Recruiters rarely admit it, but it is not always the best candidate who gets
the job – it is usually the best interview performance.
Despite the range of assessment tools available to selectors, the interview,
for all its faults, is still the most common method of trying to predict job
The initial phase of an interview is often a quick checklist of your
experience. Keep your answers brief; most candidates say too much during an
interview. The danger is that the interviewer becomes bored, and then tunes
back in when you accidentally drop negative information into the interview.
Many candidates mistakenly believe that interviewers are no longer asking
old favourites, such as ‘Tell me your two greatest strengths and weaknesses’ or
‘Where do you want to be in five years?’ They are. And sometimes interviewers
think it is smart to try to wrong-foot you with oddball questions, such as ‘Who
would you like to invite to a dinner party?’
Focus on your skills and achievements, but watch out for the deal-breakers
at the end of an interview, as they are often used to see who is ahead of the
The problem is that getting past these questions is not about your ability
to do the job, but your ability to handle difficult questions. A recent survey
by Reed Employment discovered that one candidate had been asked ‘If you were a
roundabout, what song would you sing to yourself all day?’
What else makes a winning performance? Do your homework. Read between the
lines of the job content. Scrutinise every piece of evidence about the job and
the organisation. What kind of results are required? Detail matters, but
understand the big themes: work out the purpose of the job. Pin down the
attitudes, behaviours and outcomes that are expected from exceptional
So what really gets employers to say ‘We want to hire you’? Make sure you
have plenty of evidence of times when you went the extra mile. Work out the
employer’s shopping list and line up your matching ‘offer’ with care. If you
can see defined competencies, prepare mini-narratives of situations where your
individual contribution brought about a result. But remember that your examples
also reflect your behaviour – try to offer a balance between commitment and
responsiveness, otherwise you may sound inflexible.
Make positive suggestions about quick wins that you may be able to deliver
within a short timeframe.
Ask questions that convey enthusiasm and point to the future, such as how
the role will develop and the training you will receive.
These final steps achieve your main objective: plant an unshakeable vision
in the interviewer’s mind of a shared future – with you in it.
Career coach by John Lees, taken from his book, Job interviews, Top
Answers to Tough Questions