Prepare to Smash Your Interview!

So you are in an active job search and/or are open to suggestions and have secured yourself an interview? Congratulations! The interview is where, ‘the rubber hits the road’, in your job search. Personally, I think reliance on an interview to determine the best candidate for a position is a broken system , none-the-less this is exactly how 90% of hiring decisions will be made currently. So be prepared to sell yourself, as how you present will influence the likelihood of an offer. Also the better the interview, the better the offer potentially!

So my first point will state the obvious. The best advice on preparation is to actually prepare!!! Many people spend an in-ordinate amount of time tinkering with the CV, browsing job postings and crafting the perfect cover letter but little or no time properly preparing for individual interviews. If you’re reading this, it looks like you are putting in some groundwork so give yourself a pat on the back, you’re heading in the right direction! 

From a mental preparation point of view, I suggest making sure that you are ‘in it to win it’! i.e. don’t go to an interview to as I’m often told, “check them out” or to “see what they have to say”. Go to an interview with the intention of winning a great job offer (or progressing through the process to that goal). If you get offered and choose not to accept, that’s empowering and your call to make. I am always sad when someone is ill-prepared for an interview, goes in luke-warm or even suspicious about the opportunity, and realises during the appointment that the role is a dream job for them. It’s typically too late to inject passion to the interview and reverse the first impression formed by the interviewer that you only came to ‘kick some tyres’.

Logistics wise, make sure you plan your journey and allow enough time. That’s enough time to get to the postcode according to google maps but also to park, sign in etc. PLUS I also suggest allowing enough time for heavy traffic, road closures, getting lost, spilling coffee down yourself etc. as sod’s law says it’s going to happen. You want to allow enough time to be on time but also to be in the right frame of mind. 5 minutes decompressing from the journey and visualising a successful interview will pay dividends. Lastly, I don’t want to pile on extra pressure, but I’ve pretty much never seen someone turn up late to an interview and go on to secure the job!

Take a fresh copy of your CV & a separate reference sheet so you are ready to hand over either or both. You likely won’t need them but it looks organised and allows you to use them as a point of reference; also in the eventuality that they have lost the cv or can’t print it etc., then your interview still goes smoothly ahead!

Dress to impress! It’s an interview cliché to be sharp-suited, clean pressed shirt, shiny shoes etc. However, I think old-school rules still apply here! As you all know first impressions are strong, difficult to change and are strongly based around visual aspects. However, how you present is viewed as a reflection (rightly or wrongly) of how seriously you are taking the application / how much respect you are giving the appointment. I would say that while you can mess up by under-dressing for an interview you can never really fail by over-dressing. Many people have a concern that they don’t want to feel over-dressed when they attend an interview at a less formal office environment. Feel free to try and mirror their culture to an extent, however, I point out that their current employees are not attending an interview & you are! Expectations are different so it really doesn’t matter if you are the only person in a suit. It’s kind of like the interviewer can swear in the interview & they won’t notice or remember, if you do, it’s going to stand out and reflect badly.

Paint a picture of a Win-Win. Candidates are going to want to satisfy themselves that they are going to win re the job in question, with respect to salary, benefits, challenge, interest, career potential etc before accepting an offer. Clients are going to want to satisfy themselves that they are going to win by hiring the candidate in question in respect to skills, experience, personality, attitude, future potential etc. before making an offer. However what is less obvious is the opposite side of these points. i.e. candidates should want to establish that the company will win by hiring them, meaning they add value, it is a good fit and chances are good it will work out in short and long term. Clients should want to establish that the candidate will win meaning that they get to apply their skills in a meaningful way, enjoy the work and ultimately stick around! In my experience, in the stressful set-up of an interview, most people overlook or miss ‘part 2’ of the win-win. Food for thought! So ensure everything you say and do in the selection process points towards a conclusion of strong mutual benefit. It is only then that a company will go ahead and make offers, after all, they will be looking for a solid relationship which I would liken to a marriage, not just a marriage of convenience.

On a related note re the ‘everything you say and do during a selection process’. Be aware of how you are viewed outside of the interview itself. E.g. while booking the interview, when you ring beforehand when you are lost, how you interact with the receptionist etc. etc. Even when you are not being officially assessed, you are still being assessed!  I would never want to hire someone that was snotty to my receptionist for example and so I always ask for their input/opinion and many savvy hiring managers will no doubt do the same!

Prepare by researching the company, so you can talk intelligently about the organisation, their products/projects etc. or at least answer the obvious, why are you interested in XYZ company question. You can look for published information from their website, news sources or from employer evaluation sites such as glassdoor to get the ‘inside track’!

Also, know the job specification JD, and potentially the person specification, PS well. Specifically from the JD what are the duties and responsibilities and how/when have you completed these before? Extra marks for what accomplishments / achievements you can showcase in these areas. From the PS, what skills or competencies are ‘high value’ for them and when have you demonstrated these to good effect in your prior background. The interviewer will typically intend for examples to be work ones but you can draw from personal/social experiences if they make your point well and especially where recent work experience is limited e.g. graduates and those returning after a break for family reasons.

