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Optimum Talks Blog

Your Interview Experience: What Can You Control?

by Optimum Talent
October 6, 2016

Throughout the course of my career, I have had the good fortune of being interviewed by several employers, all with varying styles, techniques and platforms for their interview process. I have come across everything from rigid and structured interviews, where the interviewer drills down purely to technical competence, to a wide open format, where the sole question is “tell me about yourself”. Many of the interviewers were very prepared; with others it was clear that, while you sat in front of them staring out the window at the adjacent buildings, they were scanning your resume for the first time. You can’t control what you can’t control.

So, the question becomes, what can you control?”. After all, an interview is a competition, and your brief time in that interview is your sole opportunity to earn the interviewer’s vote.

Let’s assume that as the interviewee, you have the logistics and wardrobe details covered. You know your own resume, I hope, and have done your due diligence on your potential employer. Now, let’s go inside the boardroom and get you in the hot seat!

First things first: first impressions always matter! In your initial meeting with the interviewer, the first thirty seconds often paint a picture brushed with permanent ink. The majority of top employers are concerned with a candidate’s ability to fit into their culture. Despite not knowing exactly what that is just yet, stand up, smile, and shake their hands (firmly). Be genuine and be yourself, but never forget why you are interviewing in the first place. It is a competition. You need to find the balance between displaying competence, confidence, and warmth. Warmth translates to trust. If you don’t like to shake hands, or put on a smile, or display some degree of confidence and warmth, I can’t help you. Stop reading now!

My next piece of advice is to know your own story. Being deeply familiar with your strengths, weaknesses, successes and failures, allows you to easily formulate connections to the needs of the role and demonstrate your ability to be successful. Not all of these experiences may have been positive, but in confidently being able to speak to your story, you can highlight your ability to adapt, learn, and be successful. I interview designated accountants every day, and rarely have I come across a candidate that hasn’t had at least one difficult role on their resume. When I dig a little deeper into that experience, it is how the candidate addresses that situation to which I listen to carefully. Was it all doom and gloom, or was there positive learnings that came from that role which you took with you? Being prepared also makes it easier to deal with the difficult questions. Finally, knowing your own story will create less panic should the interview start to derail. Slow things down if you need to; clarify a question if it’s not clear; and don’t rush into an answer if you don’t have the answer.

My final piece of advice is to ensure the interviewer gets to know the real you. Some interviews might present an easier opportunity for this to happen, and it might even come about in the form of one of their questions. Others might be structured as if they are following a script, and the opportunity to tell the interviewers what really makes you tick might not present itself. However, when answering a question, there are always opportunities to incorporate things about you as a person that you feel the interviewer’s should know; for example:

Question: “Tell us about a time you implemented a successful process, or change to a process.”

Response A: “When I started with ABC Co, their Accounts Payable department was a mess and I revamped the whole thing.”


Response B: “I have always been very competitive and appreciate a good challenge. When I started with ABC Co., their Accounts Payable department was a mess. I love empowering people and I gathered everyone in the department together and we brainstormed improvements collaboratively. We managed to reduce check runs to twice a month from once every two months. The staff felt great because they had developed the solution first hand and I was proud of their efforts.”

In one quick response, the second response tells the interviewers you are competitive, like a good challenge, can implement change and are a strong leader.

No two interviews are the same, but there are certainly details that you can control. Make the first thirty seconds count. Look the interviewers in the eye, greet them with a smile, and shake their hands firmly. Curmudgeons be gone! A confident approach to telling your own story will better prepare you to handle the curve balls that come your way. Finally, fit and culture are essential to employers these days, so do your best to ensure that by the end of that interview, they know the real you.

If you want to chat more about interviewing, I’d love to hear from you.

John Walker

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