Knowledge is key
As in so many things in life and equally so with regards to interviews, preparation is key. Most people fail their interviews without ever really having a chance, but it is fixable.
It doesn’t matter if you’re going for an interview as an administrator or a finance director, or whether it’s your only interview this month or one of a dozen, you have to make the effort to be prepared or you might as well not go at all.
Firstly, find out as much as you can. Candidates make far too many assumptions about what the interview will entail and this puts you at a huge disadvantage before you even introduce yourself. So, when the interview is arranged you need to really think about what you need to know, including;
- Where will it be conducted – This is not just about you knowing how to get to the office or checking on tube/train times and problems, although they are very important too. HR are often not in the main building, many companies have multiple sites and the last thing you want is to end up late because you got lost trying to find the right building!
- Who is conducting the interview – HR interviews are very different to line manager ones and there’s a world of difference between a 7 person panel interview and a one-to-one.
- How long is it likely to last – A polite enquiry to “help you structure your day” could pre-warn you of an unexpectedly long or short interview and will give you a good indication of how in-depth they are likely to be probing you.
- What “type” of interview will it be – Will it be a competency based interview, a panel interview? Will there be role-plays? Will they be assessing specific skills? Will you need to prepare a presentation? Don’t assume that because they haven’t asked you to prepare anything that they don’t want you to. You asking the right questions before the interview could be part of the interview process……
- Will there be any tests or assessments – It doesn’t matter how senior you are or what your job is, NO ONE is immune to the possibility of tests. And tests are invariably something you’re unfamiliar with so you risk failing because of lack of preparation, not because you can’t do the job. Be warned!!
Now it’s time for the real preparation. One of the most common early in the interview questions will be something along the lines of “what do you know about us” or “why do you want to work here” and an obvious lack of genuine interest demonstrated by poor preparation can pretty much end your chances here and now.
Employers don’t want to hear their “about us” section of their website read back to them parrot fashion, neither do they want meaningless platitudes and insincere, vague compliments. But recalling that they were in the Sunday Times Top 100 Companies to work for list last year and asking if they plan to enter again or that last month their industry “trade magazine” ran an article on their expansion across Northern Europe can set you aside from your completion.
You need to know what makes this company right for you and the flip side of that, what makes you right for them. You need to know what sets them apart from their competition so you can convince them your interest in them is genuine and you’re not just looking for “a job”, even if that’s the truth!
Other key areas for preparation include;
- Do you have and have you thoroughly read/understood the job spec – Is there more information they can give you? Is there more on their website? Does the agency have more information? Is there a “person spec” as well as a “job spec”? Do you understand it or are there terms, duties etc. on it that you’re guessing about?
- Have you fully researched the role – This includes the employer, their recent news, their reputation, their recent hires/fires and plans for the future. Company websites, LinkedIn, trade journals and the internet in general are all excellent sources of information as is anything you can get from people who actually work there.
- What makes you right for the role – Being a “hardworking, loyal individual” or “proactive” my well sound like great “selling points” but is that what the job spec has asked for? Think about synergy, what have you done that matches you to the role? What achievements can you demonstrate that fit in with what they’ve said you will need to do? Think hard about your measurable successes, competencies, skills and qualifications (academic and non-) that match their requirements not just what you think makes you great!
- Put yourself in their shoes – If you were interviewing, what would tick your boxes in general? If you were interviewing you, what would your main concerns be? If you would be worried that you’ve moved around a lot you can pretty much be sure it will be on their mind. Don’t shy away from it, be aware that it could be a genuine concern and make sure your answer is sound, honest and easy to deliver.
There’s no exhaustive list of interview questions and styles vary dramatically too but when preparing your answers the two key points to keep in mind are; why are they asking you that, and don’t over prepare!
Almost every interview question could be reworded as “why should I employ you” so your answer, be it to “what are you looking for in a role” or “what are your strengths” should still satisfy that basic query. Ultimately all an employer really wants to know is why they should employ you, so make sure your answers reflect that.
No one wants to hear an obviously scripted answer, so think more about genuine examples that demonstrate your abilities and your suitability in a general sense rather than preparing a word-for-word answer to every conceivable question.
But common questions that will help to get you thinking about what they might ask you (based on your research and preparation) are;
- Why are you leaving/did you leave your last role?
- Why do you want to work at this firm?
- What is it about this position that particularly interests you?
- What do you enjoy most about the work you do?
- What do you find difficult about your previous/current position?
- What are your main strengths?
- What will you bring to the role?
- What are your key weaknesses?
- What salary are /were you on and what are you looking for?
- What type of management style do you prefer (or have!)?
- What’s the most difficult problem you’ve encountered and how did you resolve it?
- Where do you see yourself in five years’ time?
No matter how junior or senior the role is, regardless of what sector, industry or type of organisation and irrespective of the style of interview certain basics need to be observed;
- Turn up on time! Preferably 5-10 mins early, but no earlier than that. Find the offices and go for a walk to familiarise yourself with the area if you’re earlier than that. Turning up late, REGARDLESS of the excuse is not going to start the interview well and if they have a tight schedule could result in your interviewing being cut short or cancelled completely. The other side to this is make sure YOU have plenty of time. There’s nothing worse than getting 40 minutes into a brilliant interview and having to tell them you need to leave.
- Dress appropriately. It doesn’t matter what the role is or how “relaxed” the employer is, dressing in a suit (or appropriate business attire) demonstrates that you’re taking the process seriously and that you are professional. We always advise candidates to wear classic corporate attire: a dark suit, plain shirt/blouse and minimal jewellery regardless of what the role is.
- Turn off your phone!! Sounds obvious but people still forget and nothing is more likely to ruin the flow of an interview and your composure than scrabbling around in your bag while you’re phone plays the latest Justin Bieber tune…
- Body language. You don’t need to be an expert in non-verbal communication but you do need to think about some very simple aspects of how you are perceived.
- Do you look aggressive or bored? Crossed arms, slouching and posture can give a negative impression.
- Do you make eye contact or do you stare at your feet (or anywhere but the person you’re speaking to)? You probably do it because of nerves but is it mistaken for dishonesty?
- Handshake. You don’t have to crush bones, but a brief, firm handshake while making eye contact is still considered the most appropriate introduction.
- Do you fidget or become overly animated? Do you sit as still as stone? It’s important that you are perceived as a person and they enjoy their time with you, but it is still an interview so remain professional do engage them.
The trouble is, most people are completely unaware that they do any of these things. Better you find out now than after half a dozen failed interviews. So practice in front of a mirror, record yourself, or practice with friends. Once you’re over the initial embarrassment this can play a vital part in the process.
- Try to relax. Easier said than done, but if you’re fully prepared and know what to expect, what you’re going to say and why you’re right for the job then hopefully you can be yourself on interview and they can see the kind of person you’ll be to work with.
- Ask them questions! It’s not just about you being right for them, it’s about the role being right for you too! Don’t be afraid to ask questions, get them talking and make the interview as much of a two way sharing of information as possible.