How to Succeed in an Interview – Fiona Rhys shares her thoughts on how to properly prepare and beat your competition

Most people would assume that senior business leaders, by the nature of them having achieved that level in their career, know how to best present their most relevant skills in an interview.  This is not necessarily true and let me demonstrate this with a situation Executives in Africa experienced a couple of years ago.

We had been retained to Search for an MD for a Client based in South Africa.  The company had previously recruited for this position directly, hired an individual, but this person had not worked out, leaving the company without an MD and damaging the brand in the meantime.  The situation needed addressing, quickly, and with assurance of the right result second time round.

The Client retained us to deliver a robust Search within defined timescales.  We mapped suitable candidates and started speaking to relevant individuals.  One particularly strong Candidate, upon disclosure of the name of the Client, revealed that he had already been interviewed for that particular role directly and he had been rejected as not having the requisite skills.  We were surprised by this revelation and somewhat perturbed about how to proceed.

He seemed, on the initial screening, to be a strong fit, but as we took the candidate through first our evidential skills and achievement interview, then delved deeper using our written Suitability document, both our Team and the Candidate realised what had happened.

The Candidate, with his many years of experience had simply not focused on the right areas of his career when answering the Client’s questions in interview.

It wasn’t that the Client hadn’t asked the right questions, but lack of insight into what their critical requirements were, meant the Candidate had highlighted less relevant examples in his answers.

His interview with the Client had lasted just over an hour.  That’s not a huge amount of time to present often 20 years of experience.  After refocusing how he should present himself in the available time and going into the interview second time round with clarity over the 3-4 key examples he needed to present to showcase his most relevant skills for the role, the Candidate succeeded and was offered the job.

So what can we learn from this?  We all know from countless articles on the internet that we should dress smartly (even on a video conference), do background research on the company and the person interviewing you, arrive on time, listen carefully to questions and keep answers relevant, be professional yet warm in your communication without being overfamiliar, and always ask intelligent well thought out questions when you get the opportunity.

The real learning however is how to present yourself as a candidate which showcases your suitability for that specific role in that company at that point in time.

The biggest areas where we are able to coach candidates in this respect are;

  1. Ensuring they understand what the critical requirements are for the role. What are the four or five key skills and competencies the company will be looking for?  If you are applying directly to a company, this will be extremely difficult to ascertain, but if you are working through a Search Firm, then you should be given this information at the very least, if not grilled against these competencies in a bespoke interview for this specific job.

Once you have this information, you can reflect on why these competencies might be so important to the company at this point in time which will then offer you insights into some of the business challenges they will need you to deliver against if offered the role.

This level of reflection about the needs of the company and how your experience matches against those needs will give you a competitive advantage compared to other candidates being considered.  It will mean you will focus, within your allotted hour, on talking about the right examples, not ones which are less relevant to this client and / or role.

  1. Secondly we help candidates to reflect on how well they are answering each question. You will have secured the interview based on what skills you have demonstrated on your CV, as have the other candidates, which means that you are currently on a level pegging with them.  Don’t underestimate the competition.

The company interview is where you need to demonstrate how you are better than those other candidates, and in order to do that, you need to ensure you are presenting ‘achievement focused’ answers and not ‘theoretical’ answers.  How can you demonstrate where you have delivered results that, ‘if but for you’ would not have been achieved by anyone else.

Your approach to answering the question, needs to be relevant, structured, logical and with specific examples of what you actually did.  Facts and figures will give credibility and present you as a leader who knows their business numbers and is thinking commercially about the impact of their actions.

  1. Thirdly you need to remember to use your “emotional intelligence” to glean how much detail your interviewers want you to give on a particular area. Interviews are generally as much about reading and gauging your audience as they are about giving a good account of yourself.

Remember to stick to your plan to deliver a certain amount of information within the available hour.  If your interviewer does not look totally engaged at any time, take that as a sign to wind up your answer and allow them to move onto other areas they want to find out about.

  1. Finally remember that ultimately every job within a company can be broken down into how it will impact the company in terms of cost savings & delivering efficiencies, or in terms of enabling increased revenues. If you can demonstrate through your examples how you have the requisite skills to impact the bottom line, then you are probably heading in the right direction for success.

If you are looking for a new opportunity or are seeking to recruit outstanding executives for your business in Africa please do get in touch with Fiona Rhys, Executive Search Consultant fr@executivesinafrica.com

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