Written by Helen Bailey, Head of L&D
Well firstly – congratulations! Getting through to the interview itself is an achievement so take the time to celebrate and be proud.
Of course, the ideal outcome is to get the job so let’s have a look at some hints and tips which will help you on your way. To help identify what you need to do when these have been broken down into things to do
So let’s get started…
Ensure you understand the details of where and when
This might sound like the basics but in the midst of the excitement of getting the interview they can often be overlooked. Check location, dates and timings and then check again! Guess who once went for a job in Cambridge thinking it was for Birmingham Council – well I’m sure you are all much better and brighter than me… (P.S. I know the logistics of it don’t make any sense…)
Make sure you understand how the technology works
It’s the little things that so often catch us out so if it is a virtual interview check the functionality of the platform i.e. Google Meet, MS Teams so you are comfortable with it. Alternatively if you need to do an in person presentation check what you need to take and what will be available i.e. flipchart, laptop.
Find a Quiet Place
If your interview will be virtual ensure you are able to access a quiet place to be at the time as much as you are able. You could be the most amazing candidate but all that work could be undone by the sudden onscreen appearance of your better half doing the hoovering! Sudden interruptions by children and pets are all part of our virtual lives now so don’t worry if it does happen – this point is more about planning as much as you can. For more hints and tips on virtual interviews click here.
Identify from the job description/person specification what you are going to be asked about
Usually on these documents there will be a list of what you will be expected to do in the role and what the interviewers are looking for – for example good influencing skills, stakeholder management skills and ability to create charts and tables using Excel. With this in mind think about examples for each of these which will demonstrate your expertise and to bring us to our next point – use the STAR model to do so.
Prepare examples using the STAR approach – STAR stands for
Situation – What was the situation?
Task – What was the task you were asked to complete?
Action – What actions did you take?
Result – What was the outcome?
Preparing your responses in this way ensure you are able to give a clear overview of each example including the result. Focusing on outcomes enables you to demonstrate your achievements. You can find out more about the STAR model here (This also includes some sample behavioural interview questions).
Do the Research
In an interview you are trying to demonstrate why you are a good fit for the role and having some extra nuggets of information you can drop in will only serve to impress and will also help you answer the question “Why do you want to work here?”
Suggestions for things to review include:
- The company’s website – look for values, year end results, strategic
- Company’s LinkedIn profile – notice what the latest posts are about, if they feature people
from the organisation note down their name and refer to them at interview
- Company’s Twitter profile – apply the same strategy as you would for Linked In
- Do a Google Search – this will normally give you latest mentions whether it be social media, article or news
Clarify why you want the job
A good approach is to think about talking about a mix of why you find both the company and the job attractive. This also gives you an opportunity to demonstrate why you are a good fit i.e. “I have many transferable skills including x, x and x which I can bring to the role”
Think of some questions to ask
Remember that interviews are a two way process so use the opportunity at the end to ask questions which will further demonstrate your interest in the role. When selecting your questions think about
- What does this question say about me?
- What do I want to know more about?
To help get you started Reed has some great advice which you access here. Other good topics to include are questions about your induction process, expectations within the first three months and what the first projects you will be working on will be. All of which show a proactive looking forward approach.
Answer the questions
The one you were asked not the one you wished they had asked! Whilst it might be tempting to recite a fantastic example – remember to listen carefully to what you are being asked and pull an example from your preparation accordingly. This demonstrates both effective listening skills and an ability to process information quickly – both skills which I would argue are essential for any job. And in answering the question you were asked you have demonstrated these for your new prospective employers.
Have some notes/examples to hand
It is normal to be nervous at an interview – as Steve Bull once said ““Nerves and butterflies are fine – they’re a physical sign that you’re mentally ready and eager. You have to get the butterflies to fly in formation, that’s the trick.“ Sometimes with nerves what can happen is all those lovely prepared examples can fly out of our minds – so have some notes to hand to jog your memory. I would recommend short bullet points rather than word for word as these will be easier for you to glance down at. Also – just a small point – don’t be tempted to read from these especially with the notes in front of your face. Your forehead may be lovely but your interviewers would really like to see all of your face!
If you don’t understand/mishear the question, ask for clarification
The late Anthony Bourdain in Kitchen Confidential shares a great story of being down on his luck and having an interview for a job where he thought he was asked “What do you know about me?” when in fact he was asked “What do you know about meat?” This, as I am sure you can appreciate, is a pretty crucial question for a chef. In the book he notes that his response was “Next to nothing” and he was greeted with “…tight, shocked smiles… and an instant appreciation that I was not going to be the next chef.” The lesson here is that it is always better to ask than lose the job for a misunderstanding.
Buy yourself some thinking time
In the points above we have talked about preparing your answers and in the interview situation this might take you a moment so buy yourself some thinking time by having some water available. Apologies to all my fellow L&D professionals out there as this is a top tip – when we are having a sip of water we are thinking about what we are going to say next or how we are going to answer a question. The same is true and works for when you are at an interview.
Don’t be afraid to take a moment to think
Whilst having your water or beverage of choice, taking a moment to think shows you have given the questions careful consideration. If it feels awkward, look away from the interviewers perhaps out of the window – although this did lead to a memorable exchange in one of my interviews where I was asked “What’s outside the window?” to which I replied without thinking “A man with a placard with all the right answers on!” And I got the job – so another lesson here is don’t be afraid to be yourself…
Be yourself, everyone else is taken
This is good advice from Oscar Wilde – remember that ultimately if you are successful you are going to be working in the organisation approximately 1,762 hours every year – that’s a long time! Particularly if you feel that you don’t fit the culture of the organisation. During the interview your interviewers are looking for someone who can do the job but also who will fit into the culture of the organisation and whilst it may be tempting to slip into a role for the hour or so of the interview that can be harder to maintain over the longer term. So be yourself – after all that way there is a likelier chance that you will be more relaxed and able to shine at an interview.
Take some time to reflect
After an interview it is always tempting to just relax after all the emotional energy you have out into it. It is useful to spend some time self reflecting and ask yourself
• What went well?
• What went less well and why?
• What am I going to do differently next time?
This will help inform your next interview (whenever that maybe). If you can jot down your thoughts so you have them to refer to.
Thank your Interviewers
This can be done via a quick email – just a simple “It was great to meet you and thank you for your time” will suffice here. It demonstrates courtesy and respect which adds to the overall impression you have made at the interview.
Ask for feedback
This is equally important for when you get the job as when you don’t. Feedback will help inform what you can do differently in future – use the three questions above for reflection which will help provide a structure for your interviewers.
To finish off with a quick question – what do you notice about the above sections?
The Beforehand section is the biggest – as you should know by now I love a quote so here’s one final one for you from James Baker (former US Secretary of State) “Proper Preparation Prevents Poor Performance.” Putting in the hard work before the interview will really pay off during the interview so if you take nothing else away from this blog – spend some time on your preparation.
Finally – good luck with your interviews. I will leave you with the final words that I give to everyone I ever helped to prepare – “Be as fabulous as I know you can be!”