Interview Technique: 10 practical tips to make a great first impression

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A good interview technique is one many of us hope we’ve mastered. 

At the exec level, we have a number of years of experience under our belts and we’ve likely sat our fair share of interviews.

However, you only get one chance to make a first impression and, as the saying goes, we’re never too old to learn a few new tricks. 

It is exactly the same on the other side of the meeting room table too we may add.

As recruiters, it would be foolish of us not to continually hone our interview skills, learn from others, take on board constructive feedback and keep up with the latest in technique and innovation.

The pandemic also moved the goalposts, and many of the common pre-interview questions we’ve received recently have started with “I haven’t had an interview since before COVID…”.

The pandemic has not only had a profound impact on the way we work, but it significantly changed the way we recruit and hire. 

A few prime examples of these shifts include:

  • Virtual job interviews are part of the “new normal”
  • Location is no longer a critical factor for many with many continuing their remote and flexible working policies
  • Candidates appear to be more risk averse, preferring to stay where secure
  • Clients are having to work harder than ever to sell their brand to prospective candidates in order to stand out in the prevailing “war for talent”

There is no escaping the fact that candidate demand is outstripping supply. And that’s good for you if you’re looking for a new role!

In many of the recent roles we’ve placed, those shortlisted have had the pick of 2, sometimes 3 companies/roles.

For our clients and us, it simply means our process needs to be quick, and we might have to work just that little bit harder to win that war. 

Fair enough, we thrive on that.

However, what that definitely does not mean is that candidates have got an easy ride, if anything the opposite is true. 

If clients are having to work harder to attract the best talent, then you can be assured they will expect those they hire to excel in every stage of their interview process.

What’s the best way to excel in your senior executive job interview?

One thing is certain, if we put you forward for an interview with our client, once the initial screening interviews are conducted with us, then you are in contention. 

We won’t put a candidate on our shortlist (or longlist for that matter) if we don’t feel they’re an excellent match to both the role brief and the culture of the hiring organisation. 

If you’re on that list, it is game time, and preparation is key.

You need to fully understand where we are coming from, what we want, and what our client wants as it is this insight that will help you position yourself as the candidate that best ‘fits’ their needs.

Nerves and apprehension are a good thing, they show you care, but how you control them is paramount. 

Get comfortable with being uncomfortable!

Often there is much at stake, even seasoned execs need to take a deep breath, especially if they’ve been comfortable in their current post for a number of years. 

How you present yourself and make that first impression is critical. 

We will ensure you are fully briefed and well prepared but the opportunity to impress is all over to you.

Our 10 tips for making a great first impression in your next interview

1. Start with the role brief

The role brief is always the starting point. This is who they are looking for and why. 

Barron Williams (working closely with our clients) invests significant time and effort in ensuring it’s an informative instruction in preparation for who/what they want to hire before we bring the role to the market.

It helps us filter candidates and helps candidates decide if this role and organisation is the right fit. It will form the basis of your responsibilities and KPIs should you be successful. 

The role brief will also help you to tailor your CV to our client’s wants and needs and is the cornerstone of how you prepare and approach the interview process. 

From this document, you can determine exactly what you can expect in terms of questioning and areas of discussion.

2. Do your research

Research matters – a lot… We are all professionals here, and we would expect you to be well versed in the company before you arrive at the job interview. 

You need to do your due diligence, deep-dive, website, press, social media, company accounts, etc.

Look at their competitors, do some comparative strategic analysis and consider the organisations’ relative strengths and weaknesses within their sector.

If you’re already in-sector, you may have a competitive edge. 

If you’ve got a network, then reach out to any close connections who can offer insight into the sector. 

Research the people you are going to meet on LinkedIn as a minimum – You’d be surprised at how many candidates don’t!

Just like our clients will use these tools to help build a profile of you, it is important you better understand their career, background and personal interests so you can find common ground.

This research, coupled with the role brief and briefings from us is what will help you demonstrate your understanding and fit for both the role and the hiring company.

3. Expect the unexpected

The questions should be tough. Our clients will be thorough. They need to differentiate between good candidates.

Good senior executive job interview technique requires you to think on your feet. The stakes are always high.

We (Barron Williams and our clients) are making our decisions based on how you perform in what is essentially a handful of “situations” (with potentially a few tests thrown in to support what we discuss with you).

As seasoned interviewers, we will often shift away from the obvious and ask questions that really make you think.

The questions we ask (and encourage our clients to ask) are to dig deeper, to establish how you have overcome challenges in your career, and that requires self-awareness and an ability to demonstrate learning as well as agility. 

In our opinion, these are the critical leadership attributes that help the talented stand out from the crowd.

And speaking of leadership style, be ready and willing to demonstrate it using relevant examples of real situations from your career.

We will focus on it and we want you to demonstrate your ability to deliver results and how you work with others.

