The Hurdles of the Job Interview

When writing about the dreaded job interview the old cliché of “fail to prepare, prepare to fail” should always be the key message to get across. Being a pom and a big sports fan, I’ve seen my fair share of disappointments, so finding an analogy for this was the obvious place to start.

The London Olympics is fast approaching and as a kid and probably still today I always found the 110 metre hurdles to be the most exciting event to watch. To say there are obstacles to overcome within this event would be literal but true.

Colin Jackson is widely regarded as the greatest British hurdler of all time. He’s a Welshman but being English, I will always refer to him as British. It’s what we all tend to do; we’re happy to have them when they’re winning.

Before success Jackson competed at the Olympics in Barcelona 1992 and was tipped for great things, strolling through the heats but mistakenly opting not to prepare for the final, the day before the race. He finished in 7th and later in life admitted to youthful over confidence.

Jackson was renowned for two things. He was always the first guy out of the blocks and on achieving World Championship success, famously coined the phrase to the waiting press “”I start at the B of the Bang.” He also mastered the “dip” – the technique of leaning so far forward at the finishing line spectators would expect him to fall over.

His failure in Barcelona coupled with the two skills he had mastered played critical factors in him going on to hold the world record for 13 years and still holding the 60m world record today, 20 years on. He was obviously no slouch over the hurdles but the race preparation, confidence and momentum from a quick start and knowing he can close the deal with the “dip” would ultimately put him in the zone and give him the strength to win.

The synergies with this and many of life’s challenges, including job interviews are plain to see.

Your “pre-race” preparation

  • Research the company – have they made announcements in the press?
  • Know the elements of the job and know what the company is doing within the marketplace.
  • Know the people you’re meeting with. Look up all relevant individuals using Make a mental note of any synergies between yourself and these people and use this information if the opportunity arises. It doesn’t come across as stalker-like. It shows you’re thorough and serious.
  • Have at least five questions prepared of which you will ask one or two at the end. Examples – Career progression opportunities, 5 year plan of the company, current rate of staff turnover. Do not ask about hours of work, salary, holiday entitlements or anything self-indulgent. Wait for the phone call or the second interview.
  • Request a Position Description. Scrutinize this and think of a situational example of how you have carried out each required task. These will represent the body of the interview of which you will drive. A simple yes or no does not build confidence in the interviewer. I know the role requires……, I can do …… and previously did this within this role and the successful outcome of me carrying out that task was …….

“The B of the Bang”

  • Start strong and stay calm. Arrive before time to ensure you’re relaxed and ready to go.
  • Stand and greet them with a smile and offer a firm handshake.
  • Once underway, bring out your recent and relative key achievements within the questions that you’re asked. There is nothing worse than interviewing someone and trying to encourage them to sell themselves and get them talking. Your answers with situational examples will naturally flow if you have prepared well.

The “dip”

  • At the end of the interview, ask your pre-prepared questions, having made a mental note of which answers haven’t already been covered.
  • Thank them for their time and be sure to let them know if you’re interested within your closing statements – Calm enthusiasm rather than drooling desperation.

Detailed preparation is the key factor. Just like athletes it’s the repetitive, drab, time consuming part that has to happen before the race.

The interviewer’s first and last impression will decide the close calls so start well, use your preparation to get over the hurdles and finish with a well-timed dip. Just like Jackson, you won’t fall over.

Rik Blanchard is a Senior Executive with Vantage Performance – an award winning, national business transformation and turnaround firm with proven success in solving complex financial, operational and people performance issues.

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