The art of being interviewed

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The job market in healthcare sales and marketing is fiercely competitive. In your interview, you need to demonstrate the skill-sets and attitudes that will make you succeed in the role. Clare Donovan of Helix Recruitment looks at the hard work of being a successful job candidate.

When you are selected for a job interview, you have already passed the first hurdle: the company has seen your CV and decided you have potential for the vacancy. The interviewer will normally use your CV as a basis for the interview, so you need to be familiar with its contents and prepared to make the most of your strengths and handle questions about your weaker points.

Planning and good preparation are the keys to success. These, combined with research into the company and its products, will help your confidence and enhance your performance. Be honest at your interview: exaggeration and lies will always be discovered, usually sooner rather than later.

Getting ready

Job offers can be won or lost on the preparation for interview. Before any interview takes place, the company draws up job specifications plus details of salary, training and induction. You must match this preparation. Never expect to just turn up and perform well. Regard the interview as the first work you do for your new company: the quality of your performance indicates your potential.

You should know the name and position of the person you are seeing at interview, as well as details of the position and the company. Research the company’s products, competitors and customers, using trade publications and the Internet; if possible, talk to customers. Use this knowledge during the interview.

Be well versed on the role you are being interviewed for. Talk to and, if possible (it’s essential for sales positions), spend time with someone who is doing a similar job. Your research will be a good basis for the questions you should have ready to ask (see below).

Take with you: your CV and any other information about yourself that may help you; company and product information; the names of the people you will meet; a map or directions; a pen and notebook. Be prepared to answer a wide range of questions about yourself and your aspirations. Some of the most common ones are:
• Why do you want to work for this company?
• What do you know about this job?
• Why do you want this position?
• What personal qualities would make you good at this job?
• What are your strengths and weaknesses?
• What do you think you can bring to this company?

These questions are designed to assess your communication skills, your motivations, your personality and your ability to do the job. Whatever you do, never say your answers as if you have learned them by heart.

The unexpected

However well prepared you are, there is bound to be something that takes you by surprise. Don’t panic. There is a simple strategy to deal with surprise questions:
• Sit back in your chair and take a deep breath.
• Make sure you understand the question – if not, don’t be afraid to clarify what it means.
• Acknowledge the question. “I’ve never been asked that before, but…” can be a good start.
• Think logically. An educated guess is acceptable if necessary, but admit it: “I don’t know, but I would think…”
• Remember that some interviewers will deliberately ask a question they know you are not prepared for to see how you deal with the unexpected.

On the spot

During the interview, you may be asked to complete one or more tests. These may include:
Scenario questions – based on situations you may encounter in the job.
Psychometric profiles – there are no right or wrong answers to these, as they are tools used to assess your personal traits and individual abilities. When completing a profile, think of yourself in the role you are applying for. Do not think too deeply about your choice of answer.
Role play/evidence of ability – you may be set practical tasks, perhaps in a realistic setting. Sales people may be asked to sell something to the interviewer. This is often a false and awkward situation, best handled with some humour!

The professional touch

How you look and behave will have a major influence on your success. The way you dress is very important. Here are some basic rules:
• Dress in familiar clothes; don’t experiment with a new style.
• Wear a suit or a smart jacket and trousers.
ALWAYS wear a jacket. You can take it off at an appropriate point if necessary.
• Darker colours create a more businesslike image.
• Check your haircut, trim any facial hair. Ladies should tie back long hair.
• Keep shoes plain and ensure they are polished.
• Wear less rather than more jewellery. No beeping watches!
• Ensure clean (and preferably unbitten) nails and hands.
• Avoid: fashion statements, loud colours, pale socks, cartoon ties.
• Switch off your mobile phone.

Also, remember that what you ate the night before may remain with you through the day. So no garlic, curries or strong onions beforehand – and definitely no alcohol or cigarettes.
Your handshake must be firm, positive and accompanied by a confident smile. Sweaty, limp hands are not acceptable.
Make sure your body language is sending out the right signals to reinforce your points. Even if you have doubts about the position, never let this show. Make sure you deliver a positive message:
Smile – preferably with your eyes as well as your mouth. Avoid cheesy grins.
• Lean forward slightly when listening and when answering a question.
• Avoid touching your face: this is distracting and can make you hard to hear. Also, it is often taken as a sign that you are lying.
• Maintain eye contact, but don’t stare; when you break the contact look up or to the side, not down.
• Keep your posture open and friendly. Don’t cross your arms over your chest, as this looks very closed and defensive. Try not to cross your legs.
• Don’t fidget, as you will give the impression of nervousness.
• Sit well back in the chair, without being uncomfortable or slouching.

Finally, you will be under enough pressure without being late. Leave plenty of time to get to the appointment, and make sure you know exactly where to go. Never book another appointment so soon afterwards that you are glancing at your watch during the interview. If you are delayed for any reason, phone the company before your appointment time.

Job offers can be won or lost on the preparation for interview. Never expect to just turn up and perform well. Regard the interview as the first work you do for your new company: the quality of your performance indicates your potential.

The interview itself

First impressions – you need to be in ‘interview mode’ from the moment you arrive at the company until you leave the premises. Many people fail interviews through their behaviour before and after the interview proper.

Know your product – regardless of what job you are going for, there is always an element of sales at an interview. You are the product! Analyse your strengths and weaknesses in relation to the company’s needs so you can present yourself in the best light possible.

Listen – never try to ‘lead’ the interview. Follow the interviewer’s agenda and listen carefully to everything that is said. Let them decide what is important.

Be positive – negatives in your CV such as a quick job move should be covered only if raised by the interviewer. Briefly explain what happened, then emphasise what you gained from the experience (such as new skills or knowledge about yourself). Present these as positives, then move on. Never dwell on the negative.

Questions – Interviewers will often ask whether you have any questions. It is sensible to have these written down, as it shows you are prepared and means you will not forget what to ask. Ask if you can take some notes if that will help you with your questions. If the interviewer has covered all the points you wanted to raise, let them know this. Final questions also provide an ideal opportunity to move into the close.

Close the interview – even experienced candidates often fall at this final hurdle. We have known companies to say, “We really liked your candidate, but they didn’t seem to want the job!” At the end, ask how you’ve done and whether they have any reservations you can address. Then ask what the next step will be and when. Ask whether there is any reason you might not be taken forward. This demonstrates your ability to ‘close’ (vital for a sales position), enables you to gauge your success and gives you a second chance to address their doubts.

And finally…

Be yourself and be honest. Try to enjoy the experience and get to know the people you will be working with!

Helix Recruitment offers a specialist recruitment service to the laboratory and healthcare products marketplace. Since its inception in 1986, Helix has focused on providing a selective and professional service to both client companies and prospective candidates. Helix can be contacted on 01323 445464, and a selection of opportunities are available on www.helixgroup.co.uk.