By Chantal du Toit
They say you never get a second chance to make a first impression. When it comes to interviews, this could not be truer.
The global financial crisis has devastated the international job market. As competition becomes increasingly fiercer, a candidate’s performance in a job interview can make a remarkable difference to their career prospects. Companies no longer rely solely on academic grades or experience but are instead placing more weight on candidates’ performances in interview. This is especially true in areas such as Human Resources, Law and Management, where your interpersonal and communication skills can make or break your success in a company.
This Article will look at the DOs and DON’Ts of successful interview techniques, so that candidates have a clearer idea of what employers are looking for when conducting interviews.
Preparing your CV
The first step in a job application is sending your CV to the firm. It is critical to ensure that your CV accurately reflects your experience and accomplishments. Bar exceptional circumstances, a CV should not exceed one to two pages, as firms want to review applications quickly and efficiently. For this reason, it is important to highlight your key achievements, in order to ‘stand out’ amongst the applicants.
When preparing a CV, ensure that you have checked the following:
Divide your CV into different sections so that it is easy to read. For example, Academic History, Experience, Skills and Languages, Professional Affiliations, Extra-Curricular Activities etc.
1. Make sure all of your academic results are accurate. In most cases, a company will verify your results so do not be untruthful in your CV.
2. Check that there are no grammatical or spelling errors. Mistakes indicate a lack of attention to detail, which is an important skill in business.
3. Highlight your key achievements in your experience section. Where you have specific examples of unique projects you have worked on or been involved in, use these interesting points. You may have a lot of experience but always choose the most impressive and relevant parts for your CV in order to attract the interviewer. You will later have an opportunity to explain your experience in more detail during the interview.
4. Check that the formatting in your CV and covering letter is consistent throughout, i.e. in terms of the font, the font size, the spacing, the bullet points etc.
5. Make sure your contact details are correct.
6. If you have provided a reference, ensure you have permission to supply these details. It is also useful to let your referee know that you are applying for jobs so that they are prepared and ready to give you a reference if contacted. If you are still working for your company, it may be advisable to avoid including a referee in your CV, in order to prevent your current company from discovering that you are applying for other jobs.
If you have been asked to provide a covering letter to accompany your CV, ensure that the letter is specifically tailored to the firm you are applying to. A useful format is to divide your covering letter into three separate paragraphs. First introduce yourself, then detail why you are interested in the firm and lastly, state why you believe you are best suited to a career at that company. It is especially useful to link all of your skills and achievements to the company’s profile so that you can demonstrate that you are a ‘good fit’ with the firm.
The most important thing to remember is that anything listed in your CV is ‘fair game’. This means that the interviewer is entitled, and likely, to ask you about the contents of your CV so expect to receive questions, especially if your CV contains any irregularities, gaps or vague references.
“The best candidates are those who, right from the start, show their desire to learn and their willingness to work hard”, Victoriya Katanayeva, Commercial Partner, GRATA Law Firm
Preparation is the key to interview success. It is crucial that you be aware of the work that the Company undertakes and the types of clients that they attract. In the last decade, the internet has made it a great deal easier to obtain information about a company’s business. Most corporations have extensive websites, which can provide a candidate with at least a basic understanding of the firm’s activities, if not more detailed insight into the company’s activities.
In addition, the most successful interview candidates will not only focus on the company’s website but also on other sites, which may make reference to the company. For example, a law firm such as GRATA is recommended by various legal directories, which all appear online. Independent reviews such as these provide an objective overview of the company. Client profiles and references about the firm also give you deeper insight into the firm’s work and reputation.
An interviewer is likely to be far more impressed by a candidate who has a thorough knowledge of the corporation, than one who has simply obtained the basic information.
Finally, ensure that you know which position you are applying for and why. Check the company’s website for the various vacancies and select the position, which corresponds best to your experience, skills and career objectives. In particular, make sure that you meet the relevant criteria of the advertised position so that you are only applying for jobs that you are suitably qualified for.
If you are applying for jobs, a useful tip is for you to think of some of the questions that the interviewer might ask you, in advance. There are a number of obvious questions that a candidate can pre-empt, including:
1. Why are you interested in this position?
2. What are your main skills?
3. What are strengths and weaknesses?
4. What can you contribute to our firm?
5. How would this position assist you in your future career?
For example, “Why are you interested in GRATA Law Firm” might seem like an obvious question but many candidates that I have interviewed have been unable to answer it. This demonstrates a lack of preparation, a lack of dedication and a lack of interest. If you do not know anything about the company, it is incredibly difficult to persuade an interviewer that you are interested in a job with the firm.
One of the best interview tips is to conduct a mock interview with a colleague, friend or family member. By practising different questions with them, you will feel more prepared for the interview and will grow accustomed to answering questions on-the-spot. Whilst this is a useful practice, it is nevertheless important to remember that you should never practice so much that every answer sounds rehearsed.
