Continuing on from last issue’s preparation theme, practice is the next essential step to winning over your next employer.
We’ve mentioned before that an interview is like a date – it could be the beginning of a long and happy relationship – however, we often have to kiss a lot of frogs before we find the prince. Going on dates and going to interviews is great practice for when we find the right one, but likewise, we don’t want to end up with one that isn’t right for us. However much you want to, you’ll rarely change the job – it is what it is. James Preece, Dating Coach advises, ‘focussing on what you’re after, putting in the effort and never giving up.’
As with dating, the practice can often help us determine what it is we don’t want and help focus on assuring a good match. By the time you are interviewing you will have a concise CV that explains your past employment history in a clear and succinct way. Before each job application, this should be revisited to ensure it is targeted at the role for which you are applying. Save copies of the versions of your CV that you draw up, making it easier and easier each time you make a new application.
Practice writing covering letters that respond to job descriptions, making sure you don’t do this word for word and line for line. The job description and research you have done into the company are your best guidelines to the questions you may be asked. Your CV, covering letter and a good recruitment consultant should be all you need to secure interviews. From that point on, it is up to you to practice, practice, practice.
We advocate having night in, the night before an interview. Spend part of your night practicing – this is an important stage in your preparation and one that can make you feel quite self-conscious. This may sound touchy-feely, but however well you physically prepare, most people feel nervous and apprehensive about attending job interviews. Taking time out to rehearse how you will introduce yourself, respond to the interviewer’s questions, and ask questions about the job and the organisation will help you to become more ‘polished’ and exude confidence. If you have a friend or partner who can help you, great, but a mirror can work even better sometimes, helping you watch yourself as you practice your words.
Start with something easy, like practicing your smile. Without coming across as a gormless fool, a smile will show you are friendly and confident and will put your interviewer at ease. Practice your smile as you say, ‘hello’ and ‘yes’ and look your interviewer in the eye. Again, you don’t want to look freaky, enough eye contact to gauge the colour of your interviewer’s eyes should be sufficient.
Once you have your warm, engaging smile, practice your story and practice your posture. You could ask a colleague or family member to ask you some likely job interview questions to practice your responses, or read through your CV and talk to the mirror about the various aspects of each position. I know it sounds weird, but this preparation will make you much more confident with your story.
Body language is intrinsic in an interview and can say more about you than words. Stand with your feet slightly apart and keep your hands by your side – folding your arms is the biggest mistake, whether seated or standing, and indicates you’re hiding something. Annie Ashdown, a celebrity Confidence Coach, suggests looking at clips of people you admire – YouTube is a great source – and watching how they sit, how they stand and if they have particular gestures. Think of people who stand up for themselves, think outside the box, people who aren’t afraid to say no when everyone else around the table is saying yes. Imitate their stance and imagine taking on some of their characteristics.
Before each interview consider the questions below and practice your answers.
What is the role?
It might be an obvious question, but what is the job you are being interviewed for? It is important to re-read the Job Description so that you know what the successful candidate will be asked to do. This will also help you to identify your unique selling point as a candidate. You need to make yourself stand out from the other interviewees. Match your own qualifications, skills and experience to the job specification where you have them. Where on your CV is the evidence that you have them?
Think hard before you attend the interview and write down the evidence that you have these skills so that it easily comes to mind. Consider how you match up to these requirements. What are the key strengths and talents that you need to highlight in the interview? What knowledge, skills or behaviours need developing? How could you develop these? For example, if the job requires the skills to use Advanced Excel and you are not familiar with the full use of the package, you could find someone you know to teach you or consider a local college course. In this case, make reference that you’re learning or are willing to learn the necessary skills for the role. Showing a prospective employer you have considered your own development needs demonstrates personal drive and commitment.
Why do I want this job?
This is crucial. It is a question you may well be asked during the interview and you should answer it by describing what you can contribute and how it fits into your career plans. Do not say that you want the job because you are desperate for work, even jokingly. The parallel with dating leaps up again, desperation is not attractive. A good answer is along the lines that you admire the company or individual and you feel your experience and skills can make a contribution to the business or the individual’s life. Be prepared to elaborate on this and let the interviewer know how you can do this.
What you do know about us/our company/organisation?
Through your research, you should be able to discuss products or services, revenues, reputation, image, goals, problems, management style, people, history and philosophy. But don’t act as if you know everything about the place or the people – particularly if you are working for a ‘personality’ – it could make you appear to be a stalker.
