Cheat Sheet

Successful Job Interviews For Dummies (Australian/New Zealand Edition)

Job interviews can be pretty scary. Perhaps you haven’t interviewed for a while, or you’re looking to advance in your current field or even change careers. Perhaps you’ve never interviewed with a recruiter before and don’t know what to expect. Whatever your situation, the thought of a job interview doesn’t have to make you break out in a cold sweat. This Cheat Sheet provides some tips and tricks for getting through your first interview with a recruiter, calming your nerves and reducing distracting actions during interviews and even overcoming a common interview negative — a low salary history.

Preparing for a Courtesy Interview with a Job Recruiter

Generally, when you’re working with a recruiter, you’re working with a messenger. They can relay to you the salary range and benefits of the job, and pass on your expectations to the person responsible for making the hiring decision. Recruiters can also act a bit like gatekeepers — if you don’t impress them, you won’t be put forward for any jobs they might have on their lists. But recruiters get paid for finding the right person for the job so, if you’ve shown them you have the skills and experience they’re looking for, they will be interested in meeting with you.

This first meeting is called a courtesy meeting, and it’s your chance to impress the recruiter and give them a good idea of what you have to offer, so they put you forward for jobs best suited to you and what you want.

Unless the recruiter giving you a courtesy interview is recruiting for a position that’s perfect for you — which is very unlikely — focus on providing the recruiter with information that may qualify you for a future search. Follow these practices:

  • Always give the recruiter a current resume.

  • Get straight to the point; don’t take more than 20 minutes of the recruiter’s time.

  • Explain your experience, accomplishments, and skills.

  • If the recruiter asks whether you know someone qualified for a specific position for which the recruiter is trying to collect candidates, rack your brain to be accommodating if you know someone who fills the bill. The recruiter may remember your favour for future searches more appropriate for you.

  • Thank the recruiter for time invested in you.

Don’t play the role of a coy, amateur job seeker. The recruiter is in no business for games. You wouldn’t ask for a courtesy interview if you didn’t need a job. Your conciseness and ability to communicate efficiently count. Review your resume and get to the point.

Reducing Nerves and Putting Your Best Foot Forward in Job Interviews

Interviews can be a nerve-wracking experience, especially if you haven’t interviewed for a while or if you’re really (super) keen on the job you’re interviewing for. But with a few techniques, you can reduce your nerves and impress the interviewer with your calmness and composure.

Use the following techniques to put your readiest foot forward:

  • Look interested when you’re seated by leaning slightly forward with the small of your back against the chair.

  • Look the interviewer squarely in the nose — this way, you appear to be making eye contact. You look open and honest. More earnest honesty is communicated by upturned, open palms.

  • Pause and think before answering a question to seem thoughtful and unflappable.

  • Refer to your notes — this helps you look like someone who covers all the bases. Just don’t make the mistake of holding on to your notes like they’re a life preserver.

  • If you find your voice sounds tight and creaky when you’re nervous, try warming up before an interview or your next practice run: Sing in the shower or in your car on the way to the interview. La la la la . . . maybe you shouldn’t sing on the bus.

Looking alert, competent and confident during an interview is important, and certain actions and mannerisms can either turn on or turn off hiring action. Rehearse nonverbal as well as spoken messages, and try to avoid the following image-detracting actions:

  • Leg swinging

  • Foot tapping

  • Rocking from side to side

  • Fiddling with your hair

  • Waving around nervous hands

  • Leaning back

  • Crossing your arms

  • Bowing your head frequently

  • Darting your eyes

  • Blinking slowly (comes across as lack of interest or slow thinking)

  • Touching your mouth constantly

  • Forgetting to smile

Memorise your main message and keep this in mind throughout the interview, tailoring your responses wherever possible. Get your skills and competencies, accomplishments and other qualifications down pat. Rehearse until you’re comfortable answering questions and you’ve practised your basic presentation techniques.

If you still find yourself really nervous before an interview, even after all your preparation, combine some relaxation techniques with visualisation. Visualise a quiet, beautiful scene, such as a calm deserted beach or a soothing rainforest with a waterfall. Inhale and think, ‘I am.’ Exhale and think, ‘Calm.’ Repeat at least 12 times.

Downplaying a Low Salary History in a Job Interview

Perhaps you’ve been working in lower-paid jobs or roles, but feel your skills and experience mean it’s now time for you to step up to a better paid position. Or, because of the job market in the past, you’ve accepted roles that paid less than you think you’re worth. You know that disclosing an undermarket salary history can jeopardise your negotiating power. Try these scripts to lessen the impact of having worked for too little money:

  • I’m uncertain how my salary history will help you, because salaries are affected by geography, benefits packages and company priorities. Maybe I’m wrong, but it seems to me that the going market value for the position will be more useful. According to my research, that’s a range of $X to $Y.

  • A biting-the-bullet answer: My salary history won’t bring us to any conclusive figures. I’ve been working under market value, and that’s one more reason I want to make a change. This job seems perfect for me. I wonder whether we could price the position on the basis of its worth to you?

  • I don’t feel comfortable limiting the discussion to my salary history because a large portion of my compensation has been in variable and indirect pay. I’ve received bonuses regularly based on my performance. What I think you’re really asking is how I plan to do the job you need done — can we talk about that?

  • If we discuss my salary history, can I say up front that I view this position as a new challenge that will require higher performance than my last? I’d like to think I’m worth more to you than to previous employers.

To get the best return on your negotiation when you’ve been working for less than market value, repeat the following: Focus on my worth, not on my past. Focus on my worth, not on my past. Focus on my worth, not on my past. Get it? Good!

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