Interview Guidance

Whether you are an experienced employee with many years of complex work history or just entering the job market, you need to ensure that you get the interview right. Remember hearing about a less able candidate who got "your job" ? Here are a few tips on how to make that job yours.

Pre-Interview Preparation

This is one of the most over-looked aspects of interview technique and yet can make the biggest difference.

Do some research about the company you are going to see, either via the internet or by asking around in the industry. Do you know anyone who has worked there or who works in the same industry ? If so, seek their opinion. There is nothing quite as useful as direct experience of the organisation.

Make a short list of questions and have them ready in the interview. Most interviewers will invite questions at some point. Make them relevant and suitable for the level of the job. For example, if you are being interviewed for a Trainee Programmer role you could ask about the team you would be working in. Asking the IT Manager if there is a co-operative relationship between the IT Director and other Directors, however, would be a controversial and therefore unsuitable question (you can always tackle the big problems once you've secured the job!).

Practising the interview beforehand can be helpful. Get a partner or friend to role-play the interviewer. Give them a few ideas on the areas you want to emphasise and those you feel you may be weak on and concentrate on these.

For more experienced candidates, you may have got the interview on the strength of a "special" CV, one that emphasises particular elements of your work or particular projects. A sales and marketing manager might have two CV's, one for sales, one for marketing. It is crucial to base your preparation on the right CV - taking a copy along with you to the interview is advisable as busy people can lose paperwork!

Being There

Travel arrangements are vital for the success of any interview, at any level. Few applicants who are late get the job, and if they do they have to work much harder to do so.

Make sure you know exactly where the interview is occurring and ideally the name (or at least job title) of the person conducting the interview. Some organisations have several sets of premises within a small area. Make sure you know which one to go to, if necessary by asking the interviewer to post or email you a map. Always plan to arrive around 10 - 15 minutes before the beginning of the interview to allow for the unexpected. For example, if you arrive at 1.55pm for a 2.00pm interview at a typical major manufacturing site or University Campus, you will probably be late. Finding the car park, parking and walking to the correct building takes longer than one expects. Remember to take some change for car parking.

Where an organisation is clearly based at a single set of premises, you can produce a journey plan, by putting their postcode into a web-based map site, e.g. Google Maps.

Dress for the part

You will undoubtedly have heard about first impressions counting: you have between 7 and 30 seconds to make a good impression. There is a lot of truth in this - it doesn't mean that being well-groomed is a guarantee of success but you may fail at interview by being inappropriately or untidily dressed.

Appropriate is probably the most important word here. Different industries have different expectations and dress codes - a male candidate with a pony-tail would not be frowned on in an IT or graphic design interview, whereas they may be in a more formal setting. However, society is becoming more flexible and varied in its dress codes, and there is less and less need to conform. Having a good shower and brushing your teeth is probably the best advice! After that, dress in a way that makes you feel comfortable, within the limits of appropriateness. You should also consider the weather, as a heavy coat can be a burden if it warms up, and don't forget the umbrella if you are walking any distance.

Crunch time

Pre-interview nerves affect most people to some extent. However, the vast majority of interviews in the UK are non-confrontational. If you stay relaxed your answers and your overall performance will be better and you will think more clearly.

The interview itself is likely to be much less gruelling if you have done your preparation beforehand. The subject matter should hold few surprises and you will be concentrating on the aspects of your career that relate to the job on offer.

Some of the hardest questions that you may face are generalized ones, like:-

"So, Ms Smith, tell us all about yourself." or

"What can you bring to our company/the job, Jim?"

Questions like these are rather poor practice by the interviewer, but don't let this throw you off course. The best interviews are where both parties listen and respond to each other. A full life-history will use up valuable time, so don't be tempted. You are aiming to match the requirements of the job against your skills and competencies, based on your pre-interview research. Make clear and simple statements so the interviewer is no doubt that you can do the things you identify as important in the job role.

Where your capabilities fall short of the stated requirements, don't exaggerate. If you've got basic Spile-Troshing experience and they need advanced, make it clear that you are completely confident that you can make the transition quickly, with their help. Remember that most good companies are committed to training their staff. Your salary requirement is probably less than the experienced, but expensive, Master Spile-Trosher who they are seeing that afternoon.

Many candidates are in a completely different category - far more experienced than is required in the particular job for which they are being interviewed. To succeed in this scenario requires a two pronged approach by you, the candidate.

Firstly, attitude can be everything. No interviewer will feel positive towards an interviewee who knows how to do their job and their boss's job, even if this is true. You need to show that you can work in the team as it really is. If you genuinely want the job, at the salary and conditions on offer, but clearly have been more senior in previous roles, make it clear why your current situation matches the job.

Secondly, emphasise only those elements of your background that relate directly to the role - especially if you sent them a "special" CV. For the most experienced candidates (especially contractors), there can be a lot to choose from, so be sparing. You might even change your verbal style if the discussion moves on to skills not immediately required by the job, but which might be valuable to the organisation at some point.

Common Behavioural Interview Questions
  • Give an example of an occasion when you used logic to solve a problem
  • Give an example of a goal you reached and tell me how you achieved it
  • Give an example of a goal you didn't meet and how you handled it
  • Describe a stressful situation at work and how you handled it
Common Competency Interview Questions
  • Teamwork – “Tell me about a time you led or worked in a team.”
  • Problem solving – “Describe a situation where you solved a problem.”
  • Decision making – “Give an example of a time where you made a difficult decision.”

Ask for the job

Many people leave an interview without making it clear whether they are interested in the role. Assuming you want the job, you should say so, with enthusiasm. The company may well discuss how keen the competing candidates were on the role. Where other aspects are similar, your keenness may swing it. Every company likes to make job offers to people they believe will accept.

For certain types of jobs, notably sales and marketing roles, you should explicitly "close" for the job. Any experienced sales person will know this and will probably do it automatically. However, if you are going for your first sales job, or have done other things in between, try practising beforehand and don't forget when it comes to the real thing.

Salary negotiation

Salary is a crucial element of any job move, but it is generally better not to ask about salary until you are confident you have won the job. Much of the negotiation may well take place after the interview is over but some interviewers ask specific questions about your current salary and the amount you are seeking in your next one. If this is the case, dive in! Be ready to say clearly what you would accept. Make sure you also cover notice period and any other areas (such as holidays) which will impact on your ability to start the job.


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