What experience has taught us

Written by Leonie Pentz; VP EMEA AIMS International, Managing Partner AIMS South Africa & Grégoire Depeursinge; EVP EMEA AIMS International, Managing Partner AIMS Switzerland

In our practice as Executive Search and HR Consultants, we are confronted daily with candidates, their history, their approach, their beliefs – right or wrong, their attitudes and tactics and are privileged observers of their interaction with recruiters and line managers. This is an attempt to share the lessons learnt and give some practical tips as to how to improve your chances in the market. Some of the things listed will seem obvious, but you’d be surprised by how often we see even seasoned managers make mistakes they could easily avoid.

The format chosen is that of a weekly series of 6 short articles. Today is the fifth episode in the series and discusses how, now that you have landed that interview for your dream job, what you can do to ensure you ace the meeting:

Episode 5 – Preparing for the interview – click HERE to watch the video

Statistically one out of every five candidates interviewed by the hiring manager lands a job in emerging markets and in mature markets were unemployment rates are low and for scarce skills, it can be less than three. Therefore, once you get the call to interview, you have a very good chance, especially considering that you started off as one of 250 or more – the average number of applicants for any one job advertised.

The three magic words are; preparation, preparation, preparation.  As recruiters, we often take it for granted that candidates will arrive fully prepared and ready to wow our clients.  We are surprised when even experienced managers believe they can simply turn up on the day and all will be well.  Somehow, they seem to think that their experience and charming personality has prepared them for any situation and that they can simply wing their way through a grueling two hour panel interview… If this is you, think again; you will have one chance to make a good impression.  You do not want to mess this up.

  1. Research the company plus three of its top competitors. You want to find out everything you can about this company, the top leadership, their culture, products and lastly, where they are positioned in the market vs their competitors.  This should give you a good sense of what value you could bring to their business.  Remember the overarching question the hiring manager is asking herself is; what value can this candidate add to our business, if hired?  If you have any friends or acquaintances in the company or industry, speak to them to get a bit of inside information which might help you to understand the role and the people who will be interviewing you.  Your consultant should be able to give you the information on how many people will attend the interview and what their roles are in the business.  Write this down.  Research them.  Connect with them on Linkedin (provided you have a good social profile, that is.  If not – see episode 2 in this series: Social media: Your image to the outside world.) before you do.
  2. Be prepared for the worst and expect the best. The best companies to work for often have the most rigorous interview processes.  Make sure they do not catch you by surprise.  Hardly anyone these days will just have a casual chat to find out who you are in the first meeting. Time to hire is always under pressure and to get decision makers in one room at the same time is a challenge. For this reason, it is possible that the interview will be highly structured (therefore fast paced and demanding) and it may even even involve a short case study where you will be asked to give an impromptu presentation or do a short strategic exercise. Even more reason to go well prepared and take your best game.  If you are being referred by an Executive Search Consultant, he/she should be able to brief you on the interview structure, who will be present during the interview and should know the company and the reason for the vacancy, ideal candidate profile and other important details.  Ensure you spend time with the Consultant before the interview to be briefed on what to expect and prepare accordingly.
  3. Plan the logistics a few days before. Again, this might seem obvious, but… Get enough sleep the night(s) before! Lack of sleep has been proven to impair cognitive performance.  Ensure you are well rested, calm and in control of your time.  Plan the day ahead and the day of the interview to eliminate unnecessary stress.  Know how to get to the interview venue – google the best routes to take, check traffic at the time of departure or better yet, use a reliable traffic app which will get you there with the most efficient route and alert you before the time if there is traffic build up.  Build in an additional 30 minutes, so that, should there be a road incident, you should still arrive in time.   If you are an office commuter, ask for the day or afternoon off to take care of personal business.  This way, if the meeting runs late, you are not under pressure to leave at a certain time, which could influence your performance and stress levels.  Make sure someone else is on stand-by to pick up the kids.
  4. Dress for success; The golden rule for interview dress code is; conservative and considerate. As a junior recruiter in the 90’s, I once had a very enthusiastic candidate turn up in full cultural regalia for an interview with a large food manufacturer.  The position was for a Warehouse Manager based in a rural area.  I did not for one minute consider that, when briefing the gentleman to ‘look his best’, this is how he would interpret it!  And while today we could argue diversity and freedom of expression, etc.  The bottom line is the guy, by far the best candidate I had for the job, did not secure the offer as the hiring manager was a bit intimidated and perhaps could not help thinking that the candidate came more prepared to discuss religion rather than stock rotation.  Dress professionally and suitably for the job you want and then take it up a notch.  Make sure your suit or sports jacket has been dry cleaned and that your shoes are polished.  Iron your best sparkly clean shirt and plan to wear a stylish tie.  Even while tempting, leave the one with the embroidered Bart Simpson in the cupboard!  And for the ladies, no cleavage and no tight clothes or short skirts.  This is absolutely not negotiable.  Yes I know; boring.  You can impress them with your glittering personality instead.
  5. You are a professional, now prove it: take a professional notebook, pen or tablet to the meeting; be prepared to take down notes while your interviewer introduces their business and the objective of the role, etc. He might also introduce you to people on the panel whom you did not know would be present.  Write down their names.  Note down points when preparing that you might want to bring up for discussion or want to include in your answers. Make a list of intelligent questions.  Prepare and take along examples of previous work, spreadsheets or graphs you might want to use to convince them of your capability, sales figures or show case marketing material you were responsible for developing.  Plus, everyone around the table will be writing or taking notes; it looks ridiculous when you turn up with your key and wallet!  This is not a dinner date, it is a business meeting.

Now that you are fully prepared for all eventualities, relax, stay calm and remember to fetch your suit from the cleaners and look out for next week’s episode to find out how to ace the interview.

Written by Leonie Pentz; VP EMEA AIMS International, Managing Partner AIMS South Africa & Grégoire Depeursinge; EVP EMEA AIMS International, Managing Partner AIMS Switzerland

Do not miss out on the next episode (and in case you missed the previous episodes):

  1. The value of a good network
  2. Social media: your image to the outside world
  3. Preparing your CV: your sales brochure
  4. Recruiters: how they work and think
  5. Preparing for the interview
  6. Acing the interview