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What interviewers see and hear

Get an insider view of the job interview from career coach John Lees, the author of How To Get A Job You Love.

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For candidates, interviews can feel stressful, but for experienced interviewers they’re daily routine. These interviewers have one simple objective: finding the right person in the right timescale. However, they are often bored by sound-alike candidates and hope for helpful, lively people to brighten their day.

Here are 7 candidate strategies which build on the way interviewers see the process.

1. Make it a comfortable experience

Learn how to be easy to interview – responsive and warm whilst allowing the interviewer to maintain control. Avoid going into long pre-packaged speeches, talking about things that won’t score you points.

Interviewers can lose focus and start thinking about anything except the interview. Short answers, focusing on the needs of the job, will help them get through their checklist, and allow time for helpful probing of facts.

2. Focus on the job

The second big distraction happens when your focus is all on you, and not on the interviewer’s problem of filling the specific role. Good preparation means analysing the tasks that make up this role and preparing short, punchy examples of your relevant achievements.

3. Make sense of your skills

Don’t just pitch a list of the things you can do: name, frame, and measure your skills.

Name your skills using language the employer knows (pick it up from the job description), frame your skills by saying enough about their context to reveal the challenges faced, and measure them by indicating the level of difficulty and concrete outcome.

4. Translate

Don’t expect employers to spot transferable skills, especially if your background is unusual. Explain your skills so that they not only make sense, they grab an interviewer’s attention.

This means tuning in to the language used in a job sector to describe top-level performers. Supplement web research with live conversations so you really understand the organisation.

Want to ace your next interview? Get expert advice from these articles:

Claude Littner’s interview advice: The Apprentice star gives his top 5 tips.
Ask the right questions: Learn how to answer: “Do you have any questions for me?”.
Clear those interview hurdles: Discover how to ace 5 different interview stages.

5. Avoid being predictable

Remember that anyone who interviews for a living has heard all the clichés from candidates claiming to be team players or winners. This typical ‘interview speak’ makes you far less memorable, because you deliver the same message as everyone else.

Present useful evidence in a fresh, honest style, not a glib pitch. Focus hard on the tasks and responsibilities required within the role and give concrete examples from your track record, as well as stating your potential. Practise energised three-minute stories which reveal your experience and motivation.

6. Listen, and pause

Answering the question in your head rather than what’s been asked increases interviewer frustration. It’s better to listen carefully, pause, and think clearly before answering. Don’t be afraid to ask for clarification either, so you give interviewers exactly what they want.

7. Hit the target before you leave

Don’t hide your best material or hope it will be uncovered. Decide in advance which half-dozen job requirements matter most, and rehearse short bursts of personal material to match each point.

Get these key points across even if relevant questions aren’t asked. Interviewers remember the first and last thing you said more than anything else, so make your final point a clear statement that you match the role.

John Lees is the author of How to Get a Job You Love.

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(All comments have to be approved before they appear)

  1. Simon Scantlebury

    I recommend treating the ‘interview’as a conversation between equals.Unless you are desperate you don’t even know for sure you want the job.
    Also ask lots of questions as you go along to get info you want about whether the job is for you.And check understanding such as ‘Have I answered the question to your satisfaction?’

    • Paul

      I’m afraid that is the only way that I can behave and it put’s me at an insurmountable disadvantage. They are certainly not my equal. Indeed this “competency based interview” nonsense where the interviewer is programmed to give no normal feedback whatsoever renders any attempt to engage with them a pointless farce.
      If an interviewer behaves in this way because he is told to do so, then he does not need me, he needs several years of therapy and his life sorting out.

  2. Fiona McCormick

    I have had a long period out of work not out of choice. I have many skills and I have lived and worked abroad. I have lots of unusual jobs. But the 10 years in Travel and Tourism were my Best and that is what I am passionate about and what I have really wanted to do. I have been worrying about my age as I am 60 But a single Lady and still need to work as I have to cover all my outgoings myself. I do not drive and I do not have broadband at home due to being unemployed. I have done lots of voluntary work that has made me feel worthless as I have been struggling to feed myself. I am English and have excellent communication and computer skills. I am also very Arty and have produced some items of my own which I have sold. I felt that before I retire I would like a management role as I have been a supervisor in the past, I have been applying for lots of receptionist and admin roles. I have been getting lots of Interviews but I am losing confidence. I have asked some people how I Interviewed they have told me I Interviewed very well. All I can think is that it is my age.

    • Laura Gabriela

      It’s not necessarily your age, Fiona. It can be the fact that you have too much experience and they feel you won’t stay there for too long. Or it can be the fact that your unusual experience is misunderstood by some – which happens more often than not.
      Don’t lose hope, keep trying and keep being yourself. You’ll find something soon. Sometimes it takes longer than other times, but you’ll find your fit – you’ll see.
      Good luck!

      • Anne Cooper

        I agree with you Laura but there is one thing i would like to add – employers can also feel intimidated if they think a prospective employee has more experience than they do. They want a young, less experienced and more compliant person that they feel they can boss around. What they don’t want is a smart, sassy 60 year-old whom they think will answer back.
        I am in a similar situation to Fiona and experiencing the same rejections. It is extremely frustrating and I don’t know what to do either

    • mark

      Although age discrimination is outlawed in the UK and other countries there is no doubt that it exists. All I can say from my own experience is that you can add a picture to your CV which shows you in a “young looking” good light, failing that just lie about your age. If you are any good they will keep you regardless when they find out.

