– go into your next interview ready to succeed!

Making a great impression is about projecting confidence in your words, your voice, and your body language. Here are the three top tips for interview preparation for women suggested by Dorothy Grandia, coach to post-experience MBAs at the Career Development Centre of the Rotterdam School of Management:

#1 Make yourself relevant. Look beyond the job description to research and promote the value you offer as a candidate. Job descriptions are filled with the skills and requirements which are a given ‘must’ for any candidate, but they don’t tell the whole story of what you could do for the company. Professional women often use good communication and relationship skills to make things happen in their jobs, whether those skills were in the original job description or not. And those skills are transferable to other roles and companies.

Hiring managers are looking for candidates who can help them solve their problems and reach their goals. The obstacles which stand in the way of solving problems and reaching goals are often not related to the functional skills possessed by employees, but have more to do with the environment in which the business operates, whether it’s the market environment or the ‘people’ environment in the company (the work culture). Do a little networking in advance of the interview to find out which challenges you would face working in the role. More often than not, the challenges will have to do with managing relationships successfully, for example with difficult clients or demotivated colleagues, or contributing to change, whether from the bottom-up or top-down, or most difficult of all – from middle management. Then think of all the times you have used those transferable skills to achieve a successful result, and be ready to talk about those examples! Having a good understanding of how you contributed to work successes in the past will allow you to come across as authentic, insightful, and confident in an interview, without being boastful.

Now that you know your own transferable skills and successes, you need to actively pitch the skills you possess which are most relevant to answering the question in the interviewer’s mind, whether HR manager or line manager: will this candidate succeed in this role and at this company? In order to find out what they need to know in order to answer that question, you need to ask them questions as well – and give a relevant answer. Women who are able to ask well-targeted, open questions are able to engage their interviewers in a discussion around their needs and goals, and begin proposing the kind of solutions which involve hiring them! 

#2 Be authentic but project body confidence even if you’re nervous. There’s a lot to say for authenticity. Companies in which colleagues understand and can articulate both their personal boundaries and their own motivations, interests, and desires – as well as how their life experiences have shaped them into who they are today – are generally more fulfilling places to work than companies where no one seems to care at a personal level about what they are doing or why.

So chances are, if you’re feeling authentic about who you are and what you want, you’ll project an attractive confidence. EXCEPT:

When you’re at an interview, everything is unfamiliar – from the route you took to get to the company to the building itself to the people you are meeting. They more those people seem to you like they all fit in there, the more you feel like an ‘outsider’.  That’s only natural. And momentary. Just don’t project that feeling in your body language! From a gender perspective, young men are encouraged more than young women to meet new situations, which are filled with uncertainty and ambiguity, with strong body language. Socially, it’s more acceptable for young women to project the uncertainty they’re feeling in their body language.  It’s fine to feel uncertain about the moment, but you don’t want your interviewer to think your uncertainty is about more than the unfamiliar situation.  

Set yourself up for success in the body language department by wearing shoes which allow you a comfortable, full stride and clothes which allow you to sit comfortably in a chair without contorting yourself. Also, a professional-looking portfolio bag which combines the contents of your purse and your paperwork gives an uncluttered, professional impression, and it gives you less stuff to distract your focus. Finally, but most importantly - although you may be in the ‘following’ role, relying upon your interviewer to show you around, make sure your body language is not passive. Even if your body language doesn’t have an effect on your interviewer (and that’s pretty unlikely!), you can boost your confidence by maintaining confident body language. Watch this great TED talk by Amy Cuddy: Your body language shapes who you are – to learn more about the two-way street of body language.  

#3 Speak up! Just as you want to project confidence in your body language, you also want to project it in your voice. Now that you have a great list of open questions which are relevant to solving their problems, and your body language is helping you to feel more confident, make sure you are communicating confidence in your tone of voice. In general, women have a couple of tone-of-voice tendancies which could work against them in those crucial first meetings during the hiring process – they are less inclined than men to end their sentences with as much volume they started them with, and they are more inclined than men to end a statement as though it is a question.

Think about it – have you ever heard someone end every sentence as though it sounded like a question? Sometimes because they were ‘thinking out loud’? Or because they weren’t exactly sure of the answer? Can you hear the voice in your head reading these questions with a higher pitch at the end?

And how about your volume? Do you start strong and trail off, or are you as confident-sounding at the end of your sentences as when you started? Effective leaders and engaging salespeople are far more likely to speak fully throughout their sentences than average people-on-the-street. Communicate your confidence by speaking clearly all the way through your answers.

Have a friend ask you typical interview questions and notice whether you speak clearly throughout your sentences and answer the questions with a clear ending.