempt by the interviewer to get an idea of your personal character. Looking at the positive, married people are seen as more settled, and those planning a family are less likely to move. On the flip side they may be trying to ascertain whether you’re likely to disappear on maternity leave within a year of joining them, so you’ll have to use your own judgement here. As with many negative questions, these can be turned into positives with the right response.

Interviewing the interviewer

The job interview should be seen as a two-way process. It’s not just a chance for the interviewer to assess whether you are the right person for the job; it’s also an opportunity for you to find out whether the job and the company are for you. Your questions to the interviewer could give you key answers to help you decide whether the company is one you want to work for, if the job is offered to you.

Remember, this is your best chance to find out exactly what the job is like, and when it comes to negotiating an offer this information will be invaluable.

More importantly, to succeed in an interview you really need to ask a lot of probing questions which opens the door for you to sell yourself and gives you a greater idea of what sort of candidate they’re looking for. This will help you to answer their questions more impressively. Intelligent and unique questions leave a big impression on the interviewer and helps set you aside from other candidates.

As we suggested in the section on self-assessment, an important part of completing a successful interview is the preparation you do, not just about the job you’re applying for, but also the company. You need to find out some history of the company, its structure, management style and market position. As well as illustrating your enthusiasm to the interviewer, thorough research will help you to feel more confident with the questions you ask.

What questions do I ask and how do I ask them?
Before you start ‘interrogating’ the interviewer, it’s important to assess who you’re dealing with. You should be able to gauge this within a few minutes of talking to them. A professional would have taken the time at the beginning of the interview to make you feel comfortable, opening the interview with some small talk. These are the best people to deal with, they’re likely to listen attentively to what you say, but will be intolerant if you take liberties.

The psychologist-styled interviewer may try to analyse for hidden clues in everything you say (but it may be difficult to spot this type) so with this kind of interviewer it’s best to stick to the truth and be brief at all times.

The formalist interviewer usually sticks to a script, this can be frustrating, but don’t let it intimidate you, just be patient and affirmative, your chance to have your say will probably come at the end of the interview, or when answering their questions.

The interrogator tries to intimidate you. The key to dealing with these people is not to get flustered, take your time answering the questions and hold your nerve.

The smooth talker is one to watch. If they’re waxing lyrical about the job and its prospects, without too much concern for your ability, then the alarm bells should be going off. This is the type of ‘high staff turnover’ job to avoid.

The pretentious interviewer is another to watch for, they can intimidate you with their ‘know it all’ attitude, but if you remain humble and respectful you’re still likely to make a good impression.

Your questions may fall into the following categories:

• What sort of responsibilities the job entails
• Challenging or routine/mundane aspects of the tasks at hand
• What support and guidance is available, such as managerial assistance, flexibility, size of budget, mentoring etc.
• How often your performance is reviewed and details on any bonus schemes
• Training and development opportunities
• Scope for promotion and career path enhancement
• Extra expectations of the employer such as travel etc

Timing is everything. During the interview you need to look for opportunities to be proactive and ask your own questions or try to lead the discussion where appropriate. Be careful not to dominate the discussion or take up too much time. Generally interviewers will give you an opportunity to ask questions, but even if they don’t actually ask you directly if you have any questions, it pays to have a few prepared. Questions should reflect your keenness to work for the company and generally you should try to limit yourself to asking just a couple of the most significant questions you have. You don’t want to make the interviewer feel brow-beaten with a long list.

Significant questions to ask about the job:

• Why has the job become vacant?
• What are the key tasks and responsibilities of the job?
• How was the job handled in the past?
• What is the largest challenge facing staff at present?
• How do you review performance?
• What support and guidance is available?
• What training will be available?

Find out what the company’s long-term strategy is. Are there plans for expansion? What new product plans are in the pipeline? These kinds of questions will be essential in helping you to decide whether this company is one you would like to work for, it will also demonstrate your true keenness for the company and not just the job.

Here are some of the pertinent aspects of the company to ask about:

• Structure of the organisation
• Staffing: is it growing, contracting, outsourcing etc?
• Decision-making process and line of authority
• Success of the organisation, it’s profitability and product portfolio
• Future strategies and development

Making an impression
Keep your concentration levels up during the interview and make sure you listen to the responses the interviewer gives you. The worst mistakes happen when people end up asking questions about topics that have already been covered in the interview or don’t hear or understand what the interviewer has said. For that reason your questions need to evolve with the interview. But don’t be afraid to ask for something to be explained in more detail.

