Interview Preparation

It is our objective to secure you interviews for quality jobs and to help you to decide whether they are right for your long-term career aspirations.

Please note that many employers will ask to see an original form of identification under employment legislation, so it is recommended that you take some ID with you to the interview.

Culture and fit

The further up the career ladder a person climbs, the greater emphasis an employer will place upon a candidate’s potential fit for a vacant position, as a primary driver when assessing suitability for an opportunity.  Remember, interviewers will also ask themselves if they can see the interviewee fitting in the Company and/or team.

Technical skills and professional qualifications remain important but principally as a method of reducing the number of potential interviewees – the fit between the candidate and the culture comes much more to the fore as a means of differentiating between first-class candidates.  There are skills that you can master to ensure that you communicate clearly at interviews so that your true personality and potential fit within an organisation are clearly signalled to the prospective employer.

Interview preperation

Fail to prepare = prepare to fail.  This is an old saying, but a very true one.  Thorough preparation prior to the interview will really pay off and benefit you on the day.

Allow time to properly get to grips with the organisation.  Issues we suggest you should research and focus on include:

  • Ownership:  Is it a stand alone Company or part of a group?  Are there any subsidiaries?  How long has the Company been established?
  • Financial Information:  What is the current and historical turnover and profitability (or, for a not-for-profit organisation, budget structures and source and application of funds).  Get a feeling for the scale and growth of the organisation over the previous years.
  • Competition:  Analyse the organisation and its market competitors; understand the marketplace and how it is positioned.
  • Strategy:  Are there clearly defined strategic visions for customers, staff and all of their other contacts?
  • Their Customers:  Who are the typical purchasers of the organisations services and products?  
  • Products and/or Services:  Understand what the organisation produces.  What is the price bracket and how competitive is it in the marketplace?

The internet makes research so much easier.  You will find that most corporate websites will include a wealth of useful information, including annual reports and accounts, strategic visions/statements and recent press releases.  These can be a good source of breaking any initial awkward silences.

From the information you have collated, you should formulate some questions that you can ask the interviewer.  Write these down to help you to remember them.  It is vital that you have a good selection of predetermined questions.  Structured, well-informed questions show that you really have done your homework and it will not go unnoticed by the interviewer!

First impressions count

Your profile we have created from your CV has paved the way and inspired the interviewer to meet you in person.  Every element of your arrival for an interview should be detailed.  Allow yourself plenty of time to arrive and do a final pre-interview check.  One of the most frequently mentioned negatives by interviewers is an interviewee’s casual attitude to timekeeping.  If you are going to be late, ensure your consultant is aware, they can then ring ahead on your behalf and let the client know.

Make sure you know the exact name and title of the person you are meeting.  On arrival, take the opportunity to absorb the general atmosphere.  Do the people in reception seem relaxed?  How do they dress?  Is there an average profile of staff passing through?  Read any in-house magazines, brochures or corporate communications and take these with you if you are allowed.  Many interviewers will specifically check back with their reception staff about your general conduct whilst you were waiting, therefore, if you have time, engage the receptionist in some open questions about the Company – they often have years of experience with the Company and will be only too happy to chat.

Smart dress is of course a prerequisite.  Suits, for both men and women, are the best bet; try and avoid bright or coloured shirts. If you have any doubts, play safe and choose the conservative option.  Other points to remember include:

  • Smile!  Particularly on meeting the interviewer, this is the best ice-breaker.
  • Shake hands firmly but not vigorously
  • Graciously accept a drink if you would like one as it is a good way of helping you to relax
  • If you are asked to complete an application form, then do so.  They are often a standard part of an organisation’s recruitment processes.

Put the preparation to use

Perception

When communicating, particularly with someone you have only just met for the first time, studies show that non-verbal communication counts for over 90% of our actual communication.  This includes vocal tones, facial expressions, foot movements, hand and arm gestures and your overall posture.  A combination of all these elements will create the first impression that counts for so much.

Your non-verbal communication will say more than your verbal communication and can even reveal what you actually mean.  When under pressure, candidates often clam up – crossed legs and folded arms indicate defensive, negative postures.  Your eyes also communicate – open, same-level, direct eye contact indicates positive, affirmative language, whereas looking down and avoiding eye contact suggests insecurity and negative communication.

Those who match your body language are silently signalling their approval or agreement.  Strong approvals include nods and pursing of lips.  Therefore people will see you and not your credentials.  Having an awareness of the power of non-verbal communication can give you a definite advantage in interview situations.

Communication

Strong non-verbal communication when supported with strong verbal communication equals a highly positive interview style.

Speak with authority and confidence, but never act arrogant.  Be aware of your voice speed, volume and pitch.  If required, take deep breaths and be calm, measured and assured.  Like any situation involving an element of negotiation, don’t attempt to speak first unless necessary and don’t fill empty silences with meaningless words and phrases.  Also, try to avoid using filler phrases, e.g. “You know what I mean?” or “I guess” as these phrases are ambiguous and lack conviction.

Combining verbal and non-verbal communication

Remember these two words – perception and communication.  Perceiving what the interviewer is looking for and communicating back the right message.