  3. Juanita Aniello

    I have had a long period out of work especially since relocating. I have spent most of my working life in finance and customer facing roles. I am now developing my own business, simply because I need work to pay outgoings. Like Fiona McCormick, I am 60 and I can only assume it is because of my age that I do not obtain work as feedback from prospective employers imply that I interview very well. I drive, and currently through developing my business wear all job hats, that is I plan routes, I merchandise and do E Mail campaigns, I import, I cold call, I keep databases, do customer service,I source new business, do trade fairs, negotiate contracts etc.I expected it to be tough, but business is intermittent and I need more financial stability, therefore I need paid employment to keep me going.
    I have 4 years of Middle Management experience in Customer Service roles which has included but isn’t limited to skills training, contract negotiation and customer retention, HR processes, team building, change management. I learn continuously and update skills. I have many years of debt chasing, AP,AR, Credit Control, project accounting, report writing, analytics, audit experience. Job roles that I have applied for at Managerial level have included the skills sets mentioned, however I really am beginning to think that age discrimination is rife.

  4. Jackie

    Hi there, I too thought I wasn’t getting anywhere because of my age, took advise from job centre advisor and took out the dates of my work experience on my CV. Plus I don’t apply for jobs beneath my experience spec. Really concentrate on the job spec at interview, ensuring to use the terminology in the job description. They now use a point system. I used my age advantageously giving me more experience than other applications.
    Good luck

  5. Jim Pearson

    Thanks very much. This is all very useful..
    I have an interview on Monday

  6. Rohen Razzaq

    I recommended treating the interview as a conversation.Yes I need job.I am ready for interview.

  7. LInda

    I am really interested to read Jackie’s approach to selling her experience in the way in which she describes. As an HR professional, anyone would have thought that I, too, would have been able to use this approach. I am now going to give this a try. At 62, I have been looking around for a new role for some time now; but have perceived that either the level of experience or my age might well be against me; and that the perception is that I won’t stay with a new employer or that I am too old to be able to adapt to a new organisation. I suspect that I may well be asked how long I have been with each employer; but am prepared to give this approach a good run and will feed back with outcomes.

  8. Evelyn-Ellen

    My advice in taking interviews be yourself, prepare yourself before the interview make your answer direct to the point and elaborate your answer. Feel confident.
    Interviewers make their own opinion of you, do not lack confident if you did’nt get the job.
    KEEP FISHING eventually the FISH will bite.
    Searching for work is like fishing …. needs a lot of patient.

  9. Candy

    From my jobseeker experience that I had, obv each Interview that I had attended was of course Abit stressful confusing etc, the Interviewer is not only Interviewing but also they know you are interviewing them,so before you get nervous they want you more than anything thats their job hiring best possible candidates, all they want is ofcourse some skills experience, professionalism not someone who looks like they came out of a pub,ambition to succeed and great comunication skills , bear in mind if you have all these things esp in cities like london were they are mostly training people anyways you’ll be hired in no time.

    • Asyncritus P. Aniceto

      I have my previous experience , I applied to work as a commissioning Engr for mechanical Plumbing Engr and the company offered me a fair salary but I demand to double my salary before I assgn the offer letter , and so the next day the company dont agree they said its final. I explain to the agency , I know the trend in Saudi Arabia , the moment they know you are capable of doing some other works they will ask you to work without any additional compensation . So it expected and then I demand an additional salary to work in two different depart , commissioning en gr and as a project engr. and when the time my contract is finish I file my exit without hesitation to loose my job . Why ? because I know myself . The main problem on the first place , I’ve been hired without any interview because the company feel I can handle the responsibility, but the same thing they made mistake , Im not a Robot !!!

  10. Raymond James Anderson

    Thanks for this information I will take notes and learn from them,and the personal comments made by people in my situation which in my opinion is some of the best advice I can get,i.e. they have been there.
    Best regards
    Ray Anderson

  11. Husam Rahman

    Thank you for these valuable points, in my opinion, the most important points are the good preparations for the interview by knowing, the job requirements, what type of company you are applying for, what they wants from you as a candidate then be confident,

  12. Peter Cowan

    I also think that there is an age discriminatory agenda amongst recruiters. The most common response I’ve had following interview is that I am “overqualified” for the job. I’m 63 and it is clear to me that recruiters would prefer to employ junior staff at a lower wage and train them up, than to employ senior staff and have to pay for experience.

  13. Asyncritus P. Aniceto

    I already work in 9 different company in my 13+ years of experience excluding those company which I feel is not my kind of company I expected. Mostly during interview , the moment they read my resume mostly the question I hear from the employer , why you leave your company ? my answer is so simple ” I have my career to take care ” meaning I love my Job , I love my career but the moment the company I work is not giving me the importance of my work only asking , do that , do this ! ,. . . . I’m not a robot who can work different task in one time . I can work with limited supervision but never to expect I can work %101 perfect because of different assignment since my contract only concern on definite work assignment as Plumbing Engineer or Project Engineer . But to combine this two of different areas of responsibility ???? its not fair !

  14. Josh

    the applicant should say how it is! He or she was not successful in the last job! I did not get to work by telling those successes I think I got that jobs by making interviewers understand what I learned from it and that brings an potential employer the value.

  15. Sarah Stewart

    Hi All – going back to age discrimination, I just want to say that at a very well educated 55 years with experience in all sectors including audit for the NHS, Events management plus much much more I decided to re train as a management assessor. Two interviews which I didn’t get despite having ticked all the boxes. Hundreds of jobs available and nothing, yes it may be like fishing but maybe there is something wrong with my bait!!! Just saying.


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