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How to nail every job interview

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A high-pressured half-hour stands between you and that dream job. To help prepare you, we recruited experts from sport, fashion, TV and the military.
And Joe Wilkinson


2 hours before

YOU START GETTING ANXIOUS

When the pre-interview nerves kick in, stay cool and confident by copying the psychological tricks used by England’s Ashes-winning cricketer Stuart Broad

“If you want to succeed at anything, you have to enjoy pressure. I love playing for England, so if I feel nervous I think: that doesn’t make sense. Would I rather not
be there? No chance. You have to back yourself. In the build-up to a game I think about all the wickets I’ve taken and that gets me feeling confident.

“Before a match, I like to visualise what might happen, so when I walk out there
I feel like I am in familiar territory. Sticking to your daily routines can also help beat anxiety. I have the same breakfast – eggs and baked beans on toast – for every game, so even if it’s a big match everything feels like business as usual.

“If I do get stressed I use a technique where I look up at the sky to mentally ‘escape’ the pressure. It just gives me a few seconds to regain some perspective so I feel clear-minded and ready to give it my best.”

Joe says:  “It’s important to stay relaxed. That’s why I drink quite heavily beforehand. When I begin to feel nervous I start shaking uncontrollably from the ankle all the way up to the thorax. The rest of my body remains perfectly still. That’s the key – keeping your head still while two-thirds of your body shakes violently.”

Investec is the title sponsor of Test match cricket in England; investec.co.uk/banking


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Minute 1

You walk through the door

All interviewers make snap judgements, so create a winning first impression with the help of skilled people-greeter Daniel Greenock, restaurant manager
 of Marcus at The Berkeley

“The key to a good first impression is eye contact, a warm smile and presence. Eye contact shouldn’t be creepily intense, but the person should feel like they have your full attention. If you are meeting multiple people, greet everyone – keep handshakes firm but not aggressive – and use your natural smile because a fake smile is instantly noticeable. Just pretend you’re meeting someone you know. After you sit down, pick a point close to the questioner’s head and occasionally glance there: it stops you looking intense, without appearing uninterested.

“The secret to easy small talk when you meet someone is to forge a connection. Find a go-to subject that is personal but engaging. For me, it’s being Scottish. Everyone has a connection with Scotland – like family, work, university or a holiday – so I mention Scotland and conversation just sparks up. As soon as you share something about yourself, that connection is made and you’re away.”

Joe says:  “Make yourself stand out. A good trick is to take a few naked Polaroids of yourself before setting off, and then handing them out to whoever is interviewing you. Always give them something to take away.”


ties

Minute 2

YOU ARE OFFERED A SEAT

Your interviewer will judge your appearance. Pass the test by following the sartorial advice of  Jake Allen, co-founder of King & Allen tailors

“When you walk into the room, you should have your top jacket button done up, then undo it as you sit down. That act suggests openness and confidence. For an interview, always wear a suit with a solid colour like navy blue or charcoal grey. 

“Never neglect any aspect of your look because one poor choice – an oversized collar or tiny tie knot – will attract your interviewer’s gaze. Stick to a crisp, white shirt. Your tie should be a dark green, red or blue and made of silk – it’s only slightly more expensive but looks much better. Choose a repeating pattern, not school-like stripes or a bland, plain tie.”

kingandallen.co.uk


Minute 5

YOU START ANSWERING QUESTIONS

When the interrogation begins, sell yourself without sounding boastful by learning from skilled business pitcher and start-up guru Julien Callede, co-founder of made.com.

“It’s important to learn how to talk about your skills without looking like you’re just bragging.

“The key is to always be factual and precise, but don’t talk for too long – it’s a common mistake in business. Your aim is to say just enough to trigger curiosity, so people are encouraged to ask more questions. Now they are the ones asking and you are not the one showing.

“When speaking, always work out what your key message is. What do you want to communicate? For example, if you want to demonstrate that you can lead people, talk about what your team has achieved, not what you have achieved. From that, the interviewer will automatically understand that you are a leader.

“If you don’t have an answer, try to draw parallels instead. When I had business meetings about launching our company in France, I said I had no projected figures, but in the UK after three years we had achieved ‘this’ volume. It meant that the guys I’m trying to impress are imagining big figures without me having to disclose any.