Key points to remember during the interview:

• Make sure you give the interviewer your full attention
• Wait for them to finish speaking, before you answer the question
• Make sure you ask open questions, to ensure you get full answers
• Check you understand everything that has been said

Show the interviewer that you would relish the challenge of working in their environment and make it clear that you feel confident in being able to rise to that challenge.
At the end of the interview find out what the procedure is after the interview.

Key questions:
• When will I hear from you?
• How will I be informed?
• Do you need any more information from me?
• Is there anyone else I should speak to?

Don’t forget to show appreciation for the time the interviewer took to interview you, before you leave.

Thank you letter
Following through with a thank you letter is a popular way of reminding the interviewer of your enthusiasm, although they may not even acknowledge the gesture. There is mixed opinion about the effectiveness of a letter. Some HR personnel expect a letter and consider it rude not to hear anything further from you, while others see it as an unnecessary gesture. It is best to assess each situation individually and make your own judgement, but in reality the decision whether to employ you, or call you back for another interview is usually made within 24 hours, before your letter could possibly reach them.

Tips on effective expression
• Be enthusiastic
• Speak with confidence and be clear
• Be positive with your answers
• Keep to the point and be mindful of time
• Try to be honest and open

Negotiating the offer

Having received the job offer is only half the battle; no doubt you’ll want to negotiate the best possible package you can. It is important to consider the entire package, and weigh up the remuneration not only in hard cash, but also the career prospects ahead of you, the company’s environment, the potential for promotion and bonuses. Likewise, remember that this is an opportunity to negotiate your base salary, all subsequent pay-rises and annual salary reviews will be based on this initial figure.

In any negotiation, your two major objectives are:

To change the other party’s impression of the strength of your position
To change the other party’s impression of the strength of their position.

It is important from the outset to assume the role of job chooser rather than job seeker.
Negotiating can be an elaborate game of bluff, and eventually what really counts is

‘what the interviewer thinks you’re worth’.
What are you worth?

A true professional will go into an interview with a clear idea of what they are worth. Do your sums before hand so that you have a ballpark figure of the minimum you’d accept and the most you could expect to ‘get away with’. Take the time to calculate the following:

1. Minimum requirements: are based on your living expenses and the cost of maintaining your current standard of living (or an acceptable one, in the case of a career change).

2. Your market value: is based on advice from recruiters, adverts for similar jobs and salaries of other employees within that company (asking the agency who may have set you up with the interviewer is a good source). The salary of your present colleagues who were recently hired for similar roles, or by consulting salary surveys in trade journals. Consideration should also be given to demand, anticipated skills shortages in your field, salary skews according to the industry (i.e. if you’re a PA applying for a job with an accounting firm) and any unique skills you have to supplement your current position.

3. A dream salary: which is a figure that would make you really smile! Be realistic, but don’t be afraid to aim for the stars. It’s amazing how many times people sell themselves short because they were naïve or misinformed about how generous a particular company can be. Some companies like to overpay as a means of promoting loyalty. Having completed this you can now assess what would be a realistic negotiating band and from this come up with an opening gambit.

Opening gambit
It is important not to sell yourself short by mentioning a figure up front. Usually the interviewer will ask you during the interview what salary you would expect. Sometimes they may even ask this when you initially apply for the job. It is best to avoid this negotiation trap by responding with the classic answer “it depends on the package of benefits”.

Negotiating rule of thumb!
The person who mentions a figure first, places himself at a disadvantage.

There are two useful ‘things’ to bear in mind. Firstly, although the person making the offer is honour bound to negotiate, they are likely to be working with you and are therefore more interested in hiring the first choice candidate than saving the company a few thousand pounds. Secondly, in monetary terms it’s easier for the company to accept concessions than it is for the individual. Always assume that they want you more than you want the job.

The good news is that once an offer is made, the ball is in your court. This means they want you for the job, and short of embarrassing yourself by quoting yourself completely out of the market, you are in a position to lay down your expectations and let them beat you down from there.

Remember that by over quoting yourself, they may perceive you as over-qualified for the job, likewise a low opening gambit would have a reverse effect and may even show inexperience on your part. Experienced recruiters are far better at this than you are, so it pays to do your homework beforehand.

