TEN RULES FOR A SUCCESSFUL JOB INTERVIEW
As we reach the end of a very challenging year, the arrival of apparently successful vaccines can give us a sense of optimism for the future. The end of year holiday period will be certainly different from previous years, a time of reflection about how we wish our lives to develop in the New Year. This may include questions about our career and a desire to explore new pastures. If this is the case, Norman Alex hopes that the following guide will be of help to you in this process.
1. The Curriculum Vitae
The curriculum vitae is the key to open the door to a job interview. If this first step isn’t well prepared, there will be no other steps. You might be the best candidate in the world, but if your CV doesn’t reflect this you won’t have the chance to prove it to the employer. A good CV won’t be a guarantee to obtain the position, but a bad one will definitely prevent you from getting it. Here are some useful rules:
Keep it simple
A CV should never exceed two pages and, for more junior people, should be limited to one page. It should be written in the third person and avoid the use of complex layouts and different typefaces. A recruiter often has only a couple of minutes to read a CV so it needs to be easy to read and easy on the eye. Keep personal information brief and avoid including a photo unless necessary.
List experience in anti-chronological order
Your most recent position is the most important and it is this which should be displayed first in the CV, after personal information. Unless you are a young graduate, the employer doesn’t need detailed explanations about your military service, internships or what you did in your first position twenty years ago. Unless your academic background and information such as languages or IT skills are of particular significance for the position, put them at the end.
Avoid subjective and superfluous details
If you think you’re dynamic with strong communication and leadership skills, that’s all very well but let the employer be the judge of that and don’t state it in your CV. Similarly, the employer will have little interest in knowing your social security number or the names of your wife and children. Hobbies should only be included if they really add something to the CV.
Don’t close doors
You should avoid putting your career objectives and specific information such as current compensation. The position on offer might not correspond to the objectives you state but could still be of interest. Similarly, your salary might be outside the defined range and could prevent you from being interviewed and having the chance to negotiate face to face.
Too many CVs are a list of day-to-day responsibilities common to anyone exercising the same function. If you’re a finance director it’s likely that you will be responsible for reporting, budgets and treasury. Whilst the scope of responsibilities needs to be stated briefly, what the employer wants to know more is how you improved the reporting, reduced costs and improved cashflow.
2.) The Application
Most applications will be made by e-mail but should include a personalised message. Nothing is worse than receiving an e-mail application with just a CV attached. If the candidate can’t take the time to write a message then the employer probably won’t take the time to interview them. The CV and accompanying text should be customised to each position as far as possible.
In today’s world, e-mail applications have definitely become the norm and it is not recommended to send CVs by normal mail. Whilst this might serve as a differentiating factor, it is impractical and difficult to manage. Similarly, most employers use a CRM which is integrated with their e-mail server and applications sent by LinkedIn or other social media platforms should be avoided.
3.) First Contact
Assuming that the application is successful, the next step is the job interview. For this stage, as indeed in any business or personal relationship, the first impression is of the utmost importance. Just as the employer makes up his mind about a CV in a couple of minutes, so too will they create a positive or negative judgement within the same timeframe on meeting the candidate. Whilst such a rapid judgement can clearly be erroneous, it can be very difficult to overcome a poor first impression.
Needless to say, your dress and presentation need to be immaculate. Whilst informal wear is becoming the norm, in case of doubt it’s better to be overdressed than too casual. For positions in traditional sectors, a high-quality suit and tie should be worn and shoes polished. When the interviewer arrives, they should be greeted upright with a firm handshake, steady eye contact and positive greeting.
4.) Prepare the Interview
In most cultures, you wouldn’t marry someone without getting to know them first. This is equally true for finding the right professional position and it’s essential to do as much research as possible before the interview. Have a detailed review of the company’s website, recent annual reports and Press articles. Look up the interviewer on LinkedIn or elsewhere to find out about their current position and background.
Whilst this appears to be common sense, it’s surprising how many candidates come to job interviews without any preparatory work. An interview is a process of mutual exchange and both parties need to be able to ask relevant and intelligent questions to know whether the relationship is worth pursuing. In today’s world of instant access to limitless information, there can be no excuse for an ill-prepared candidate. Before the interview, draw up a mental list of questions to ask in order to show your interest and motivation. If you’re asked at the end of the interview whether you have any questions and reply negatively, you don’t deserve to proceed to the next stage.