It may be necessary to ask questions yourself.  The key is to use open questions which will yield the most information rather than closed ‘yes/no’ questions.

This gives you two opportunities.  One is time – for you to listen and perceive.  The second is an opportunity to look for more common ground on the subject, in order to communicate reassurance back.

Responding to questions: inspiring confidence

Many questions can be anticipated in advance and it is wise to have some well constructed answers that you can tailor more closely on the day.  It is also sensible to have a number of key phrases available for to use.

Some interviewers use very broad questioning techniques such as “Tell me about yourself”.  This can present the most difficult challenge of the interview.  You need to perceive whether the interviewer wants exhaustive detail about your career to date, or simply a brief overview.  If you feel you need to go into more detail, do not hesitate to stop and ask if the interviewer would like you to expand on the point.  Some of the more frequently asked interview questions include:

Why are you seeking new employment?

However frustrated you may feel in your present position, under no circumstances should you adopt a negative attitude or be rude about your current employer.  Always think positively; what have been your achievements and how would you like to develop your career in the future?

What are your strengths and weaknesses?

Here, certainly, preparation pays off.  It is sensible to have three or four key strengths formulated in advance of the interview.  These should be adjusted to what you have so far perceived the interviewer is looking for and backed up with practical examples.  Demonstrate how your strengths have benefited previous employers.  The best weaknesses are normally disguised strengths.  For example, not feeling stretched or challenged – provided you demonstrate a proactive approach to keeping yourself motivated.

What attracted you to this organisation?

Remember how the organisation might help the future career aspirations that you may have outlined earlier.  Draw on your research from the preparation stage – if you have observed some interesting insights on the organisation, then say so, you will not have another opportunity.  Also, listen carefully to the response to your own observations.

Asking questions: the opportunity to impress

Of course you need to satisfy yourself that you have covered all the areas necessary for you to be able to make an informed decision.  But more importantly, the way you deliver your own questions and how you react to the responses are critical success factors at an interview.  Be careful not to end up interviewing the interviewer and if you can subtly reveal your own strengths, so much the better.  It really does show you are fully committed to seizing this opportunity.  Having no questions to ask will undermine your interest.  

Consider asking the following questions if they have not already been covered:

  • How did the vacancy arise?
  • How will my performance be assessed?
  • What are the long-term opportunities?
  • What further training is available?
  • How does the department integrate with the rest of the organisation?
  • Is there any future corporate change in the pipeline?

Panel interviews

For a lot of senior positions, panel interviews form part of a more formal assessment which can take place over multiple days.

If you are given the opportunity, try to be either the first or last candidate in the process; statistical evidence shows that those who are first or last in are most remembered and likely to succeed.  If you are first, it gives you the chance to ask some awkward questions which the panel may use on later candidates.

Find out about the panel interviewers and their respective positions in advance.  Formulate some likely questions and rehearse your reply.  During the panel interview, maintain eye contact with the person asking the question but also remember to involve the others.

On most panels, each interviewer will have a distinct style – there may be one who will seek to undermine your confidence, break your rhythm and provoke a negative response.  Under no circumstances should you rise to the bait.  The panel will be looking to see how you respond under pressure so always give them a positive response.

Use the job specification and other information you have compiled in advance to best effect.  If possible, respond to the interviewers by name and make any examples in your response relevant to specific panellists.  Your interest in them should ensure you are remembered at their debriefing session.

Completing the interview and follow up

Closing the interview

Just as a first impression counts, so do the last impressions.  How you handle the final moments of your interview can be critical.

Firstly, always remain positive.  If you are asked about your continued interest in the position, answer positively.  During this time, the interviewer is attempting to perceive your final reactions.  Decisions are always better made when you can stand back from the situation.  Should you be offered the position there and then, answer graciously but always ask for some time to think it over.

Establish what the next step is.  If the position is likely to go to a second or third interview and you are still keen, it is worth spending some time on the same day writing down the key points from the interview whilst they are still fresh in your mind.

Remember, even if you have your doubts, some organisations may reconsider their original plans or create an alternative post based on your skills and experience.  So, if you are invited for a second interview, consider attending to explore the possibilities – do not make any hasty assumptions.  Both clients and candidates can, and do, change their minds for many reasons.

After the interview

Working with your consultant is a two-way process.  It is imperative that you provide your consultant with feedback as soon as possible after an interview.  If your feedback is positive and you are interested in pursuing the position, your consultant will ensure your enthusiasm is professionally relayed back to the client.

Your consultant will also contact you with any feedback/news about your interview from the client.

Learning from your interviews

If your interview has not resulted in a job offer, the most positive thing you can do is attempt to identify why.  There may be a simple explanation.  Alternatively, you may have to rely on your own perceptions of what went wrong.  Either way, your consultant should be able to provide you with some useful feedback.

Be aware that even if you felt your interview went very well, any tests were comfortably dealt with and the job should have been yours, the client will have a choice of candidates and will make their selection based on a combination of factors which will best suit their organisation.  Remain focused and concentrate on giving it your best to get what you want from the whole exercise – a new position!

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