Job interviews are back, so it’s time to work on your technique

FOLLOWING two years of relative stagnation in the City jobs market, where any movement tended to be of the non-voluntary nature, hiring is back in the Square Mile. The most recent employment report from KPMG shows that hiring is up 29 per cent in the private sector, compared to the previous quarter. Unsurprisingly, the biggest increase has been in London and the south east, up 23 per cent on the last quarter.

What that means for you, is that you might soon need to break out your interview suit and iron a shirt. Most people in the City have been holding on to their jobs for grim life since 2008, which means that most of us are out of practice when it comes to interviews. We ask some experts for advice about selling yourself, and how handle this most stressful of experiences.

Pick your words carefully, especially when it comes to explaining why you want to leave your old job. “It can be a touchy subject and if the real reason for changing jobs is something that is rather sensitive, such as a personality clash with a peer or manager, then it is best to try and think about some of the positive things that would come out of a job change and focus your reasoning on them,” says Adrian Kinnersley, Managing Director of Twenty Recruitment Group. For example – “responsibility makes me nervous” sounds negative but “I want to learn to develop my management skills”, is much more positive. Talk about “seeking new challenges and opportunities”, “looking for more rapid career progression”, and say you “want to learn new skills”. “I have heard some real clangers in my time,” remembers Kinnersley. “Probably the best one was: ‘The four companies that have employed me over the past 12 months all made me a scapegoat for their own bad management’”.

“Be aware that there are a number of different types of interviews these days and it can be easy to be caught out if you are not expecting them,” says Lucy Davison, associate director of the financial recruitment division at Advantage Professional. Panel interviews can be very intimidating and people use them to see how a candidate reacts under pressure, or to evaluate behaviour in a group situation.

A good recruitment consultant will be able to tell you exactly who is going to be on the panel, what their position is and what their stake in the interview.

If you have a panel interview, then try to identify the key decision makers. “This may not be apparent at first but there are normally dominant characters who stand out, so answer their questions as thoroughly as possible,” says Davison. And what of the quiet ones? “They may just be shy or inexperienced but they are more likely to be really taking stock of the whole interview process and consequently gaining a fuller perspective than those asking the questions. Therefore, ensure that you involve them with eye contact.”

If you have battened down the hatches for the past few years, then it’s worth remembering that the recruiting landscape has really changed. No longer are we in the “war for talent” stage, where you might have had two or three offers on the table and are in the driving seat. These days, you will have to really demonstrate that you can add value to a potential employer, says Tanya Bridgen, Manager of the City office at specialist language recruiter Euro London Appointments. “Remember that for an employer, although a new hire is an investment, it’s also a cost and so a return on that investment will be at the forefront of their mind.” Focus on achievements in your last role rather than just responsibilities. What problem-solving ideas did you come up with? Did you save the company money? Did you streamline a process to make it more efficient? You also need to think about your soft skills and not just your technical competence – skills such as communication, people management, negotiation and networking.

It’s not all about shining your shoes and picking out a nice tie. Think about body language, too. Don’t turn overtly away from a certain panel member and try not to cross your arms, says Lucy Davison. “It can be difficult to maintain eye contact when you may be getting questions from different directions and the key here is to not rush your answers. While you need to spend the majority of time addressing the panel member who asked you the question, you should involve the rest of the panel by changing eye contact in natural breaks such as when you take a breath or at the end of a sentence.”