“You can tell a lot about a candidate’s work ethic simply from the way that they conduct themselves in the interview”, Lyazzat Zhumabayeva, HR Manager, GRATA Law Firm
The moment you walk into an interview, you are making an impression. The way in which you dress and present yourself has a significant impact on the interviewer’s initial impression of you. Wearing jeans and a t-shirt suggests that you are laid back, sloppy or disinterested in the position. A very short skirt or a low cut top might suggest that you lack professionalism. If you have unbrushed hair and dirty nails, the interviewer may draw the conclusion that if you do not care about your appearance, you will not care about the presentation of your work either.
When dressing for an interview, the following may be useful to you:
- A dark suit, whether with a skirt or trousers, is always preferable.
- A skirt should never be shorter than just above the knee.
- A blouse or shirt should never be revealing.
- When wearing a skirt, tights should be worn.
- Jewellery should be minimal, rather than flashy.
- Make-up should be minimal, rather than heavy.
- Shoes should be appropriate and not more suited to a nightclub than the office. Black shoes are always the safest option.
- When entering an interview, do not carry numerous bags and coats with you. Try to leave all items apart from your handbag in the reception area of the firm.
- Shirts should be well-ironed.
- Ties should be appropriate, i.e. not humorous or too brightly coloured.
- Shoes should be well polished.
- Nails should be clean and hair should be neat and tidy.
- If wearing a jacket, it should be buttoned on entering the interview but can be undone once sitting.
The interview is your opportunity to showcase your skills and convince the interviewer that you are the right candidate for the job.
Firstly, always come prepared.
- Never arrive too early or too late. Arriving very early is inconvenient for the interviewer and arriving late demonstrates poor time-management skills. You should arrive 5-10 minutes before the start of your interview.
- Ensure that your mobile phone is switched off.
- Bring a copy of your CV to the interview.
- Always carry a pen with you.
- Do not chew gum during the interview.
Secondly, when attending an interview, also remember that your body language can reveal a lot about your personality and character.
In an interview, the interviewer is trying to get a picture of who you really are. Pretending to be someone else may work at the interview stage but when you start working, your true colours will quickly be revealed. The fact that you have been asked to attend an interview is a good sign because it means that the interviewer has already noticed your potential through your CV and covering letter.
Try to relax in the interview so that the interviewer can see your personality coming through. It is useful to remember that they are often considering whether you are someone everyone in the office can get along with so be friendly and enthusiastic.
Always be aware of your individual behavioural habits. As stated, you need to appear comfortable but not so relaxed that you slouch in your chair or so rigid that you appear serious and uptight. Another example is your use of body language. If you are someone who uses their hands excessively when explaining a point, place your hands lightly on the table. If you enjoy clicking pens incessantly, do not hold a pen. An interviewer may be distracted by these habits, which will deter their attention from what you are saying.
Lastly, never lie in an interview because you will more than likely be found out. The interviewer might also guess from your body language that you are lying.
Answering and Asking Questions
When answering questions in an interview, be communicative but do not waffle. It is important to be concise in your answers, whilst still maintaining some sort of expressiveness, because it demonstrates that you possess the ability to be succinct yet persuasive.
When being asked questions, do not feel the need to always answer immediately. It is certainly not a weakness to ask the interviewer if you can take a minute so that you can provide a clear and logical answer. This is much more preferable than responding immediately with a weak answer that has clearly not been thought out.
In the majority of interviews, you will have an opportunity to ask the interviewer some questions about the firm. Do not ask questions that are bland or predictable, such as ‘describe the working atmosphere at your firm’. Only ask genuine, well thought-out questions that you sincerely want an answer to. For example, if a Partner is interviewing you, you may want to ask him to sketch some of his career highlights over the past years, which would give you further insight into the deals that the firm works on.
Finally, many candidates make the mistake of assuming that an interview is entirely one-sided, namely that all of the power lies in the hands of the interviewer. This could not be further from the truth. To some extent, the company is also being interviewed... by you. It is your opportunity to ask interesting questions, gain clarification and generally, get a ‘feel’ for the firm. This is particularly applicable if you already have offers from other firms as you will need to weigh them up against each other. Asking the questions you need answered will make this process much easier.
Remember: The interview process is a ‘give and take’ between you and the interviewer – it is as much about the firm recruiting you as you selecting the firm.
1. Do your CV and Cover Letter paint a persuasive picture of your experience and achievements?
2. Have you adequately researched the company?
3. Are you dressed appropriately for the interview?
4. Have you prepared some questions to ask the interviewer, where appropriate?
GRATA Law Firm
Tel.: +7 (727) 2445-777
Fax: +7 (727) 2445-776