If you’re under pressure to mention ‘what salary you would be looking for’, it is best to quote a range that begins at 10 per cent below your ideal figure and ends at roughly 20 per cent above it. For instance, if you are aiming for £30,000 per year, mention that you would be looking for something between £27,000 and £36,000.

The next step is to say nothing. Wait for a reaction. If the interviewer’s comments are objectionable, you can then mention that you would consider a package including benefits. This is a good ‘get out of jail card’, which opens up the negotiation.

Alternatively you may wish to justify yourself with brief supporting comments.
On the other hand, if the interviewer mentions a figure first, you are then free to consider whether their offer is unrealistic (according to your expectations), generous, or within the negotiating range. Don’t be afraid to say that you’ll give it some thought and come back to them. Let them imagine that you have more than one offer to consider.

Settling on a figure

If an offer is made that is in line with your expectations, it’s still worth negotiating for a little more, remembering that their offer is an opening gambit which is probably less than they are willing to pay. The intention to employ you is not likely to be withdrawn if you ask for more money.

“I was hoping for something more in the range of…” or “How much room do we have for negotiation?” are two ways of asking for more. If you suspect that they are unlikely to budge on money you can haggle for additional benefits (see following section) or request a three-month review.

On the other hand, they may make an offer that is below or close to your minimum. Your strategy now is to focus on the topic of money, and proceed in a calm, business-like manner with comments such as; “I’m very interested in the job but feel the salary doesn’t justify the role” or “I will have to go away and consider if I can accept a salary in that range. Is there any room for negotiation?” Alternatively, you can call their bluff and say: “Working for your company certainly is my first choice, however I not sure if your offer is competitive with the other offers I’ve received”. Or, “Although the benefits involved are attractive and I’m particularly keen on the company’s environment, I’m afraid your offer is too low”. Remember to be diplomatic at all times, showing a willingness to reach an equitable conclusion.

Always be firm, and give the impression you are working towards a mutually beneficial solution. Surprisingly, one method that quite often produces a good result is to look them in the eye and, in an affirmative tone, simply ask, “Is that the best you can offer?” On a personal level the individual is often prodded into committing himself to reassessing the offer.

Should you find that the other party is inflexible or unwilling to take the discussion further, your final strategy is to distract attention from the money by asking further about benefits, this will reveal if the offer is supported by anything substantial. You can, as a last ditch attempt, return to the subject backing up your assertion by mentioning the lack of meaningful benefits. Alternatively, the discussion may reveal that there is a lot of room to negotiate for further benefits. For instance the company may have a set salary bracket for the position but may have a pool of company cars and could agree to include this benefit in your package. Don’t rule out the potential of benefits in boosting the value of your take-home salary.

Decisions, decisions

Remuneration isn’t simply a matter of hard cash. Today’s companies are increasingly offering complicated packages of share options, performance bonuses, pension and medical schemes, gym memberships, extended leave etc. These can be win-win situations that reduce your personal taxation, increase your productivity, and offer year-end windfalls. Here’s a guide to the possible benefits on offer.

Company car: This can be a liability more than an asset as you could end up being taxed for the privilege of being given the vehicle. Consider personal expenses such as parking, etc. especially if you live in or near a big city. Compare the stress of travel to the annual cost of using public transport to get to work. Make sure you view a copy of the company’s transport rules first to discover whether or not you would be allowed to take the vehicle on long personal trips.

Car allowance: A sum of money, paid on top of your annual salary, in lieu of a company car. The amount varies from company to company, but is usually between £4,000 and £5,000 per year.

Time off in lieu (TOIL): An alternative to overtime pay which is really useful if you like to travel or frequently need to take days off to attend to family or personal matters. If the company is flexible it could be a bonus to work the occasional weekend and secure extra leave for personal reasons.

Expense accounts: Can be really useful for offsetting questionable personal expenses (e.g. lunch while travelling to see clients). It’s tax deductible, how you spend it depends on your ethics.

Pensions and life insurance: Are meaningful if the company makes a significant contribution on your behalf. Their contributions may however be withdrawn if you leave the company before a certain period of service. New Government legislation in April 2001 will make it compulsory for companies employing more than five people to offer staff the option of a stakeholder pension.

