Nicolle: How to overcome common interview hurdles

Blogger: Nicolle Stuart
Responsible for talent acquisition and employee relations at Australia’s largest independent women’s website, Nicolle Stuart has seen a wide range of job applications in her role as Human Resources Advisor at Mamamia Women’s Network. With extensive experience in both management and HR, Nicolle knows what it takes to stand out in a field of eager applicants.

After spending hours putting together a great job application, you’ve been successful in securing an interview … well done! In my experience as both a manager and a HR professional, I’ve conducted a lot of interviews and have come across a few common hurdles that tend to trip people up when they’re in the hot seat. By taking these tips on board you can make the most of your prep time and feel confident stepping into the interview room.

First and foremost, it can be helpful to understand what you’re actually being assessed on when you sit down for an interview. The first criteria is competency, meaning your experience, skills and achievements. When assessing competency, the interviewer is trying to determine whether or not you can do the job you’re applying for. But most importantly, you’ll also be assessed on your cultural fit for the organisation, meaning, do your values and behaviours align with that of the company? When asking questions related to cultural fit, the interviewer wants to find out about your personality and work style and whether or not you’d be a good fit for the team and working environment that you’d be entering into.

Cultural fit is crucial to your happiness and success within a role.

Cultural fit is crucial to your happiness and success within a role and the interview process is the best opportunity for both parties to identify if there’s a match or a misalignment. Keep this in mind as you read through the following tips.

1. Don’t be a ‘yes’ person

Unfortunately, most of the power in an interview setting lies with the employer, but you also need to know whether or not this role is right for you and whether you’ll be comfortable in that position. A lot of people become very agreeable in interviews, even though red flags might appear. Like I said earlier, cultural fit is such an important part of your job satisfaction and success, so if you’re seeing red flags in your interview, don’t just ignore them! This role might not be right for you, but by being honest with yourself and acknowledging that there may be a misalignment, you can then find something else that will be a better fit and be sustainable for a much longer period. It’s short-term pain for long-term gain.

2. Always be genuine

When asked a question, don’t give a cookie cutter response that you’ve read online. For example, a common interview question is ‘what’s your biggest weakness?’ If I hear people say really generic things like ‘I care too much’ or ‘I take too much on, I don’t delegate well’, I tend not to believe them and I actually see that as a weakness in itself because it says to me that maybe this person doesn’t take on feedback or that they’re not self-aware. I automatically connect with someone when they give me a genuine response to this question because it demonstrates emotional intelligence, which is a highly valued trait in any workplace.

3. Don’t shy away from the salary question.

This is something I think everyone needs to become more confident with! If you’ve done your research on the industry, you know what you’re worth and you know what you want to be paid, so there’s no reason you should shy away from this topic. In my opinion, you shouldn’t find yourself in an interview situation where you don’t have any idea what the salary range is. If it’s not listed on the job description, the company will probably mention it when they contact you to book the interview and if they don’t, ask! The interview process takes so much time and energy for you as the applicant, so you want to make sure that you’re on the same page about salary. We’re only human and unfortunately money doesn’t grow on trees, so if you know that you can’t accept a role that’s paying less than a certain amount, you’re doing yourself a disservice if you don’t find out what’s on offer before you invest energy into preparing for an interview.

I really respect someone who comes in and gives a really clear indication of what they’re looking for.

Unfortunately, most people do freeze when it gets to this question, but as an interviewer I really respect someone who comes in and gives a really clear indication of what they’re looking for, rather than someone who stammers through their response. Ladies, this is something we tend to struggle with in particular. Men are just naturally more comfortable talking about money, but it’s a question you need to be prepared to answer.

If you’re just starting out in your career or you’re moving into a new industry and you’re not sure about average salary expectations, sites such as the Michael Page salary centre have some great information!

4. Listen to the question and embrace silence

Believe it or not, it is possible to over-prepare for an interview. Often, people will practise five or six responses that they really want to use, but the danger with this approach is that often they’re so ready to whip out these pre-prepared responses that they don’t actually listen to the question that’s being asked and they give a recited response that’s only vaguely relevant. They’re listening to respond, not listening to understand.

People are so afraid of silence in an interview, but it’s better to take your time and deliver a great response than to rush into a poor one. When you’re asked a question, listen carefully and then pause to gather your thoughts before you respond. If someone throws you a really tricky question, let them know and use a bit of flattery to buy yourself some time. You can try something like, ‘That’s a really good question, could we come back to it? I really want to give you a great answer’.

It is possible to over-prepare for an interview.

Preparing for an interview takes time and a lot of energy, but by understanding what you’re being assessed on and how to overcome these common hurdles you can walk into the room with confidence and put your best foot forward. These tips are just a snapshot of the content I covered in my Beyond the Books Online Series webinar ‘Job application bootcamp’. To discover the rest of my advice on job searching, résumé styles and interview techniques, watch the session recording or download a copy of my presentation slides. If you need a teaser, I discuss the one method you can use to answer any interview question!

Nail your next job application with our recipe for the perfect résumé, or brush up on your body language ahead of your upcoming interview. For support in your career development, contact the Careers & Employability Team or view their range of online resources.


Emma: 5 tips to keep a cool head by preparing for your job interview

7 reasons to treat a job interview like dating

How to be cool in the job interview hot seat