“The best way to sell yourself is to memorise your key steps and responses. Anticipate what you will be challenged on and have responses ready to reply with. You can’t lie about your weaknesses, but you can have answers to them.

“Use stories as well as facts. People have visual memories, so rather than just recounting the bare facts, if you share a story about how you had a major challenge and came good, that story is what they will remember when you leave the room.”


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Minute 15

IT’S YOUR TURN TO LISTEN

When your interviewer starts discussing job details and expectations, listen attentively and ask smart questions using the techniques of BBC World News presenter Ben Bland.

“When a guest is speaking in the studio, I also have to think about what is coming up next and which cameras are being used, so I could easily miss what they are saying. Nerves can have the same effect in interviews. Always listen intently so you can pick up on points they have made and encourage the speaker by nodding – but not so fast that it looks like you are desperate for them to finish.

“In order to ask the right questions in response, prepare things in advance but stay flexible. I will plan for what subjects might come up, but I make sure I respond to what the person has actually said.

“Above all, you must look comfortable, or whoever is looking at you – whether it be the TV audience or an interviewer – will pick up on your discomfort. I watched my earlier TV footage and noticed that my eyebrows went up when I was anxious. Do a mock interview and film yourself with a smartphone so you can pick up on similar things. Hand movements should be subtle but confident. If you move them too much, it’s distracting. If you don’t move them, you look frozen.”

Follow Ben @BenMBland

Joe says: “The last thing you want is to look rude. That’s why I usually like to hide behind something whenever someone talks, or simply leave the room. I’d rather do that than let them see I don’t give a toss. You should always be polite.”


handshake

Minute 23

TIME TO SEAL THE DEAL

Your final actions are the ones your interviewer will remember, so behave with the right blend of confidence and respect. Ex-Royal Marine Sean Lerwill  talks you through how to achieve it.

“Near the end you need to cement a final connection with the interviewer, so gently mirror their behaviour. In Afghanistan we were taught to mirror the body language of the local people we spoke to. It creates an unspoken bond. If the interviewer makes calm, formal movements, do the same. If they laugh and gesticulate, open up a bit too.

“Be careful not to rush your departure as if you want to get out quickly. Wait until they stand before you get up. It shows you accept they’re in charge. But stand like you belong there, with good, upright posture. Offer the interviewer your hand and don’t nod your head, because with nerves it can easily end up coming out as a half-curtsy. When you go to say your final words, your voice should be clear, well-projected and with a few small pauses to show you’re calm.” 

Follow Sean @SeanLerwill

Joe says: “Always walk away backwards, remembering to maintain eye contact until you’re out the door. Never blink. It shows weakness. If the interview is far away, ask if you can stay there so you can stay overnight for free. That shows initiative.”

Follow Joe @gillinghamjoe


interview

Or just listen to this guy

The Apprentice hard case Claude Littner on how to ace a job interview.

"Throughout every single time I meet with you, every single engagement, I’m assessing you.

“I look for bright eyes; somebody who’s alert, interested.

“It’s got to be somebody who’s resilient. You know it when you see it. And when you don’t – dead eyes, people who are answering in a monosyllabic way – then you know it’s not going to work.

“If someone’s got a strong handshake, I’d recognise it.

“Interviews are fraught with difficulty as some people are just good at interviews, not so good at actually doing the job. If they fool me and I have to fire them three months later, that’s more painful than being upfront and saying, ‘No, I’m not good at that but this is what my strengths are.’

“I do make split-second decisions about people.

“I like humour, but there’s got to be a firm boundary. If I’m talking about a business situation and a tough negotiation, the last person I want in front of me is a joker.

“It’s a constant re-evaluation based on how you’re looking, how you’re answering the questions, whether you’re attentive.

“It’s important to understand the background of the company. When you walk into Alan Sugar’s office, he’s not going to appreciate flip-flops. But on the other hand, if you walk into some of these creative places and they’re all smoking the weed, you’re in.

“I never want to get too chummy with anybody I employ, so I keep myself aloof.

“Have some questions prepared, because when you’re in the interview, and you’re flustered and you’ve given some answers that you wish you hadn’t given, you’re not going to think of the right kind of question.

“I’ve seen plenty of interview practice that’s bad, and not much good. No one’s absolutely perfect – apart from me, of course.”

Single-Minded: My Life In Business by Claude Littner is out now, £15.99 (Piatkus)

[Photography: Jay Brooks]

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