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How do you overcome the interview nightmare

Nightmare or dream interview?

Headingley has begun to see its annual surge of cars packed to the rafters with everything a student might need for the new term, as Leeds opens the doors once again to freshers and returning students. These students are perhaps amongst the lucky ones with growing reports that fewer will secure University places as the Government cuts continue and fees increase. Will the job situation have improved by the class of 2013 or will we have more NEETS and unemployed Graduates?

How are NEETS impacting on the Yorkshire Job Market?

The one thing we can be sure of is how the growing number of school leavers and Graduates are impacting on the job market in Yorkshire. Senior people with extensive experience are being pushed aside for lower cost solutions. This is certainly not a strategy for the long game but is helping some organisations with the recession roller coaster.

How do we keep our economy growing?

In truth our businesses need this new blood to continue a successful growth plan and keep the economy moving in the right direction. How do we arm our young people to ensure they are successful when getting their first step on the career ladder?

Education Leeds is currently running a project to arm our school leavers and young people with the skills to succeed at interview. I was approached by the project to advise on how people can improve their chances. I reiterated the point that a major problem with the interview process is poor quality interviewers as well as poor candidates. I’ve not met a single client who has not had some trauma at the hands of an inexperienced interviewer. One imagines this is much harder to deal with if it’s only your first or second interview. What is the worst interview experience you’ve had?

The girl who brought along her mum!

I regularly ask the question about worst interview experience as either an interviewer or candidate and I am often amazed by the responses I receive. A client mentioned to me that they were interviewing for an office junior, a very nice young lady arrived, with her mum in tow. The mum then proceeded to answer every question on the daughter’s behalf. Mum then commented “My daughter is a real chatter box and never shuts up!” although she hadn’t uttered a word throughout the interview. I mentioned this story to a recruiter who confirmed candidates turn up with parents with startling regularity. What are the parent’s thinking? Turning up with additions is certainly not limited to parents; candidates have arrived with significant others, children and the odd cuddly toy thrown in for luck!

When the interviewer gets it wrong….

On the other side interviewers need to consider their probing style and make questions clear enough for the candidate to understand. One interviewer asked a school–leaver, “What gets you up on a morning.” To which he gave the literal response, “My mum with a cup of tea.” Asking ambiguous questions results in a laborious interview for both parties.

A good interview should be a two way process with the candidate deciding if the job is right for them as much as the employer deciding if the candidate is right for the role. All too often as the job search drags on the job simply becomes any job and candidates can appear desperate. This will significantly reduce the likely hood of a positive outcome. Remember most people at a senior level will go for a number of interviews before they secure the right position and the more senior the position the more stages you should expect within the process. Share your interview experience

Your Questions Answered

Q. I have not had an interview for several months and I feel my confidence levels are at an all time low, what can I do?

A. As a general rule there shouldn’t be any nasty surprises at interview. You should know what they are looking for and what the key competencies of the role are. With this in mind you should think about the kinds of questions you might be asked and ensure have prepared for some clear answers. I regularly have clients who book time with me to refresh their interview skills and ensure they feel 100% confident when they go into an interview. This can be especially helpful if the gap between interviews has been significant. Whatever you do practice, practice, practice!

Q. I’ve had several interviews but no job offers. I always get the same feedback, the other candidate had more experience, what can I do?

A. It is widely accepted that the best candidate does not always get the job, the one who gives the perception of being the best for the job does. Therefore how are you portraying yourself? Are you giving the answers they want to hear? Practice the questions, perhaps writing down the answers you have given, Did you stick to the point? Did you actually answer the question? How could you improve your answers? I would also suggest contacting the interviewer for more constructive feedback.

Q. I went for a position as a Sales Manager and three weeks on I haven’t heard from the company and have since seen the job re–advertised. Should I follow up?

A. The part of your question that stands out to me is the fact that you are a Sales Manager; demonstrate the behaviours you would expect to display in the role and you will increase your chances of securing the position. If the interviewer had been a client would you have waited three weeks to make contact? Always follow up after any interview.


Richard - 09/19/2012 , 06:53 AM Reply

I guess most of us have had experience on both sides. I can visualise two funny moments but will only write one good story as an interviewee. ?I applied for a really good job with a really good company, and was looking forward to the interview and finding out more about the company and the role. After waiting for 15 minutes, the receptionist said they could not get hold of the person to interview me and if I could come back in an hour. After an hour of mental prep, I met my interviewer and had the normal questions which went well. I was asked to do an assessment, followed by the final interview. On completing the assessment, the interviewer had done a disappearing act again and left for the day. The receptionist was very pleasant and indicated that I could arrange another meeting for the final interview. I wish the interviewer was honest with me that he had other priorities and I would have rescheduled. Therefore instead of learning more about the company and role, it put me off the company.

