Interview Strategies Part Two - The inside track

There are no guarantees in life. There is no 100% formula for getting a contract. However, there is a strategy for giving you the very best opportunity to claim the contract at the interview.

In Part 1 of this two-part article, we looked at how we VIEW the interview process, and how the viewing of it determines our approach, our behaviour and also the pressure we place on ourselves. We looked at some alternative ways to view an interview, and how to relieve any self-imposed pressure.

In Part II, we will be looking at the DOING of the interview. In particular, your state of being before, during and after the interview.

Throughout this article, bear in mind the two key client criteria mentioned in Part I:

Can you do the job?
Will you fit in with the team?

Clearly, you must reach a reasonable technical standard to get the contract. These days, clients demand that contractors can pull their weight on a project, and there is little room for passengers. That said, the best technical candidate does not necessarily get the job, which is what Part II is all about - meeting the second key criteria.

The client wants to be convinced that you will slot into the team and hit the ground running. Clients, as a rule, do not enjoy interviewing. Many clients are far more nervous that the candidates. They want to find someone quickly, but not just anyone. They want someone they can enjoy working with who will fit in, not make waves, and do a good job. They dearly hope to find someone in the first round of interviews. They would rather not go through a second round with a different group of agencies and the inevitable slip on the project plan of another 3 weeks or more.

So this is the context. Let's assume you know your stuff, and have done the preparation to handle any technical tests; that you've reviewed your own experience and c.v. in the light of what you know about the client, so you can expand on your experiences with confidence and share your knowledge.

Let's see how you can allow yourself to be at your best for this meeting.

We are all different

Firstly, everyone is different. There is a spectrum of responses when it comes to interviews. Over time, I learned to look forward to interviews with relish, but I also know many who would rather watch Darlington play football on a wet Wednesday. Wherever you lie on the spectrum, the suggestions offered below are intended to move your interviews skills forward.

Likeability

To meet the client's second criteria, we need to look at likeability.

In my experience, as silly as it may seem, the post-interview review between clients often goes something like this:

Client #1: "So, what did you think?"
Client #2: "Seemed like a nice chap."
Client #1: "Yes he did. Knows his stuff."

OR

Client #1: "So, what did you think?"
Client #2: "Not sure. Seemed a bit odd."
Client #1: "Hmmmm."

On such thin lines decisions are made.

Question is: how do we meet the criteria of likeability?

You might take the approach of "Well, I'm just going to be me and they can take it or leave it!"

If this works for you, I would say stick with it. If you have found that you need a little more strategy to your approach…it's coming up.

To get an insight into what likeability looks like, consider this:

You're on a plane and start chatting with someone you've never met on the next seat. You just seem to get on - ask yourself what is it that drew you to liking the person's company?

On the other hand, consider this:

You're on a plane and start chatting with someone you've never met on the next seat. You just seem not to get on - ask yourself what is it that caused this reaction in you?

What did you come up with?

Perhaps you found the other person open? Were they a good listener? Willing to share but not dominate the conversation? Maybe they were interested in your views? Maybe they seemed at ease and willing to engage in conversation? Maybe you enjoyed genuine eye contact? Maybe they smiled?

There are books and books on interview techniques, which will provide a long list of dos and don'ts that would be akin to keeping several plates spinning in the air at once!

Find your own perfect fit

One approach, that I have found to work time and again, came as the result of asking the following question:

Q/ What situation would lead me to naturally behave in a likeable way - open, natural, smiling, interested, sharing, engaging, willing?

I will share the reply that came back for me, but I would encourage you to see if there is an experience in your own life, which naturally brings out these qualities in yourself.

The situation that I found useful - to naturally draw out these qualities - was if I was about to meet some good friends that I hadn't seen for many years.

In such a scenario, I found I was really looking forward to meeting them again, to finding out what they have been up to, and also sharing what I have been doing too! I would be upbeat, engaged and thoroughly enjoying the meeting.

All these qualities were a perfect fit for meeting the likeability criterion in an interview.

Since using this strategy, I got each contract I went for. On two occasions, the clients had even rung the agency before I'd got back to my car!

Was it my great technical ability? No. I'm good but no guru!

When you are being your natural confident self at an interview, you will stand out a mile from those candidates who are simply trying to "pass the test and terrified of making mistakes". That is whom you are being compared to.

The benefit of this approach is that you don't need to remember a long list of "great things to do at an interview". Instead, you can bring out all these qualities within yourself in one big natural bundle. It's essentially similar to approaches within acting designed to bring out certain qualities for a role - namely, accessing your own experiences for examples where those qualities are naturally expressed.

