When you’re sitting in an interview it’s easy to think of yourself on stage, lights shining, your career and experience under scrutiny. It can be a vulnerable place to be.

Image source: RTE

Last night was the final Leaders Debate, the last chance for party leaders to square up against one another before the General Election. In many ways watching the 90 minutes debate was like being a fly on the wall of an interview. The leaders were the candidates and Miriam O’Callaghan the interviewer, hurling hard-hitting questions probing their experience and why they were the best person for the job. How our leaders coped can teach us a lot about our own interview techniques.

So what did we learn?

Practice doesn’t always make perfect

Practicing your interview by holding mock interviews with friends and family is key advice we often give. But there’s a very fine line between practicing enough to settle nerves and overdoing it so that your answers sound rehearsed, like you’re in the middle of your Leaving Cert French Oral.

Similarly, politicians often repeat word perfect sentences or phrases – sound bytes that they hope will enagage voters. This came out over and over during last night’s debate, as the leaders repeatedly redirected questions to their pre-prepared statements.

In an interview, don’t tell the interviewer what you think they want to hear. Instead, know your story inside out. Know every aspect of your CV and experience so that when the tough questions come, your answers won’t seem so lifeless and your passion will shine through.

‘Going Negative’

Negative campaigning, badmouthing your competitors, snidely latching on to a poor choice of words. They’re all part and parcel of the political world, especially in America. But Irish leaders aren’t exactly squeaky clean in this regard either and this comes to the fore during heated debates. Last night not even Miriam was safe with Gerry Adams questioning her salary whilst discussing the topic of USC tax.

There’s an important lesson to be learned here which is easily overlooked when preparing for an interview. How do you deal with the negative questions? For example, ‘Have you ever had a manager that you struggled to get along with?

Interviews are mostly about attitude and personality. They want to test your fit and if you’re a hothead who lacks diplomacy, this question is likely to unveil that side of your personality. Proceed with caution, professionalism and maturity. Focus on what you learned from your manager, and your strategy for dealing with difficult personalities. Badmouthing an employer is the quickest way to get a big red ‘x’ next to the criteria ‘works well with others’.

Don’t over exaggerate your success

Politicians are often lambasted for manipulating facts to suit their agenda. Even before the debate dust has even settled journalists and social media have already eagerly fact checked each statistic and statement. When the spotlight it on you and you’re eager for the job, you can be willing to do anything to get it, including spinning the truth in your favour.

Don’t fall into this trap. There’s a fine line between selling yourself confidently and fabricating impressive lies. Lying about your superhuman abilities at Excel may seem like a great idea when you’ve shook hands and accepted the job, but formulas and pivot tables will catch up with you eventually.

Don’t buckle under pressure

There’s always a moment in the debates where the leaders are hit with a question they weren’t prepared for. They fumble, fluster and inevitably flee in the opposite direction, not answering what was asked. Last night many of the leaders were thrown by the topic of cronyism, with many fudging their answers. 

We’ve talked before about answering awkward interview questions. It’s one of the most daunting elements of an interview for candidates. How many yellow puppies would fit in this room? Is there a right answer to that? Don’t get bamboozled by the enormity of the question. Resist the urge to fill the silence with mindless sentences. Break down the question into manageable chunks and proceed logically.

Interviewers can give you a hard time but it’s only because they want to see how you react in stressful situations. If you drop the ball (or drop your notes) just carry on.  

No one likes interviews but they’re unavoidable – even for leaders of a major political party. But interviews are what you make of them. If you walk in anticipating the worst, you are going to underperform. It’s important to walk into the interview remembering that they called you. Think of it less as standing at a podium pleading your case, and more as a two-way conversation. It’s an opportunity to discuss the role, and see if it really is right for you, and if you are right for the company. 

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