Prepare lots of questions. There will typically be an opportunity to ask questions during an interview. Hopefully throughout, allowing a good two-way street of communication, or otherwise towards the end. This is an opportunity! The quality of your questions can differentiate you from an otherwise similar candidate. Questions that show you have done your research are great, and in general open questions that demonstrate your understanding or prove your interest going to foster a positive response and often further discussion. Questions which can be seen as suspicious, negative or are just hard to answer will make for a negative atmosphere which ends up reflecting badly. E.g. what happened to the last person in the role, what’s your sick days allocation or what’s the company’s financial position like! (I’ve heard them all). The reason I said prepare lots of questions is that typically a number of them will be answered during the conversation and you don’t want to have ran out by the time it comes to the ‘any questions’ question! Just ask a couple, though, as often the interviewer will be wrapping up at this juncture and you don’t want to out-stay your welcome! 

Take notes. There is some debate on this topic, however, I think it is OK to take some notes if you wish to capture key information for your future reference. Again it can help demonstrate organisation and professionalism. However do ask permission and don’t overdo it as your note-taking can be off-putting to the interviewer, and of course, reduce eye contact which is important for rapport building.

Interview technique: This is a subject in itself and there is all kinds of advice to impart here. However, to keep it simple I’ll cover 2 here, confidence & enthusiasm. If you think about it the hiring company needs to work out 2 things: 1 Can you do the job (better than other candidates). 2 Do you want the job (and will you accept). Therefore you convince them you can do the job by feeling, showing and instilling them with confidence in your capabilities. You convince them that you want the job by demonstrating your enthusiasm for the job, company, product/projects in question.

Confidence: This will be maximised by being prepared (as above). By knowing your CV, the job-spec and how they relate. Prepare specific examples you plan to leverage and questions you would like to ask. Be conscious of using positive body language and voice projection. Practice the power of belief!

Enthusiasm: Prepare all the valid personal reasons why this job is a great match for you in order to demonstrate an authentic win-win. Why are you passionate about the industry, what do you like about the company, what attracts you to the job, are the location and salary going to satisfy you long term. Enthusiasm isn’t all about being ‘bubbly’ if that isn’t your style but demonstrating your appetite for the job somehow is important.

Be specific: The need to be specific will apply to many areas of the interview but particularly in terms of duties, responsibilities and achievements. Being specific and where appropriate using quantifiable examples moves you from making general claims about your suitability to giving evidence that you are the best candidate. For example “everyone loves me at work” can be changed to I received a 95% excellent rating in my last 360-degree appraisal. When you give examples, focus on the areas which they place most weight on in the job/person spec, (usually at the top). i.e if they are looking for strong organisational skills how / when you have demonstrated strong organisational skills and how could these come in useful when you commence this job!

Be succinct. It’s a fine balance. You are going to want to answer questions fully, to score maximum points (either in the interviewer’s mind or often literally if you are being graded). However, you are also going to want to be succinct. The interviewer only has a certain amount of time and if they don’t get to ask all the questions then you certainly don’t get to score all the points! It’s easy with pressure and nerves to waffle on which is boring or go off on a tangent which is irrelevant. Much better to take a breath, get composure, buy time if you need by saying that’s a good question etc. THEN give a killer answer than jumping in without thinking.

Situational / Behavioural interviews: On a related note to the above, using examples (evidence) is key to successfully answering situational / behavioural questions. The logic here is that past performance is the best predictor of future performance. A leopard may change his spots but I wouldn’t bet on it!  The STAR technique is a good format to follow when answering such questions. It stands for Situation, Task, Action & Result. So if you are asked if you have dealt with conflict you can say yes, this was the situation, my task was to do X, the actions I took were Y and the end result was Z. Simple!

Ask for the job! I don’t think this is common interview advice but put in the right way I think it is positive and powerful. This is typically for the end in respect to closing statements, and could be along the lines of … “on the basis of this conversation I am even more excited about the job than when I applied, I would certainly love to assume the role and look forward to hearing back”. This removes any doubt that you would be prepared to accept (offer dependent) and makes you a safer bet. Companies, like potential dates hate being turned down and would prefer to ask someone who they know will likely say yes!

Any objections? Again I don’t think a common area of interview advice, however, put in the right way I think this question can be a good strategic, assertive move. It again would come near to the end and would go something like, “I am very confident that I can meet all the requirements of the role, however, do you have any questions or concerns?”  However, you have to be ready to answer/counter! So you may discover that they have reservations but at least you can address them and hopefully overcome them. The reservations may have been incorrect assumptions or conclusions based on incomplete or absent information. (Let me know of any good turn-around stories/examples).

NB The emphasis of this blog has been on a traditional in-person 1:1 interview which is still the most common interview format. There are some nuances with other interview types e.g telephone, skype and/or panel interview which I will cover off in a future blog.

So good luck with your current and future interviews. Expect success. The hiring company has a business issue to solve and given that you have been selected for interview, you are well qualified to solve this business issue! It is just about making sure that this comes across effectively. The interviewers are also hoping that you are going to do well. So everyone is on the same side in that respect. My advice in short (as candidates who have worked with me will likely recall), is:

• Be prepared
• Be confident
• Be enthusiastic
• Be specific

If I can be of assistance in respect to interview preparation, hiring or jobsearch issues across the spectrum, feel free to give me a shout at coordinates below.

All the best, Anthony

01275 331307 / 07983255399
TW @MacstaffUK

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