Stephen B - 09/19/2012 , 06:53 AM Reply

Hi Louise,
This did happen a while ago but still makes me smile and importantly think about the candidate when interviewing. I had gone for an interview at Woolworths to work on the supply side. Just as the interview was about to start, the manager /interviewer said that they had just had a delivery and would I help as they need ed to get the stock into the store. I had a quick think and thought ok. Got downstairs to find that it was a load of cheeses, smelly ones to boot!! needless to say my suit did not come through the experience well but I did get the job!!

Steve B - 09/19/2012 , 06:53 AM Reply

Making a candidate comfortable is difficult to some, like the guy that interviewed me at 10:17 am. Not before, not after. He sat in a seat on a raised platform so the sun shined (at exactly 10:17 AM) through a window behind him right onto your face. A picture of the Queen looking on from another wall served to heighten the difficulties. He looked crestfallen when having been unable to move the seat he sat me in – I couldn’t be certain but I’m sure it was glued to the floor – I stood up and paraded round answering his questions. Thus nil job offer – thank goodness!

Phil W - 09/19/2012 , 06:53 AM Reply

I applied for a senior L & D role with an NHS PCT who wished to become “more commercial and less hidebound in outdated NHS ways”. Pevious NHS experience was not required. In my first interview with the head hunter I was once again assured that my lack of prior NHS experience was not a hindrance. At my next interview, in front of a board of NHS managers, every question aimed at me was probing my experience of current NHS practice and doctrine. When I eventually got them to realise that I had no NHS experience but that I had been assured this was not necessary, the Chairman replied “oh no, we definately want someone with in depth experience of the NHS”. I left.

Pam B - 09/19/2012 , 06:53 AM Reply

Not a personal experience, but once worked at a software company where an candidate turned up with a teddy bear (wearing it’s own suit!!). Bizzarely she got the job, and the teddy bear proceeded to go everywhere with her throughout her career with different outfits for different occasions…………

Peter B - 09/19/2012 , 06:53 AM Reply

I had a salesman visit me a couple of years ago to do a presentation on Psychometric Evaluation tests for candidates. He suggested I take the test so that I could see how well the evaluation matched my own asessment of myself. The test was about 30 minutes on a pc, after which he was disappointed to have to tell me that the results were “inconclusive”. But “no problem; that happens sometimes” and a second test invariably produces a result. So I did another test. Guess what? Inconclusive again. Perhaps the fact that I was being completely honest, which a candidate probably wouldn’t confused the software. Anyway, I don’t use psychometric evaluation when interviewing.

Stuart T - 09/19/2012 , 06:53 AM Reply

Having read some of the responses, I’m so pleased it’s not just me that gets the ‘challenging’ situations. Once, my sales director was interviewing when she came into my office mid-way through the interview. She was in fits of giggles and it seems she just couldn’t continue interviewing the candidate, so she asked if I could take over. I went into the interview room and started to apologise for my colleague who had suddenly felt poorly, to be greeted by a very butch man who was dressed as a woman, and who insisted on being called Roxanna – Even though he spoke in a gruff deep yorkshire accent…. Each to their own, and I have no problem with what people do or how they choose to live their life, but I imagine that it may of been challenging if he’d of been part of our team. He didn’t get the job as he’d never worked in an office before and had no admin skills whereas some of the other applying candidates did… Officially.

Another time, we were moving into a brand new building so I was dressed in ripped jeans and a scruffy T-shirt, and a guy arrived for an interview as a sales rep…. I asked if I could help as he came through the door, to which he replied in a very patronising manner “I really don’t think so, I’ve come to see the managing director” … He was rude, patronising and not the kind of person we would of employed anyhow but I thought I’d have some fun, so I told him to wait in reception and I’d ask Mr Thompson if he was available to see him. I then went upstairs and got changed into my suit. I then came down to greet him as if our previous exchange had just never happened…. He spent the whole interview trying to work out whether I was a twin (He never got the job either) ….

Finally, another candidate who’d come for a delivery drivers job stopped half way through interview and said … “Lets just be honest with each other, I’ve got to come to job interviews or they stop my dole money…. But I’ve really got no intention of working” …. He thanked me for my time and shook my hand.