Handling nerves

Most people have a conditioned response to interviews known as "nerves". Here are some tips to make the best use of nerves:

What resists persists
There is little point wishing you didn't feel nervous, or thinking of all the "bad" things that might happen as a consequence. What we resist tends to persist. If we try to push nerves away, they will stubbornly hang around. So, acknowledge and accept them.

Treat them as nothing special
Treat the nerves as nothing special. Give them equal value to the colour of your shirt and the state of the weather. Acknowledge them and do what you need to do anyway. By taking the attention off, in this way, nerves soon lose they momentum.

Use nerves to stay alert
Ask most actors and they will tell you that nerves are vital to a good performance. They keep you alert and on the ball. Without nerves, actors can feel over-confident and complacent. So value your nerves, and place the focus on how they are keeping you alert.

Breathe gently and deeply
Just before the interview, you can easily calm yourself down using a simple breathing technique. Breathe in to the count of 4, hold for count of 2, then breathe out to a count of 4, hold this for a count 2. Do this 5 or 6 times, but no more. Then sit for a minute, before setting off.

Interview routine

I would encourage you develop an interview routine. A simple method for getting you into the best state of mind and being for the interview. Golfers do it. Actors do it. Rather than leave their state of being to chance, they have developed simple mechanisms that work for them. Everyone is different, but here are some suggestions to develop your own interview routine.

Preparation
Do all your technical preparation before the interview. You don't want to be swotting in your car about the various techniques for bouncing a database. If you have done your preparation well, then you will feel good that you know what you know, and what you don't know, you can learn.

Example: At one interview I attended, the two clients concluded the first part of the interview, and then brought out a list of 100 technical questions. Some I knew, some I didn't. What was interesting was that, for those things I didn't know, I treated this as an opportunity to learn and asked them what the answer was. They seemed to appreciate that although I hadn't known the answer, I had shown that I was open to learn. In this way, you can turn not knowing to your advantage.

Get there in good time
Getting to the interview in good time is a mark of respect to the client, which might get you some brownie points, particularly if other candidates don't turn up, or stroll in late.

It also gives you time to collect yourself and in a great state of mind for the interview.

Get in the mood
Let's say you arrived in the car, you get to the location and park up. You've 10 minutes before walking into reception to let them know you're here. How do you feel? Are you in the mood to meet some new people and be interested in what they're doing and keen to share your own experience? If you are not, then this is where the routine comes in.

I have known some people to play certain music to get them in a good mood. For some it's good to move the body in some way, like an athlete preparing to run, you'll notice they shake themselves, make gestures, anything to focus and shift their state of being to a more positive one.

Do what you need to do.

Frame of mind
Earlier, we mentioned the approach of imagining that you were about to meet some old friends that you hadn't seen in years as a way to bring about the feelings of being upbeat, wanting to share, keen to find out more and really looking forward to meeting some people.

There are many ways to do this, find one that works for you.

You will know it has worked, when you finally meet the client and are truly glad to be meeting them. The warmth that will come across makes a huge impact and will influence the manner in which the interview if conducted.

Leaving the interview

Usually the client walks you back to reception before saying goodbye. Warmly thank the client and say how you enjoyed meeting them.

It all helps create a good impression.

AND, FINALLY…

Here are some tips that are worth knowing. They may just be the difference that makes the difference.

It Takes Two To Tango

It's important to realise that interviews are a two-way street. Contractors who come in with the mindset of simply answering questions don't really engage the client in a dialogue. It is often through a dialogue that the client gets to sense whether they like you and want to work with you.

Even if the format revolves around the client asking you questions, one-after-another. There's nothing to stop you asking a question as part of your response.

This is so important, that I can't emphasise enough the importance of engaging with the client about their project.

Smile
In truth, no one much likes interviews. So let's make the best of it we can, and enjoy it. It will relax the client too.

Share but don't perform
Enjoy sharing your knowledge, but don't go over the top. We are contractors, not performing dogs. If you have been in the client's seat at interviews, you will know what I mean.

Control
Focus on those things you can control: your preparation, state of being, how you view the interview, your intent to enjoy the process, your desire to learn what you can from it.

You will know you have been your best when…

You enjoyed meeting the client, learned about their project, perhaps also gave them knowledge their didn't already have…shared experiences…in a word, truly MET the clients.

In Summary:

  • Be clear about how you view the interview.
  • Explore how to do likeability.
  • Develop an Interview Routine.
  • Place the focus on what you can control.
  • Enjoy it!

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