5.) Be Enthusiastic and Positive
In the context of a recruitment, the difference between success and failure can depend very often on a question of attitude rather than on purely technical skills. Consequently, it’s essential to convey the positive contribution you’ve made to your employers, to put the emphasis on achievements and how the companies you’ve worked for are better or more successful because of your own contribution.
But how you communicate is perhaps as important as what you communicate. Avoid criticising previous companies or colleagues and, above all, display your energy and your enthusiasm for the position on offer. At the end of the interview, state clearly your interest for the position, unless this is not the case, and remember always to send off a thank you message afterwards. Indeed, when one of our clients is hesitating between two candidates, we would always recommend them to make the offer to the one who is more motivated.
6.) Listen More and Speak Less
A job interview is essentially a sales process and the candidate, like any self-respecting sales person, needs to make the interviewer talk as much as possible and listen actively. In this way they can ensure that, when they introduce themselves, their presentation is as pertinent as possible. The “two ears, one mouth” approach should be adopted whereby you listen twice as much as you speak, in the hope that your interlocutor doesn’t adopt the same technique.
A job search can be stressful and stress often leads a person to speak too much. The questions you’ve prepared should alleviate this somewhat, but if you’ve listened properly you should be able to ask improvised questions and emphasise the most relevant aspects of your experience. An interview has to be a two-way process. At the end of the meeting, if you have the feeling that a true dialogue wasn’t established then the interview probably wasn’t successful.
7.) Salary Negotiations
Whilst this is often the most important and difficult part of the recruitment process, our feeling is that salary should not be discussed in detail until there is a definite interest established by both parties. A candidate should provide salary details when asked, usually during the first interview, but should not close doors by being too categoric about the level of compensation they’re seeking. If you state that you’re looking for a salary increase of at least 15% to consider a move, this can close doors prematurely and sometimes unnecessarily. This could put off the employer from proceeding further, whereas they might have been persuaded that you were worth such a raise if they’d continued discussions.
Conversely, premature salary discussions might prevent you from considering a position at a lower salary when further analysis could have led you to change your mind for various reasons (better promotion prospects, higher bonus potential, a less stressful working environment…). As a rule, let the employer bring up questions of salary for the reasons already stated but also to avoid appearing mercenary. There is nothing worse than being asked by a candidate at the beginning of the recruitment process “What’s the salary?”!
Never resign before receiving a written offer! This piece of advice may seem obvious, but it’s surprising how many people don’t heed it and place confidence in a promise that may never be kept. On a more general basis, we wouldn’t advise anyone to resign in order to devote themselves full-time to their job search unless there is no practical alternative. Firstly, a job search can take a long time and secondly this can be seen as a sign of weakness by a future employer.
We recommend our candidates to tender their resignation face-to-face whenever possible just as we recommend our clients to conduct a dismissal in the same manner. It is not respectful to fire someone by e-mail or to inform an employer of one’s resignation simply by sending a letter. Specific reasons and explanations have to be offered as to why the relationship is being terminated. Once this has been done it is, of course, necessary to follow up with a letter and proof of delivery for legal purposes.
Good candidates often receive counter-offers although the lack of a counter-offer probably indicates a shrewd employer rather than the fact that the resigning party does not merit one. Indeed, statistics show that the majority of people who accept counter-offers are no longer with the company within a year (although it’s unsure if this statistic is based on reality or the propaganda of headhunters!). But whatever the truth, there is often an underlying sense of betrayal which corrodes the relationship.
Furthermore, the reasons why the person was looking to leave will probably still be there or be taken care of only cosmetically. Finally, accepting a counter-offer might bring short-term solace but it can have a long-term effect on a person’s reputation within both the company where they stay as well as the company whose offer was ultimately refused. Other companies might also hear about the broken promise and be discouraged from employing the person in future.
One of the most important pieces of advice we can give to any candidate is to leave their current employer on good terms. From an ethical point of view, it’s always proper to end a relationship decently and amicably. From a pragmatic point of view, the world is surprisingly small and we’ve come across several cases of employees leaving on bad terms only for their new employer to be subsequently acquired by their previous one. Insulting your boss on leaving might feel good at the time, particularly if they’ve not been very pleasant, but can rebound against you in the medium-term.
Consequently, carry out your notice period gracefully if requested, don’t criticise your previous employer (unless they really deserve it!) and respect any valid non-compete or non-solicitation clauses. Reputations take a long time to build but can be destroyed in the blink of an eye.
CEO, NORMAN ALEX.