As he went out the door, I shouted after him “I like you, you start on Monday… I’ll get my secretary to confirm the offer of employment in writing” … I never did send the job offer confirmation but I expect he was worried for a few days …. 🙂

Peter W - 09/19/2012 , 06:53 AM Reply

I was job-seeking in my youth and managed to get two interviews in the Midlands on the same day. I didn’t have a car so I hired the cheapest one I could find (a Hillman Super MInx – does that give you a clue about the era ?). The first interview was early morning and as I drove out of the car park of the pub where I had stayed overnight the car ran out of petrol. I ran to the nearest garage, borrowed a can, ran back to the car, and in the hurried process of tipping the fuel in splashed it all over the lower part of my trousers. I got to the interview on time, just, feeling very hot and bothered.

The interviewer’s office was also very hot and soon my eyes were streaming from the rising petrol fumes. I started to cough and his eyes started to stream too. Needless to say he completed the interview in the shortest time possible and I was in no condition to prolong it. We were both grateful to part company, and of course I was not offered the job. However,the good news is that by the afternoon the petrol had evaporated, I had a good interview, and I got the job !

The moral of the story is that you stand a much better chance of being successful at interview if you are not soaked in petrol – a valuable lesson for anyone to learn.

Martin P - 09/19/2012 , 06:53 AM Reply

Looking back I have had a number of experiences – good and bad – with interviewees. The example that David gave around wacky approaches is one that resonates with me. I applaud people who try something different and always try to keep an open mind, but I do remember one where the interviewee gave us each one of those picture slide puzzles and asked the panel to complete them. They were using it as an example of how they were somebody who could see the big picture and put all the pieces in the right place. We (the panel) debated long and hard about whether it was an inspired or a mis fire in terms of impact. They didn’t get the job but I think we in the end decided it was just on the inspired side. I guess it is about knowing your audience and the culture of the organisation. I can also remember times (long gone now I hope) when parents turned up with school leavers and proceeded to answer all the questions for them in an interview.

Martin R - 09/19/2012 , 06:53 AM Reply

I once interviewed a person for a client. He was applying for the role of a senior developer, so I asked him some technical questions. We started on one area – he couldn’t answer any of the questions. I explained that this was not a problem as the field was quite large and no-one knows everything about all areas, so we moved onto to another area. Again he was weak in knowledge and experience. So I tried another area, still weak. Eventually, he stood up and told me that he was “not playing this game”. He accused me of playing some game of who knows the most,stormed out of the interview room and ran down the corridor. My client’s development manager caught up with him as he was trying to force open a door with a card-swipe lock. He looked trapped and wanted to get out quickly. I felt sorry for the guy, as I can imagine he had better experiece than he managed to convery in the interview – his CV looked impressive. I did get a ‘killer’ reputation from that client though when it came to interviewing.

Tony S - 09/19/2012 , 06:53 AM Reply

One of the interviewers fell asleep when I went for a job at Barclays in Knutsford about 20 years ago; his colleague apologised and explained that he had just returned from serious illness, but it didn’t do my confidence any good at all!

Patrick F - 09/19/2012 , 06:53 AM Reply

I have interviewed so many people down through the years and unfortunately (for the interviewee) I like to be awkward and challenging. The one simple question I always ask (now out of morbid curiosity) is – “Give me 3 negative attributes about you”? I also define this question to them by saying I don’t what ‘positive negatives’.

The answers I have gotten through the years have been amazing — here is a sample of just a few:

I can be obsessive
I get aggressive sometimes
I have been told that i can be condescending
I am a control freak
I do things my way
I don’t like transgender people
I sometimes lack confidence
I get annoyed easily
I believe in witch craft and wouldn’t be able to work in an office with a bad spiritual vibe
I sometimes get angry for no real reason
I hate been asked stupid questions like this one
I procrastinate too much
I lack self belief

My advise to interviewees is to think about what you what to say before saying it, – be prepared for the personality (or personal compatibility) test

Patrick F - 09/19/2012 , 06:53 AM Reply

@Eddie Thanks for the question. There is no way of answering the ‘negative attributes’ question easily, for me I am looking for 2 things:

1) how they cope under pressure – esp important for client facing roles, when it comes to dealing with difficult situations I know that the person has the ability to perform

2) how they view themselves – self analysis show the confidence level of the individual, there is nothing wrong with having what are perceived as ‘negative attributes – it is always interesting to see how people try to minimise the effects.

My curiosity is based almost out of fear to what an interviewee will say next. Being asked a question nobody wants to answer is probably one of the most challenging things to overcome in an interview. To answer the question there needs to be some deflection away from your key skills, for example – “getting the home / work life balance can be difficult when working long hours” — it might show an inability to time manage, but it also show a commitment to your work.

Working within learning and development for 16 years has highlighted serious communication issues across the board. I am actually surprised with the lack of training individuals are given in preparation for interviews at times I do question the role of the Recruitment Agent

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