The Five Ps of Interview Perfection

Don’t show up to an interview disorganized or disinterested. Employers are tired of it.  To help, here are several techniques (all starting with the letter P) to get you ready, keep you focused, and ensure you are well-equipped to wow! 

First, prepare

Nothing will hurt your job offer chances more than being ill-prepared for an interview, yet according to employers the majority of job seekers don’t prepare enough. “A vast majority of the candidates I interview are underprepared. If a candidate arrives to an interview without a clear understanding of the role requirements or what our company is known for, it is an automatic turn-off” shares Jacqueline Eddie, a store manager who regularly recruits for retail roles.  A recent study by Accountemps confirms that that the majority of job candidates struggle with interviews: 43% of polled executives said that candidates made the most mistakes during the interview stage.

On the flip side Adam Kuzik, a small business owner, says “being prepared by anticipating questions and having appropriate responses ready” are a big plus.  Kuzik reiterates that “promising candidates have always brought all of the tools needed to make a positive impression” to the interview, making his decision easier.

Prior to attending an interview you need to research and prepare. Studies suggest that spending a mere 30 to 60 minutes (at a minimum) getting ready for an interview can drastically improve your chances of securing a job offer.  Cam Turner, a senior project manager, stresses basic preparation tips: “go over your resume and cover letter…do an internet search on popular interview questions, and prepare a list of questions that you have regarding the position and the company.  You never know what you’ll be asked in an interview, but the more you prepare the more confident you will be.”

Turner emphasizes an important point—research, good questions, and a good understanding of typical interview questions increase confidence.  Confidence will help you convince the hiring authority that you are the best candidate for the role.  Eddie compares how job seeker’s lack of confidence or self-assurance impact her interviewing decisions: “When a candidate comes to an interview and stumbles over questions, mumbles responses, or flounders to address role requirements I have a difficult time understanding their personal value and it leaves me questioning how much this person wants the role. Yet really confident job seekers are able to catch – and keep – my attention. Their value is more evident.”

Next, practice

Remember the phrase: “A great speech delivered by a poor presenter becomes a bad speech.” To avoid losing the interest of employers during an interview, you need to practice what you are going to say until it flows smoothly, not mechanically. Treat the interview like a conversation and not an interrogation.  Strive to engage naturally with interviewers, not bore them by reciting dry facts.  To ensure you share content of value, formulate messages that match the job requirements and practice delivering career stories that outline challenges, actions, and results.

Employers can tell when you haven’t given your answers enough thought or rehearsal.  Sure signs that candidates haven’t prepared enough include: “answering a question with a question and avoiding questions that are relevant to the role,” according to Daniel Plenzik, an engineering manager.  He further shares that job candidates who demonstrate “an understanding of what they are being interviewed for and what the company does” keep the conversation flowing and piqued his interest. Greg Buccini, a business development manager, agrees: “know everything you have put in your resume and be prepared to tell the story behind it.  Also, understand what makes you a good candidate for the role and be able to describe it in terms that matter to the interviewer.”

If you get tongue-tied during an interview, it can be difficult for the interviewer to decipher your value.   Practice not only what you will say during an interview, but how you will say it.   Nobody likes robotic or canned responses, so focus on building rapport, being engaging, and creating chemistry—all while sharing great content.  To help, recite career stories while you drive, spend time addressing common questions while looking in a mirror, or recruit friends or family members to be your sounding board.  The more energy and effort you invest into practicing, the better equipped you will be.

Be professional

Never attend an interview inappropriately dressed or exhibiting disinterest.  An obvious fact, but many job seekers still fail to achieve.  Plenzik has interviewed candidates that “bad-mouthed previous employers…were too cocky… got caught in a lie…or completely missed the interview,” all unprofessional traits that disqualified them.   Similarly, Eddie has had interviewees arrive in “messy dirty clothes, with a complete lack of self-respect or respect for the role.”  None of these candidates were hired.

Professionalism is imperative in a job interview.  Employers are looking for the perfect fit between a candidate and a role, and a lack of professionalism can be an automatic eliminator or burn the bridges of future opportunities. Stacy Head, a business systems analysis consultant shares that: “one candidate came to an interview and the first thing he told me is that he had already accepted another position the previous day.  At least he was honest before we started, but he should have informed us prior to the interview.  I was very busy and we really needed viable candidates—he essentially wasted my time.”

How you dress, act and react, and what you say must exude respect and competence.  On the day of your interview treat everyone you meet with care and courtesy, including the doorman, receptionist, or parking attendant.  You never know who may report your behaviour to the hiring authority, or when you may meet up with the individual again.  Finally, never waste the interviewer’s time; it can extinguish connections that may be critical to your career in the future.

Always participate

“I always look for someone with good energy, who can carry on a conversation and isn’t afraid to speak clearly and confidently” says Eddie.  She seeks employees that possess the right attitude and show investment in the job process.  She isn’t alone.  Buccini recalls a specific job candidate that stood out by being “able to carry on a lively discussion about our product strategy and competitive environment…which left a very positive impression on myself and my colleagues.” Effort can equal excellence during an interview, so get engaged.

An interview is a two-way conversation between people of mutual need.  A job seeker needs a job and an employer needs an employee.  The right fit can’t be located if an interviewee is overcome with anxiety or reluctant to share.  Plenzik reminds job seekers that “employers are human beings too, so don’t be uptight or scared; a little humour works well.” Eddie agrees that she isn’t interested in hiring “someone who acts like they are afraid of people,” and Kuzik is turned off by candidates “being too casual in conversation.”

Find a balance between contributing and listening during an interview to ensure you don’t isolate the interview or fail to exhibit sincere involvement.  A good rule of thumb is to keep answers under two minutes in length, focusing 20% of your answer on the challenge, 60% on your actions, and 20% on the result.  Cover off the appropriate amount of detail so employers are left with a complete picture, not persuading you to provide more.

Finally, infuse passion and personality

All employers value personality and passion and look for these traits in future employees. “By the end of the interview I want to feel that the candidate truly wants the job. I want to see their excitement about the opportunity and their interest in becoming a part of our team,” says Turner, who goes on to stress that “it is imperative that the candidate fit in with the team and corporate culture.” He searches for personality fit in addition to hard skills.

Buccini agrees that “passion can translate to high employee engagement in the long run” so he analyzes candidates for the right dose of enthusiasm and excitement.

Jobs are often awarded to the people who can communicate and sell themselves—not always to the most qualified applicant. Remember this, When you get called for an interview, the employer has already determined that you’re qualified. The interview is about fit. You can’t win an employer over if you can’t convey what sets you apart, and to communicate your value effectively you must let your personality and passion shine through.  “I’m always looking for personality and passion. The combination of the two, in the right way, contributes successful action in other traits,” says Kuzik. Don’t hold back—go after the job you want.