Maternity/paternity leave: Can often be significantly more than the statutory minimum. Alternatively, if you are planning to start a family soon, joining a company that allows you to return after extended maternity leave can be very convenient. Paternity leave is useful if your partner is the major breadwinner and wishes to return to work shortly after birth.

Share options: A sticky one, especially given that numerous people have had their fingers burnt by investing in dotcom shares. The option to buy (and resell) a company’s shares at pre-IPO rates can bring a welcome windfall. But in reality it is the high-risk companies that like to dish them out liberally. Consider them as a bonus rather than a part of your package unless you are very confident in the company’s ability to grow.

Memberships: Free membership to organisations (such as the Institute of Directors) may have incalculable benefits for networking and increasing your credibility in the long term. Similarly, gym and other memberships can save you thousands of pounds a year.

As well as all the possible benefits, there are also many pitfalls to watch out for.

Fancy titles: Can falsely lead you into thinking that the unremarkable salary can be countered by a title that sounds interesting, such as marketing executive (which could be a marketing assistant). Be sure to get an accurate description of the job before accepting the offer.

Unpaid overtime: Can really add up, diminishing the value of your hourly income. Many of today’s professionals are expected to work extra hours. Try to establish what sort of overtime culture prevails in the company. This could turn out to be a negotiating tool for a better salary.

Promises: Can be taken in good faith, but mean nothing unless stated as part of your contract. They may be delivered with the best intentions but you subsequently have no recourse if they fail to materialise.

Opportunity for promotion:
Another open-ended promise that leaves you entirely at their mercy without any commitment from the employer to provide you with anything beneficial.

And finally…

Take your time. Choosing the right job is an important and time-consuming process. If necessary, go away and think about their offer before coming back to accept or re-negotiate. Weigh up all the factors, such as commuting time, career opportunities and company profile before settling on an acceptable figure.

How to Prepare for a Telephone Interview

It is important to prepare thoroughly for your telephone interview.

Begin by studying the job description and the candidate profile. This will enable you to identify the company’s particular needs and demonstrate that you possess the skills required to meet them.

Find out all you can about the company’s products, services, history, and culture. Make a special effort to identify any areas where your skills and experience may be of particular value.
Familiarize yourself with the company’s website and be prepared to comment constructively upon it if asked.

Prepare a list matching your accomplishments to the company’s stated requirements. Keep this list in front of you during the interview and refer to it at every opportunity.

Specify and quantify your accomplishments, e.g. ‘increased sales by 35%’ or ‘reduced overheads by 27%’.

Interviewers are keen to hear about relevant challenges or problems you faced in the workplace, the specific actions you took, and the measurable results you achieved. They seek to identify key competencies such as communication skills, analytical skills, teamwork, drive and initiative. Be prepared to give examples of how and when you have demonstrated these key competencies.

To get the feel of being interviewed over the phone, compile a list of probable questions and ask a friend use them in a simulated phone interview. Prepare your answers carefully, using key words and phrases from the job description and candidate profile. Do not attempt to write out your answers in full or they will sound wooden and scripted.

Select a quiet place where you will not be disturbed during the phone call. Keep your resume and cover letter, a copy of the job advertisement, and your notes in front of you. Jot down key points throughout the course of the interview.

It is a good idea to stand during a telephone interview as this makes you sound more confident and helps project a positive and professional image.

Matching your speaking rate and pitch to that of the interviewer will help you to establish rapport, this is the verbal equivalent of mirroring body language.

Professional radio broadcasters can vouch for the fact that smiling creates a friendly and enthusiastic impression. So make an effort to smile appropriately during the call.

Since it is important to convey the impression that you are genuinely interested in the company and eager to make a contribution, refer to salient information you discovered during the course of your research.

Listen attentively to the interviewer’s questions and comments. Respond appropriately to verbal or tonal cues. If you don’t understand a question, ask for clarification. Provide well-developed, balanced, and analytical answers. Avoid monosyllabic ‘yes’ and ‘no’ replies.

If asked to explain your reasons for leaving your previous job, make sure to have positive reasons prepared. Under no circumstances should you criticize your previous employers or colleagues. Having researched the company and analysed the job description as suggested, you should find it easy to prepare a few thoughtful questions to ask the interviewer when afforded the opportunity.

At the end of the phone call, emphasize your interest in the job and the company and reiterate your qualifications. Stress that you would welcome the opportunity of a face-to-face interview.

