Becoming an exceptional candidate is something you can do. Most people don’t take the trouble. Most interviews don’t go that well; most people are bad at them. The truth is that many recruiters are not particularly good at interviewing and that their interviews are not particularly effective. So, if you prepare properly, and are a good interviewee the odds are stacked in your favour.
There are three things which will contribute to your success in a job interview – both at an investment bank and at any other financial services firm. They are: planning, practice and positive psychology.
An interview is an audition. You need to project yourself as the sort of the person the interviewer wants to hire; as someone they want on the team.
It’s not just a question of researching the organisation. You need to understand your interviewer and why he is hiring. One way or another he is seeking a resource as a solution to an identified problem. Just checking out the company’s website, report and accounts is not enough.
Work on understanding the organisational need and how you can add value. Look at the challenges and opportunities they face and work out how to show that your experience and expertise are relevant. Explore their marketplace, competitors and the changes taking place in the industry sector concerned.
Use your network to find information about the interviewer and his preferences, the company and its culture.
I don't necessarily mean being word perfect. I'm talking about what you say when anyone asks you what you do, why you left, what you have achieved and so on. Can you talk about yourself comfortably, with confidence? Can you talk concisely and with clarity? Practice so that you have the right words. You don't want to get flustered; you do want to talk at the right pace and, crucially, to know when to stop. Remember the need for consistency between words and body language.
In an interview situation you have to know your CV by heart. None of it pops into your head at the last minute; you know what you are going to say and what spin you are going to put on it. A good interviewee has learned his or her lines in advance and is focussing much more on delivery than on off the cuff replies.
What you really need to do, though, is to make the interview interactive! People trained in interview techniques are told to use the 70/30 rule. That is to say the interviewer aims to talk for about 30% of the time allotted and the candidate talks 70% of the time, in response.
The smart candidate actually wants a 50/50 dialogue. You should aim for a conversation, directed along the lines you prefer – whereby you can play to your strengths. The interviewer can only go with what you give them. This is best illustrated by using the “what was your biggest business mistake?” question. Do you really want to tell them your biggest mistake? Really? You decide!
Positive interaction is what you are aiming for in the interview situation. Make it easy for the interviewer by saying “Have I told you all you need to know on that subject? Can I give you more detail?” Build rapport, find some commonality. But remember it’s not a monologue, you are both actors in this interview and it is a dialogue, a conversation, not a solo performance.
Henry Ford famously said “If you think you can do a thing or think you can't do a thing, you're right”. You’re motivated, you’ve done the prep and have the drive to succeed so visualise success.
Whether you call it confidence or self-esteem or self-belief, to shine at interview you need to show that you will make a good employee. Show that you are good at inter-acting and reading your situation, good at selling yourself and your ideas. Practicing your interview technique will make it so much easier to shine. There’s no need to be nervous is you believe you are a good candidate. If you believe you can do it, then you can do it. You know it because you have prepared, practiced and are ready to show what you can do.
After the interview send in a letter. Thank them for seeing you. Reiterate how interested you are in them and the role. Review the key points of the interview when you discussed challenges and opportunities and outline how you can help them meet these.
No guarantees but if you work at it you’ll become a better interviewee and give yourself an advantage in a tough economic climate.
Michael Man is chief executive of 10 Eighty, a career and talent management consultancy. A version of this article first appeared on Michael's Blog.