Stealth skills: Turning an interview into a job offer

If you've been shortlisted for a job you've applied for, then well done - this could be your big chance to progress. But at this stage, that is all it is - a career development opportunity. There's a long way to go in the recruitment process, and plenty of interview mistakes you can make before you get a job offer. Unless you have the ability to wow the hiring manager at the interview, you're not going to be selected as the preferred candidate.

It's all about making the right impression when you meet the prospective employer for the first time. You need to demonstrate your expertise, energy and desire to get the job, and also get your personality across. This means preparing thoroughly before the interview, knowing what to say and how to say it, and also beating your nerves when you're in the spotlight.

There's plenty of talented and experienced professionals who struggle to do themselves justice at interviews, and this can delay their career progress. It's important to write a great CV and cover letter - but these alone won't secure the role you are after.

With this in mind, here's our guide for turning an interview into a job offer:

Prepare for the interview

The more you know before you attend, the better you are able to prepare for an interview. Always ask for details of the interview structure - such as who will be asking the questions, and whether there will be any tests - and try to establish how many other candidates there are. You can never over-prepare for an interview, so seek as much information as you can from the hiring organisation or recruitment agency.

Before your interview, it's important to learn about the organisation you are looking to join. You may be asked to tell the hiring manager something about their own employer - this is not for their benefit, it's to ensure you have done your homework. Learning about the organisation benefits candidates anyway as it puts the advertised role into proper context, and allows them to give more relevant answers to the questions they are asked.

Typically interviews take one of two paths. The first sees the interviewer describe the job and the organisation to the candidate, before asking them to talk about themselves. The second sees the interviewee put 'on the spot' straight away with a question, such as what attracted them to the position and why they would be a suitable candidate. You need to be prepared for each eventuality, and have a general idea of what you will say if the questions begin suddenly, without an introductory lead-in.

During the interview

The hiring manager could ask you literally anything during the interview. There are some common interview questions that tend to be asked by most interviewers, but others can come out of leftfield and require you to think on your feet. In most interviews, some questions will relate to information you have provided in your CV, so it is important to be familiar with all the details, facts and figures. The more fluently and confidently you can describe yourself and your personal capital, the more chance you have of making a positive impression.

It's important to be enthusiastic about your career achievements and ambitions, and talk about the positive contribution you have made to organisations. However, you don't need to go into unnecessary detail. If the interviewer wants to know more, they can always deliver follow-up questions. If something you say catches the interest of the interviewer, they may be keen to learn more.

It's important to listen to the person asking the question, and give them the chance to finish speaking before you answer. You might have a straightforward stock answer ready, but it's simple good manners to wait until it's your turn to speak. In any case, listening intently has its own benefits. You might learn something more about the role or organisation, which you can then use to your advantage.

Answering interview questions

One of the things the interviewer will be looking for is evidence of your achievements. It's all too easy to tell an employer how good you are and how much you have contributed, but unless you have case studies to back up this self-promotion, it carries little value. If you have hard facts to support what you are saying, you will appear all the more impressive.

Some of the questions asked during an interview will be very specific, and provide a narrow focus for your answer. But often, candidates will be tested with broad, open-ended lines of enquiry such as 'Tell me a little about yourself' or 'Tell me about your last job'. It's important to have something ready to say, and again, this requires a degree of preparation prior to the interview. These questions offer a great opportunity for candidates to show who they are and what they can to, but there is also a chance that some people will bury themselves if they sit there in silence.

Candidates can also sell themselves to employers through the questions they ask. By asking about the organisational structure, their prospective role in it, the nature of the job, the challenge it offers and its career potential, they can display intelligence, insight and professionalism. Interviewees can't spend an hour firing questions at the panel - there will be other candidates to meet - but they can benefit from stimulating a general discussion at the end of the session.

Knowing your value

Often candidates will be asked what sort of salary they are looking for from a new employer. This question can be problematic for candidates if they unrealistic expectations, or fail to appreciate their own market worth. If you ask for twice as much money as all the other candidates, it’s highly unlikely you’ll receive a job offer. And if the wage you ask for is below the going rate, you might get the job, but on much less money than your colleagues and counterparts at other organisations. This could ultimately come back to haunt you.

If you're not sure about how much money to ask for, it's worth consulting the Robert Half Salary Guides, which report on average earnings for professionals in the IT, financial services, finance and accountancy, and administrative sectors. Wages vary from organisation to organisation and region to region, so you also need to think about the size of your employer and where they are based. If the job you are going for is in London or the south-east of England, employers will expect to pay up to a third more than in other parts of the country. The 2015 Robert Half Salary Guide will be available in mid-October.

After the interview

Even once you leave the interview room, there may be an opportunity to increase your chances of receiving a job offer. Writing a thank-you email after an interview and reaffirming your interest is good manners, but it could also be the difference between you and a similarly-skilled candidate. If the hiring manager is struggling to decide which candidate to make a job offer to, your confirmed expression of interest - post-interview - might just swing it.

The law of averages states you're not going to get every single job you go for - not unless you're an industry super-star anyway. But by planning in advance and presenting yourself well, you can increase your chances of success each time you go for a job. Employers want skilled, talented people with the right personality and attitude - and the interview is your big chance to show you fit the bill.