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How to do better job interviews

Candidates may have the upper hand in Europe's talent market right now, but it's still highly important to perform well at interview.

By Miriam Partington in Berlin

Dr Barbara Zesik, chief people officer at Omio

Knowing how to prepare for job interviews is an essential skill that you’ll need again and again throughout your life. Dr Barbara Zesik has led human resources at large conglomerates such as Dell, Aviva and Yell and is now chief people officer at travel tech startup Omio. Here, she gives her top tips for how candidates can nail the job interview process and find the job that’s right for them in the process. 

How to prepare for job interviews? Do your homework.

This might sound obvious, but many candidates trip up in interviews by not adequately preparing. Make sure you are crystal clear on what the company is doing and know the job description back to front. If you know who the interviewer will be, it’s worthwhile having a look on their LinkedIn to understand who they are, and what their background is so that you can find some common ground with them. Don’t do too much stalking though. I’ve had situations where candidates have found out a few too many details about me, and it’s come across as freaky and overfamiliar in the interview. 

Job interview prep: know what environment you’re walking into.

When it comes to how you act and present yourself in a job interview, it’s important that you understand the culture of the company you’re interviewing for. For example, one of the company values of the UK-based protein brand Huel is “don’t be a dick,” which means that you could probably be slightly informal in your approach to an interview with them. On the other hand, if you’re interviewing with a larger healthcare provider or an insurance company, they might have a more formal, corporate culture, so it’s important that you act accordingly. Before stepping into the room, think about who your audience is, and what you would like them to think about you at the end of the interview. If the vibe is off, then it’s likely that job or workplace isn’t for you. 

Always ask your interviewer questions.

In the past, I’ve interviewed very senior people at Omio — at director and vice president level — and have often been shocked at their lack of questioning at the end. When you ask questions, it signals to the interviewer that you prepared well and are interested in the company beyond the pay grade. Not asking anything when prompted by an interviewer is, in my opinion, a big red flag. If you’re stumped at what to say, ask general questions about what your career prospects would be like in the next 12-24 months, and whether internal promotions are common. You could also ask what the culture of the company looks like and how its values come to life in the organisation. Another great question — depending on the size of the startup and how quickly it’s growing — is “where do you see this company going in the next three to five years?” And, “what are the contributions that myself and my team would make towards those goals?”

Don’t overstate your experience.

Candidates often go above and beyond to demonstrate their education and work experience — sometimes even telling small white lies to seem more impressive. There are two problems with this: one, there’s a danger that you will be caught out eventually; and two, you might bag yourself a role based on false pretences and find yourself totally out of your depth. Be honest about what work you have actually done and the contributions that you have made in the past. If you haven’t had a lead role on a project, tell the interviewer about your contribution as a team member. So many companies work on a collaborative basis nowadays, and are looking for team players that can work cross-functionally across many different departments. It might sound corny, but just be yourself and you’ll be able to find a job — and a company culture — that’s right for you. 

Miriam Partington is Sifted’s DACH correspondent. She also covers future of work, coauthors Sifted’s Startup Life newsletter and tweets from @mparts_

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Luis Harp
Luis Harp

Before the technical interview, take another look at the job description, and what technologies and specific requirements are listed there. Analyse your strengths and weaknesses. Identify technologies you have worked with and areas in which you have expertise. Formulate a few cases from your practice where you have achieved some results and describe examples where you have applied these technologies. That is my advice based on experience.