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Ten rules to succeed in a interview

Norman Alex is specialised in financial services, technology, legal & accounting recruitment at middle and senior management levels. Based in Monaco with offices in London, Paris, Geneva and Miami, we operate throughout Europe, the Middle East and the Americas.

Our success is based as much on our relationship with our candidates as that of our clients. We try to offer you independent career advice and help you develop your career as intelligently as possible. In order to do this, we try to maintain a long-term relationship with our candidates even if we cannot help you immediately. This brief guide provides some simple guidance to help you market yourself better whether it be for our clients or other institutions.

1) The curriculum vitae

The CV is a business card that can open (or close) the door to an interview. You can be the best candidate in the world for a position, but if your CV does not reflect this you may not even be given the chance of an interview to prove your worth. A good CV will not guarantee that you obtain the position, but a bad one will guarantee that you do not.
Here are some simple practical rules on what to do and not to do when preparing a CV :

Write it yourself rather than using the services of a professional to keep it original. However, do not hesitate to accept the advice of a professional and, above all, get the spelling and grammar checked if they are not your strong points.

Avoid superfluous or subjective information, such as your social security or bank account number, the names of your children, the profession of your spouse... Similarly, if you consider yourself dynamic or charismatic, let the interviewer judge for himself rather than proclaiming it in your CV.

Do not mention career objectives or salary expectations which could limit the opportunities offered to you. If the former is mentioned it should be specifically adapted to each position and, even then, could risk eliminating access to other positions available in the same company. Regarding the latter, the CV should not be the point of departure for salary negotiations (see article 7).

Remain conservative in your choice of paper, photo and general application. Pink notepaper, a CV in enlarged or reduced size (it should be in A4 format), a photo taken on holiday or with your dog, a provocative application letter… All these artifices may differentiate you from other candidates but in a negative rather than positive way.

You should send your application by e-mail in today’s world but this does not dispense you from enclosing an application letter, either within the body of the e-mail itself or by way of attachment. The attached documents should ideally be in Word format and not contain rare characters. This minimises the risk of blocking your future employer's printer as this is not the best start to a working relationship.

2) Prepare the interview

Would you marry someone you did not know? The reply to this question, with the exception of certain cultural practices, is certainly no. How therefore is it possible to go for a job interview with a company where you may spend more time than with your spouse, without getting to know the employer beforehand?

In spite of this, very few candidates know very much about the company they are meeting before the interview and even fewer are capable of asking pertinent questions. Internet is the perfect tool for acquiring such information, without overlooking the possibility of consulting annual reports or specialised directories. If you cannot reply to the question " What can you tell me about our company? " at the beginning of the interview and if you cannot ask at least a couple of intelligent questions at the end, you are not ready to get married.

3) The first contact

The first impression is undoubtedly the most important. If you want the company to make you a marriage proposal, it is better for them to fall in love with you at first sight. Most employers have made up their mind about the candidate after the first two minutes of the interview. This may seem unfair or even wrong, but unfortunately it is the truth.
You must therefore ensure that the first impression is favourable. Dress code should be sober and classical unless perhaps you are applying for a job in a creative industry. Shoes and fingernails should be clean, gum should not be chewed nor cigarettes smoked. If in doubt, err on the side of conservatism.

Equally importantly, you should stand up when you meet you interviewer, shake his hand firmly and look him directly in the eye. Thank him for receiving you and do not wait passively for him to take the initiative. On the other hand, do not crush his hand or try to outstare him. The objective is to show him you are self-confident rather than arrogant or aggressive. Indeed these behavioural elements are essential in any professional relationship.

4) Be enthusiastic & positive

In a recruitment process, the difference between success and failure depends very often more on a question of personality and attitude than technical ability. It is therefore essential to give the impression of someone who can bring a positive contribution to the employer. This implies avoiding bitterness or cynicism to your previous or current employers. Above all, as with your CV, you should stress positive achievements and exceptional projects rather than day-to-day responsibilities.
It is the added value you can bring to your employer that will differentiate you from other candidates yet, in spite of this, most people never go beyond the description of banal details. Without actually lying, tell your interviewer how you have implemented new systems, improved operating procedures, increased the profitability of the company, gained international exposure, been put in charge of special projects... Above all, speak with energy and enthusiasm to show that are motivated by your work and ready to assume new challenges.