After the interview, write a short thank-you letter.

Psychometric testing Tips for taking psychometric tests

Understanding the purpose of psychometric tests is the key to putting yourself at ease with these tests. They form only a part of the recruitment process and are used mainly to affirm that your character and aptitude are indeed right for the vacant position. Generally, if you’ve made it through to the interview, without being dishonest, then the tests should be a formality. Like all preparation it is worth being familiar with the types of typical test that you might face.

General tips
32. Don’t panic – it’s not rocket science and the difficulty of questions (in ability tests) have a wide range to accommodate everyone. They may seem complex but often the correct answer is the most obvious and simple one. By panicking you will only inhibit your intellectual functioning.
33. Try to be systematic with your answering and stick to a routine for analysing the questions. If you are limited by time then avoid wasting time on difficult or confusing questions, preferring to return to them if you have time left over at the end. Avoid ‘skimming’ to seek out obvious easy answers. This wastes time.
34. Test administrators follow a standard set of instructions. Don’t be worried if they seem a little rigid or unfriendly – this is what they are supposed to be doing and it helps to ensure that everyone takes the test under exactly the same conditions.
35. You should be taken through a practice or instructions stage before the actual test. If not then don’t be afraid to ask. Remember to listen carefully to test instructions. If you need a little more time for practice, then ask for it.
36. If you wear glasses or a hearing aid then take them along. If you have any disabilities tell the test administrator about them beforehand.
37. Get a good night’s sleep beforehand and remember to eat breakfast, it will improve your performance. Do not do something silly like gulping down several cups of coffee, it will leave you jittery and affect your concentration.

Abstract problem solving

These tests are designed to measure your ability to identify patterns and extract meaning from a mass of seemingly random or very complex information.

Be aware that:

• The simple or obvious answer is often the correct one.
• There is usually only one correct answer.
• There is often a common theme to every shape or pattern in the question.
• There is usually one characteristic which every option shares e.g. size, colour, position, shape.
• The answer you find first may be correct to a degree but not the most obvious ‘correct’ answer. Remember to read all possible answers before completing the question.

Numerical reasoning

These tests mostly involved your calculating ability. In the case of numerical problem solving, the actual mathematics involved may be very simple, but you are being assessed on your knowledge of how to apply them.

Some questions involve sequences and patterns. Look for simple sequences first, do the numbers increase or decrease? Is there a common denominator? Is there a relationship between positive and negative figures? Then begin looking for combinations e.g. add one, subtract two, add three, and so on.

In the case of items requiring multiplication or division you may be presented with very complex numbers. These may be an attempt to see how well you can look for the ‘bigger picture’.

Remember to consider the role of whole numbers, odd numbers, integers and prime numbers. For instance they may present you with several huge numbers and you need to identify which are divisible by an even number (say 200) to produce a whole number, this therefore eliminate anything ending in an odd number.

Sometimes, seemingly impossible problems can be solved easily by applying some lateral thinking. Remember your basic mathematical principles, for example, anything divided or multiplied by zero is zero. Two even numbers multiplied by each other will produce another even number. Any number ending in zero that is multiplied by any other number, will always produce another number ending in zero.

A negative and positive number multiplied by each other will produce a negative number. Two negative numbers multiplied always produce a positive number, and so on.

Verbal reasoning

These tests assess your understanding and skill with language comprehension, spelling and grammar. In these tests it’s very important to read each question carefully.
We often skip from word to word and pick the general meaning of a sentence. When we are asked to look at specific aspects in a sentence or set of words, then we have to concentrate on individual words or even letters. This is something we may not be used to doing.

Remember:

• Pay attention to detail, this is one of the principal objectives of these tests.
• Concentrate on a single word or even letter at a time. Re-read a passage or sentence if it isn’t immediately clear, or possibly ambiguous. Avoid the habit of taking language for granted, skipping over words or assuming the meaning, these tests take advantage of this and try to catch you out.
• Read each word carefully. Sometimes similar sounding or similar looking words are put in to confuse you and add irrelevant ‘noise’.
• We have a habit of recognising whole words as patterns rather than individual letters. You may be caught out with the difference between wander and wonder, which could change the entire meaning of the sentence.
• If you are unsure of the meaning of a word, try a process of elimination of the wrong answers to find a possible correct answer.

Good luck with your job search