Getting your first interview right is vital if you want to secure that new opportunity. Baldeep Bains-Toor, Associate Partner within the CFO & Finance Practice at Eton Bridge Partners, offers some compelling advice for candidates to follow to make sure your first impression is the best.
As one of my mentors used to say, ‘prior preparation prevents poor performance’. When it comes to that all-important meeting with a potential employer, it’s essential to lay the groundwork before you even shake hands and say hello.
The steps you should take to make sure you are in exactly the right place to shine can be summarised by what I call the Four Ps:
At Eton Bridge Partners, we do our best to make sure candidates are fully briefed before they go to meet their possible new employer. But it’s important to emphasise that, when you meet us, the interview process has begun already.
We play a key part in assessing whether you are a good fit for the client; so all the advice here is relevant from the very start. If you make a poor impression when you have your initial conversation with a consultant, it can count against you.
I met a candidate recently who did not realise the firm she was about to meet was part of a larger, very well-known business that had recently been in the news. It was clear she had not done sufficient research.
I like it when people ask me about the client. What are the people like? What’s the culture like? They come across as genuinely interested in all aspects of the position.
In the countdown to your interview, look into the business and people you are meeting. Research the company’s annual report, or if you can, source any official published information, as well as any external analyst reports and reviews. It’s also worth looking for recent news articles about the company and its strategy. Don’t forget to digest the content of the company’s website in the first instance.
Spend some time on LinkedIn to research the person or people you are going to meet. As well as gaining more insight into the role, you might share an interest, or have mutual friends. You never know, those mutual contacts you find may come in very handy…
On the flip side, no doubt your interviewer will be doing their research on you. Make sure that you represent yourself accordingly on your social media channels, making your personal Instagram or Facebook profiles private if necessary.
Get ready for S.T.A.R. (situation, task, action, result) questions. These are the open-ended invitations that are often phrased: “Tell me about a time when…” Think back over your recent career and be ready to relate a concise but persuasive story about an instance when you delivered a positive outcome. Keep your responses relatively ‘short and sweet’, and gauge the interviewer’s body language as to whether you need to elaborate or not.
Prepare some questions you want to put to the interviewer. You should cover the basics, but this isn’t going to impress anyone. It’s the level of research you do on the company, its competitors and the sector in which it operates that will give you the leading edge. Delve deeper – if the firm is in transition, what does that look like? If it’s in a growth phase, will this be organic or via M&A?
In terms of competitor research, I would suggest that you always look at what is going on with 2-3 of their direct competitors as well as across the sector.
On the day, take the job description and your CV with you. You’ll look prepared and engaged when you walk in – and you’ll have something to read and revise on the journey there.
The world of work is changing, and it can be very hard to persuade people in the financial world, for instance, that not everybody wears a suit and tie these days.
If it is not discussed ahead of an interview, ensure you ask your lead consultant about the dress code culture of the business you are seeing – don’t always assume you’ll have to be suited and booted. If you walk into a small tech start-up dressed up to the nines, you will stand out a mile, and it could count against you.
Even if you find that the dress code is more relaxed, make sure you still dress to impress – still get the haircut and shine your shoes…
70% of communication is non-verbal. People need to be aware of being cool, calm and collected rather than distracted or frantic. Speak with clear volume. When you are asked a question and you feel that you may be stumped, make sure that you take your time when answering. Silence is better than panic answering. People won’t remember the silence; they will remember the credible answer to the question that you have taken the time to respond to appropriately.
In all functions, it’s important to fit in with the culture of your new surroundings. People hire people, not just their skillset. The people on both sides of the interview table need to feel comfortable with each other. Which leads us neatly to…
Be yourself. Yes, it’s tempting and understandable to dial things up a bit when you’re in interview mode, but you shouldn’t completely disguise your authentic self. If you change your character for the purpose of securing a role, you and your new colleagues are in for a shock on your first day in the job.
Clearly, a consultant should do their homework and only send you to clients where you will be a good fit for their specific business. Nevertheless, the interviewer will be keen to meet you as a person.
This is particularly the case when there are several rounds of interviews; once the business in question is satisfied you have the skills for the role, it’s all about the personality fit.
Offer up information about you personally so that we can get to know you. Increasingly people don’t want to feel as if they are prying into your personal life and hobbies etc., so if you offer this information up front, then it will give us a better picture of you as a person and you may find that you have something in common.
You don’t have to play it cool. It’s perfectly acceptable, even advisable, to show you are happy to be meeting the interviewer and are genuinely interested in the role you are discussing. But don’t be over-effusive. Being too enthusiastic can be a negative, and talking too much through nerves, or a desire to make a good impression doesn’t always come across well.
When talking about your experience, use “we” rather than “I” – it makes you come across as a team player. However, take the credit when credit is due. If you did something good, and implemented it with the team’s support, use both.
Be pro-active and offer references before being asked, it makes a very good impression.
It’s surprising at this level but…. don’t forget the basics. Make sure you have the correct address, allow yourself plenty of time to arrive and give a firm handshake…
Best of luck!
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