5) Listen more & speak less

You were born with one mouth and two ears and they should be used in this proportion : you should listen twice as much as you talk. Without doubt, the error of most sales people (and a candidate at an interview is there to sell himself) is to speak too much. Your replies should be short, concise and pertinent in order to install a constructive dialogue. Be attentive to the reactions of your interviewer and let him speak when you sense that he wants to intervene. Above all listen to him actively when he talks and do not just hear him passively.
The more you let the interviewer talk, the more you ask him targeted questions, the better you will understand what he is looking for. In this way you can adapt your presentation to his needs to ensure a better " sell ". Of course, if the interviewer adopts the same techniques there could be occasional silences but these can be used to reflect better on your replies. A well utilised silence is far less harmful than talking too much.

6) Ask for the job

If one of our clients hesitates between several candidates with similar abilities, our advice would often be to offer the job to the one who appears the most motivated. Such a candidate, obviously providing he has the necessary professional and personal skills, rarely deceives. Similarly, we advise our candidates, once they have let the interviewer talk and established that they want to be offered the job, to confirm and justify their interest.
Most employers are both surprised and flattered by such a demonstration yet few candidates actually follow this advice. Moreover, there are even fewer candidates who send a thank you letter or e-mail to the interviewer to reiterate their interest. Such a message should be personalised and sent off straight after the interview for maximum effect. The impact of such a small gesture on the final decision should not be under-estimated.

7) Salary negociations

This is perhaps the most difficult and delicate aspect of the recruitment process. Our belief is that questions relating to salary expectations should not be broached until both sides have established that there is a strong mutual interest. This could be after a first in-depth interview or sometimes only at the final interview stage. Of course, this should not prevent the candidate communicating his current salary details from the outset, preferably face to face rather than in the CV.
He should not, however, close doors by discussing specific demands before weighing up the pros and cons of the position. A job in a growing company with strong career prospects and a challenging work environment could justify accepting a lower salary than in a less successful one (although successful companies usually pay better in order to attract successful employees). 

As a rule, let the employer bring up the issue of salary and only discuss your expectations in detail once the position has been fully understood. This has the added advantage of avoiding the impression of being a mercenary attracted more by financial than professional considerations.

8) Resignation

We have been surprised more than once by candidates, even experienced ones, resigning on the basis of a verbal offer. However much confidence you may have in your future employer, or however much pressure he may exert for you to resign as quickly as possible, NEVER do so before receiving a written offer of employment. This offer does not have to take the form of a full employment contract (this is often prepared only once the person has started), a letter of intention is sufficient as long as it is on the company's letter head, signed by a director with legal authority (usually the MD or human resources director) and contains the principal elements of the offer : title, status, remuneration, start date...

Since you should never resign before receiving a written proposal, you will not know how much notice you have to serve and consequently your precise start date with your new company. You should therefore ask your future employer to stipulate in the offer letter that the start date will be : "no later than... ". The stated date should take into account your full notice period less holiday entitlement, but adding on an extra few days since you may not be able to resign immediately for practical reasons.

In so far as it possible, your resignation letter should be handed personally to your direct boss so you can discuss it face to face. He should acknowledge receipt in writing by signing a copy. If this is not possible, send it by registered delivery so that you have proof of receipt. This common sense advice is too often ignored by candidates to their subsequent regret. In case of litigation, it is only written proof that counts.

9) Counter-offer

In an increasingly competitive market, strong candidates are increasingly likely to receive a counter-offer from their current employer. Our advice is clear and based on long experience. The majority of candidates who receive and accept a counter-offer are no longer with their employer nine months later.
Whilst there are obviously exceptions, the factors that induce a candidate to seek alternative employment do not usually disappear altogether. Furthermore, an employer obliged to make a counter-offer may feel a certain resentment and betrayal towards his employee, even if only sub-consciously. The relationship is often never the same again.

 10) Leave on good terms

For practical as much as ethical reasons, you should always try to leave your employer on the best possible terms. Do not openly criticise the company you are leaving and be prepared to carry out your full notice period if requested. Of course, if the company is completely unreasonable and inflexible, a certain degree of firmness may prove necessary to reach a compromise between your current and future employer. Valid non-compete clauses should also be respected.
We know several candidates who have rediscovered their previous company or boss several years later because of shareholder or management changes. In such circumstances, it is better to have left on good terms rather than with an exchange of insults.


Jérôme Courville

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