A CV will give us the “what”. The interview will give us the “how”.

Not all management styles are right for every company, but good leaders can (and are willing to) evolve and adapt their approach. Show us how you’ve done that!

4. Tell us a story

The best interviewees can always tell a story. A short story. And f there’s one area where we would encourage people to seek training and/or practice it is storytelling.

Use the STAR technique to structure your responses to each question –  Situation, Task, Action and Result. And keep it concise.

Build the narrative, engage and take the interviewer(s) on a journey with you. Be prepared to answer scenario-style questions. 

If the subject is a little dry or technical, then the STAR method is the perfect solution to help you deliver an engaging response and clarify how you have added value or overcome adversity or a specific challenge.

The best storytellers can connect with the interviewer(s) and demonstrate how their leadership will inspire others. 

Don’t be afraid to own your mistakes too, use them to your advantage and build a compelling story. Some of the best lessons come from when we fail.

5. Make it personal

It is only right to focus on the role and hiring company but sometimes it is easy to overlook some of the little things…

Don’t forget that you have a life outside of the office. 

If clients are looking to hire you, then they need to know the real you and see the whole picture. 

Be honest and open. We will use specific questions to establish who you are as a person. Demonstrate your values.

From our point of view we like to hear if you do any additional volunteer work, association membership, podcasts you enjoy, sports you play, etc.

Think about what you like to do in your personal time but what those choices will signal to a potential employer.

If our client is curious about you, then it’s a good indicator that they’re thinking positively and seriously about hiring you!

6. Don’t make it all about you – Demonstrate your curiosity

As you would when meeting anyone for the first time; spend some time developing a rapport and don’t jump right in and get down to business.

Follow the interviewer’s lead and, when given the opportunity, always ask some questions of your own. It shows that you’re serious about them and the role.

By preparing open-ended (and relevant) questions for those conducting the interview, you can create an open dialogue. 

Asking questions not only helps you establish if the role and organisation are a good fit for you, but it also gives you the opportunity to demonstrate how you would behave when representing them in the future.

Reference past conversations and show that you have confidence in your managerial ability.

Exec roles require a deeper level of problem-solving and leadership, so channel your insight into the questions you ask.

In our experience, if a candidate fails to ask pertinent questions throughout the interview process, then we would question their enthusiasm for the role and company. It can be a differentiator in the latter stages of the recruitment process.

Keep it interesting. Keep it engaging. Be curious.

7. Treat it as an important business meeting

At Barron Williams we pride ourselves on our professionalism, we only work with clients with the same values as us, and we would expect the same from all candidates.

Begin and end your interview in a professional manner and that starts by being on time (i.e. a little early). 

Know who you are meeting and the correct pronunciation, listen carefully and ease your way into the conversation.

Keep it positive and upbeat. Be diplomatic about the people and organisations you reference.

We will have already briefed you on the next steps in the process, so you can fully focus on the discussion about your match to the role and organisation.

The pandemic had us all working from home and dressed down but in an interview, we expect business attire. 

If a client is happy with smart casual then we will say prior to any formal interviews. You might still get to wear that new suit!

8. Don’t forget the little things

It is OK to bring your prep notes and notepad with questions, etc like you would for any meeting. You can even make notes too but not constantly.

Focus on the conversation and the people you are talking to. Be 100% present in the present!

Our clients are interested in candidates who can express themselves properly. 

Polite, professional, engaging, serious and committed to the process. Bingo!

9. Be honest and open

It goes without saying but 100% honesty. At all times. We fact-check.

Listen carefully to whoever is conducting the interview and if you don’t understand a question, ask for clarification, or rephrase it in your own words. 

Answer completely and concisely and always stick to the subject at hand.

It works both ways but honesty in interviews will help keep expectations realistic and attainable, which will ultimately benefit both client and candidate in the long run. 

Trust, likeability and credibility are critical. Seek to engage personally.

10. Always close on a positive

Closing the interview is just as important as first impressions, in some ways maybe more so. First impressions count, but the last one is often the one we remember.

Thank you… Interested in the role/company/future… Next steps… Look forward to hearing from you.

If you’ve nailed the entire process, showed up early, dressed smart, done your research, answered all the tough questions and demonstrated how you fit the role, then you want to leave on a positive note.

Our clients will meet other good candidates so don’t expect too many buying signals immediately. Expect the poker face!

Just leave the meeting confident that they’ll know what they’re hiring if they offer the role to you (and what they’re missing if they don’t). Job done!

If you’re looking to find or apply for a new role, then please feel free to Upload Your CV or call us for an exploratory conversation.

If you’re looking to work with a team dedicated to helping you find the right people to fulfil those crucial roles for your organisation, please use our Client Upload Form or call us today.

And if you’re not already, please don’t forget to follow us on LinkedIn and Twitter!

Barron Williams

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