Ace the interview

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I once met a senior interviewer within a bulge-bracket bank who said he always knew within the first minute of meeting a candidate whether he was going to offer them a job or not.

But, apart from making a good first impression by dressing well and offering a firm handshake, how do you make a great impact during the remaining 59 minutes of the interview?

Increasingly, banks are moving towards competency-based interviewing, a style of interrogation that requires candidates to talk about actual situations they have experienced as opposed to hypothetical situations they have yet to encounter. There's good business school and employer research showing that past behaviour is one of the best predictors of career success. So an interviewer might ask: "Can you tell me about a time when you had to...?" rather than "Can you tell me how you would...?"

Examples from the past

If you want to present yourself at your best, look at all the skills required for the job - perhaps teamwork, communication skills, commercial acumen, and so on - and think of occasions you have demonstrated those skills. It doesn't have to have been in a banking context - just make sure that your examples highlight how you made a significant contribution in each case.

Action over situation

Next, bear the STAR acronym in mind, which stands for Situation, Task, Action, Result. Start by explaining only briefly the situation - perhaps the problem or opportunity you were faced with - and therefore the task at hand.

I say to explain only in a sentence or two about the situation and task simply because there is an opportunity cost to speaking over long about the background when you only have limited time with the interviewer. Interviewers don't give brownie points for setting the scene - it's the actions you took that they are interested in. To finish, you should ideally have at your finger tips the quantifiable result that you achieved - a 3.4% increase in market share, a 17.5% ROI, a reduction in delivery times of five days.

I not we

When you're referring to the actions you took, speak in the first person singular. Most organisations encourage employees to think about the team - so many candidates end up talking about what "we" did. But your past employers are not being interviewed here - so talk about what "I" did instead.

Of course, there is more to interviewing well than simply learning off by heart what you want to say. Flexibility is required to answer the precise question asked of you rather than the one you would like to answer.

Develop your demeanour

But if you really want to ace that interview, think about your body language and tone of voice to ensure you come across as compelling and enthusiastic, interesting and charismatic. Videotape yourself being mock interviewed by a friend. Then watch your every excruciating move and listen to your tone of voice. And take the opportunity to polish how you use smiling and facial expressions, your hands, tone of voice, the volume and speed with which you speak to make yourself stand out as the perfect candidate.

Dr Rob Yeung specialises in management assessment and interviewing at leadership consulting firm Talentspace ( and is author of The Rules of Job Hunting (Cyan/Marshall Cavendish). He works primarily with banks to develop their interviewing process.

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