Let your answer show that you have taken the time to do some research, but don’t overwhelm the interviewer, and make it clear that you wish to learn more. You might start your answer in this manner: ‘In my job search, I’ve investigated a number of companies. Yours is one of the few that interests me, for these reasons…’
The ‘Why’ questions
Be ready to explain positively why you did what it says you did on your CV. Listen to the interviewer as they explain the depth of the role. Go further and practice explaining why this particular position is attractive, why you want this job and why you are keen to work for them. Look for things you have in common – interests, expertise, location, etc. Don’t simply tell them what they already know.
The ‘Experience’ questions
Think hard about your experience and how it can add value to your prospective employer. Consider which areas of your previous work relate most strongly to the job you have applied for and be ready to supply the evidence that this is the case.
The ‘Competency’ questions
A good job description should include all responsibilities, required skills and a personal specification. The latter two will outline the skills you need to be successful in this role and lay down competencies that are essential. If you haven’t been supplied with these, do ask in the interview as it is essential that you know what is expected of you in the role for which you are applying. Teamwork, communication and initiative are often part of what recruiters call ‘generic skills’, essential in many jobs. Think about how you plan and organise yourself each day.
- What tools do you use, such as a diary, electronic calendar, to do list etc.?
- How do you use these to help you achieve your goals and objectives?
- How do you prioritise the tasks that you need to achieve during the day?
Be prepared to relate how you have exhibited these skills and use the STAR method: situation, task, action, and results to provide a full answer and give the interview a relevant case study of how you have demonstrated your competency in the past.
The interview is a two-way process. The interviewer will want to find out whether you are suitable for the position and you will want to find out if the position is right for you. Ideally, prepare a minimum of three questions about the role, but don’t ask about salary or holiday. Use this time to express a real interest in what they do. The key is to use each question to your advantage. In most cases, employers will be looking at what you ask as a factor in their decision making process, but good questions at this point can seal the deal!
You should therefore ensure that you have enough information to make up your mind whether you want the job. For example, you may ask the following if they have not been answered:
- What will be my responsibilities?
- Where will I fit into the overall organisational structure?
- Who will I report to?
- Who will report to me?
- How experienced are they?
- What do you expect me to do in the first 6 months?
- What are the chances of advancement/promotion in this position? When?
- Will travelling be required in this position?
- When will you decide on the appointment?
There are some powerful questions you can ask, that show your interest and help you discover more about the role, the business and your interviewer. Do think of your own, but here are some we like.
- Have any previous employees failed to perform in this position and what would you say was the reason for that? This question gives you an opportunity to hear what the interviewer is NOT looking for and tailor future answers to suit.
- Can you describe your ideal employee? Another great one, this time to find out what the interviewer IS looking for and, as with question 1, it’s helpful if you can ‘slip it in early’.
- What’s been your best experience working at this company/for this person? A great question to ask someone whose role you’re taking over, showing you’re interested in them.
- What’s has kept you working at this company/for this person? Another good one for showing interest in your interviewer and the employment.
- Do you have any questions or concerns about my ability to perform this job?With this question you can answer any doubts they may have and it also demonstrates your confidence to confront issues maturely.
- Does the job role have any pressing tasks that you will need me to tackle as soon as I start? This could refer to things that need to be managed because someone left, or it could be asking them for a timeline of priorities if things are up in the air.
- What’s the most important thing I could do to help in the first 90 days of my employment? E.g. a target to achieve something and an opportunity for you to suggest what tools and systems you would implement to achieve the goals
- Would you like to hear what I could do to really help you? Slightly rhetorical and quite cheeky, but it gives you an opportunity to brag.
- What might I find easy/difficult about working with you? A very powerful question to ask the Principal and best saved towards the end of the interview
- What is the next step? A confirmation of what you can expect and when – if asked confidently, there is almost an assumption you have the job.
When it comes down to being asked if you have any questions, never say ‘no’. Even if all your questions have been answered, think of something – you could even reiterate something that was already covered in the interview and say, ‘just so I am certain, is xxx …?’
Practicing answers to questions and arming yourself with your own questions will help you feel confident in yourself and your ability to do the job you’re going for. Armed with these skills, you should definitely secure that second date!
I hope these preparation tips are helpful and would love to hear of any success stories – please do get in touch with me Annabel@sorted-pa.com
For other helpful tips and advice, look at: