blog article on career myth versus a 5 year plan

Sometimes it’s the small things that let you down – habits that you’re not even aware that you have. In our office, when it comes to preparing our clients for interviews, I am notorious as the consultant with the eagle eyes.

Looking back at 2016, here are the most common interview errors that I came across. Scroll down and then ask yourself whether you fall into any of these traps.

If not, you can relax.  If so and if you really care about improving your conversion rate i.e. the number of interviews you attend versus the number of job offers you receive, make sure that you find your own set of eagle eyes to help you forensically examine your approach to interviews.

Error #1: Poor choice of words

Do you use words or phrases that damage you in an interview? Here are just a few that come up again and again:

  • ‘I had to’ as in ’I had to talk to the customer about her problem.’
    This sounds as though the only reason you completed the action was because someone else insisted.  It makes you seem reactive and lacking in energy or self-motivation. A similar phrase to this is, ‘I was tasked with…’ Same thing really.
    Replace these with direct language that conveys purpose e.g. ‘So, what I did was…’
  • ‘They’ as in ‘They told me that I had to move to a different department’
    This presents you as alienated from your managers, almost as if they are your enemy. Remember that the person sitting opposite you in the interview is your next possible manager.  Do you really want them to imagine you describing them in the same way? 
    Replace this with something like, ‘My Manager asked me to …’
  • ‘We’ as in ‘We decided to contact the client immediately’.
    Some people answer all interview questions using ‘we’ without even thinking about it.  Other candidates do it deliberately, believing that it shows inclusiveness / teamwork / leadership etc. A blunt interviewer may respond with, ‘We are not hiring your team, we are looking to see if we would like to hire YOU.  Please identify your specific contribution.’
    Of course, you do need to convey that you value people / work colleagues during the interview but there are more clever ways of doing it. Replace this approach with a precise description of the value that YOU brought to the issue.

Error #2: Language errors that don’t match the expectations of your market place

We all make grammatical mistakes but you need to eliminate those which will shock your audience.

This is one of my most challenging issues to address and sometimes I choose not to alert my clients to a language error, especially if they do not have enough time to fix up the error before the interview. Here are some common issues:

  • ‘Youse’ as in ‘When are youse going to let me know whether I’ve got the job or not?’
    This, of course, is the ultimate fingernail-down-the-blackboard-word.
  •  ‘Somethink’ as in ‘It was somethink that I really needed to do.’
    For anyone applying for middle level to senior roles, this makes you sound uneducated. (It is also surprisingly common).
  • Malapropisms, where a correct word or phrase is used with an incorrect meaning e.g. ‘pacifically’ instead of ‘specifically’ or a lovely one, ‘for all intensive purposes.’

It may take you several months to change so ask a friend / colleague who notices such errors to vet your language, WELL before the interview so that you have time to eliminate your particular clanger.

Error #3: Leaving interview skills training till the day before an interview

At The Career Consultancy, we generally drill our clients for 2-3 hours on basic interview skills if their Career Transition program or their budget (if they are paying themselves) allows it. After that, we may also schedule additional and specific interview skills sessions aimed at a particular job opportunity that comes up. 

However, I almost never schedule this final session the day before an interview. Interview success relies on confidence.  Imagine if I raised an issue that needed attention without my client actually having any time to do anything about it.  If I did, they would likely feel worse rather than better about their interview ability. Common sense really.

You may wish to avoid putting in the effort to improve your interview skills until you know that you actually have an interview. This is a bad mistake. You will make the greatest improvement and therefore obtain the biggest bang for your buck if you start work at least one month before any possible interview.

Error #4: Completing only one interview skills training session

Let’s look at what happens in an ideal interview training situation.  At the end of their second session, our clients are generally rapt.  They know how good they now are selling themselves and they feel more upbeat than usual about attending an interview.

There is a catch, though.  They generally do NOT feel this way at the end of their first session. It is initially quite difficult to master good interview technique.  During this first session, our clients can see the gap between their initial response and where we think they need to be.  So, of course, they’re rarely happy with their performance. They go home and do a great deal of specific practice and it is after the SECOND session that everything seems to fall into place.

If you want an external person to seriously review your performance, schedule at least two sessions several days apart.

Error #5: Failing to demonstrate the appropriate persona for the role

If the role that you are applying for is a promotion, you may need to change your current demeanour.  On a superficial (but important) level, for example, most experts will advise you to dress at that more senior level well before any interview.

Persona is a complicated matter and it goes beyond your attire. Here are some issues to watch out for in interviews:

  • If you are applying for a CEO role, you should have gravitas and presence.  Your Board must believe that you have what it takes to lead their organisation well.
  • If you are wanting an Executive role, it is expected that you are nuanced in both your communication style and your interview content. You need to sound mature and self-reflective.
  • At the Executive level, you are expected to be at ease in difficult or awkward situations.  You should look comfortable and relaxed throughout your interview.

If you struggle with any of the above issues it will take a considerable amount of time to make the necessary changes.  Gravitas, nuance or communication ease do not materialise overnight.  Arrange for someone to vet your interview performance up to 12 months in advance of an interview.  This person should have fine-tuned antennae so that they notice any deficits.

Error #6: Failing to do any/proper interview skills homework

Our clients do a considerable amount of work between the first and second interview skills session.  Then they have an enjoyable time at their second session.  As well as a substantial improvement in their technical skill, there’s lots of laughter and visible confidence. I often say that it is probably the only time in their life where someone forces them to tell interesting stories about how good they are.

How many hours of serious preparation do you complete when you have an interview coming up?  Ask yourself how much you want the job and then do the work to make sure you get the role.

A Life Skill that lasts for your entire career

A few years ago I helped a medical specialist with a job application.  “Serena” was a surgeon from South America who had spent several years studying/working to meet Australian requirements.  If she was not successful in winning the role, Serena faced having to return to South America. Just think of the ramifications.  Serena was surprisingly poor at interview techniques so it was lucky that she scheduled two practice sessions.  She won the job (thank God).

Almost all of us live and die by the interview sword. Yet, so many graduates, professionals and Executives fail to ensure that they master interview skills.

What about you? Are you winging it?

Use the above checklist to do something about swinging the balance of power to you in interviews. You won’t be sorry.

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