How to tick an employer’s wish list during a job interview

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There may list 30+ competencies but bosses only really look for half a dozen in your interview.
Have tyou ever been mystified by the feedback you got from interviews. ‘They tell me I’m not quite what they’re looking for but I read all the job documents backwards and there’s nothing listed I can’t handle. What else can I do to get the job offer?’ you ask.

You may believe that you are preparing thoroughly, looking carefully at the advertisement and job description but you could do more.
Average candidates make broad claims but stronger candidates match their personal evidence point-by-point against the requirements of the job, giving great examples packed with hard evidence.
You could shrug your shoulders and say that in a tough market, employer screening is going to be something of a lottery. That ignores the fact that well-prepared candidates are getting good job offers. What’s their secret?

They have worked out the difference between the employer’s long stated list of requirements and the real shopping list – the things that really matter.

A job interview will probably cover about 20 topics in any depth, providing only a sampling of your CV material, and possibly no more than 75 per cent of the elements listed in a job description.

Some of these topics may find you unprepared because they have either not been flagged up at all or seem to be marginal to the job. Often you’ve given insufficient weighting to the issues that really count.

What employers will rarely acknowledge is that most interview decisions are made around half a dozen pieces of evidence. These deal-breakers may only be touched upon in documentation, but they matter. Moving towards a job offer means learning how to read the clues you’re being given.

You only start to do this when you ask questions of people who understand the role, organisation and sector. What problems does the job solve? What do success and failure look like in the role?

Your best means of discovery is initially asking people closest to the hiring process, i.e your recruitment consultant who will have taken a detailed job brief from the client.
After that, and if possible talk to former employees or contractors, anyone who knows something about the organisation. You need to know; What kind of people shine in the workforce? What is the employer most worried about in terms of hiring the wrong person for the role?

Look at details of jobs and projects on the employer’s website. Translate your experience into language that the employer will recognise. If your work history or qualifications don’t match perfectly, prepare clear explanations.

A good Recruitment Consultant can help you in this important task of decoding. Don’t take anything at face value. If an employer claims to be recruiting against 30 competencies, they won’t be – somewhere in the interviewer’s mind will be half a dozen things that really matter.

If you’ve got an interview, you’re over halfway to getting the job, so ask, probe, decode – do everything you can to find out the real wish list. Then don’t go home until you’ve delivered your half dozen best-matched pieces of evidence.

John Lees advises you how to shine.
John Lees is author of Job Interviews: Top Answers To Tough Questions and runs regular career workshops. Visit for details.