standing out in a job interview

How to Smash a Job Interview Out of the Park

How do you distinguish yourself from the other candidates who have also made it to the interview stage?

It all comes down to preparation.

You’ve crafted the perfect CV, you’re ready to articulate why you want this job, and you know you’re looking the part. You are exuding confidence, your positive attitude is engaged …

So why are you still feeling so nervous?

It’s only natural. Regardless of how qualified you are for this potential new role (or at least how qualified you think you are for it), the notion of walking into a room and being interviewed (interrogated) can be extremely daunting.

I’d like to say all, but I should probably say most interviews these days follow what could either be referred to as a competency based, behavioural based, predictability based or targeted selection interview format.

Gone are the days when you would sit across from a recruiter or potential employer and they would ask you to rattle off your strengths and weaknesses, ask you where you wanted to be in either five or ten years time, and then ask you a few hypothetical questions.

Today’s interviews focus less on skills and strengths and more on competencies or personality and behavioural traits.

The best recruiters and hiring managers are not going to focus solely on your ability to simply get the job, which can often be based on how good you look “on paper” – i.e. how well your CV has been put together.

They are far more interested in determining your ability to do (and ultimately succeed) in the role in question. And the only way to predict how well you will perform in a new role is to assess how well you performed in past roles where you would have been required to demonstrate similar key competencies.

Many of our fondest childhood memories would include the words once upon a time … when often we would be led into a land far, far away. Now, decades later, it’s time to focus along a similar train of thought.

The majority of questions you will get during the course of an interview today will begin with words to the extent of Tell me about a time when you …, Talk me through a situation where you …, Give me an example of how you have …, or How did you feel when …

I am sure you see where I’m going here.

The questions will all be phrased purely with an emphasis on the past, prompting you to recall and talk through previous real life experiences. There won’t be any hypothetical what would, what if, or how would type questions at all.

In order to answer these types of questions successfully, it is essential that you really know your CV and more importantly that you are familiar with your key achievements.

You need to keep the following acronym in mind: S.T.A.R.

Situation, Task, Action and Result.

If you think STAR when formulating your answers to any of these targeted questions, it will trigger your mind to think of the exact situation you were in at the time; the task that lay ahead of you; the action (or steps) you took to complete the task; and finally the result in terms of what transpired (successfully or perhaps even not so successfully … after all nobody’s perfect) due to the steps you took.

Covering off all these key areas will ensure you give a complete answer (and impress the person sitting opposite you).

In order to best prepare for these types of questions, you need to think about what competencies (personal traits) you possess that can’t be assumed by simply looking at your CV. You then need to think back through your own past experiences to situations where you may have had to display such traits.

It really becomes a process of self-assessment.

  • Are you a natural leader?
  • Are you a strong communicator?
  • Do you have a creative flair?
  • Are you highly motivated?
  • Can you demonstrate a high level of business acumen?
  • Is negotiating with senior decision makers something that comes easily to you?
  • Do you develop a rapport with people quickly?
  • Do you have a strong eye for detail?
  • Are you easy-going with a great personality?

But it’s not simply a matter of telling the interviewer that you possess these traits. You need to be able to cite specific (and detailed) examples of when you have put these competencies into action.

Articulating your career to date through specific and detailed examples will put you in a far stronger position than if you were to try to get away with giving generic (airy fairy) or textbook answers.

When it comes to job interviews, it’s no longer about who  you know, or even what  you know. It’s about what you did .

Regardless of where you went to school or university, no matter how much experience you have gained in the workforce, and notwithstanding who you know, if you aren’t able to interview successfully by answering questions based on your past work performance, then you won’t get the job.

Everyone who is now successfully employed has, at one time or another, been through some form of rigorous interview process.

You are a strong and highly marketable candidate. You know it. Your Mother knows it. But it will only be through successfully convincing the interviewer of your experience, your talent, skills, attitude and your own levels of self-motivation through examples of your past work performance, that you will be offered the ideal job.

Paul Slezak is a cofounder of RecruitLoop and author of “21 things to do to get a new job NOW!”

Image: Ludovic Bertron, via Flickr