The expression “fail to prepare, prepare to fail” was never truer than in the interview situation. In my experience thorough and focused preparation will get the candidate over 50% of the way to a job offer before they even walk into the interview. Follow the advice below to ensure you are comprehensively prepared.
Company research – Look for your prospective employer on the web. Do not focus too much on facts and figures (number of staff, turnover etc) as these are largely irrelevant at the individual employee level. What is the company’s position in their market sector, are they the biggest or the fastest growing? Are they an “investor in people”? What is their position on staff training and development? Most organisations these days have a “company ethos” or “mission statement”. It is important that you are aware of this and can paraphrase or reword it (do not recite it parrot fashion). When the opportunity arises you should refer to it in your answers. Concentrate on the positive, if the company are being looked into by the monopolies commission or making a loss it’s not productive to mention this.
Know your CV (or resume) – A summary (or more in depth dissection) of your CV is very likely to be part of the interview. Best practice is to tailor your CV to meet the vacancy criteria, this requires a detailed knowledge of the finished product. Do not worry about dates or line manager names so much but bear in mind the relevant responsibilities/skills/tasks of each role and be prepared to answer questions accordingly.
Visualisation – This is very important, picture yourself in the interview confidently answering questions (for 10 minutes or so) each night for the three nights prior to the interview. It is unlikely that you will know what your interviewers look like so incorporate any actual or composite authority figures into your visualisation. This technique will not prepare you for the content of the interview but will go a long way towards calming nerves on the day and put you in a more positive frame of mind about the whole experience. See yourself fielding stock questions (see below).
Job description analysis – Look back over the job description and link aspects of your own experience to the criteria. Ensure that you can relate each requirement in the description to your own experience (eg “candidates must have strong man management skills” – look for a role in your CV which involved direct management of others, the more recent the better). Insert these correlations into your interview answers where appropriate (eg “as you will know from my CV when I was at Smith & Sons I was line manager to a team of 14 which was an aspect of the position I enjoyed”). This implied understanding that they have studied your CV in detail (unlikely) is flattering to the interviewer/panel as it assumes they have been conscientious and professional in their approach to filling the vacancy.
Presentation preparation – Whether you have an interview booked or not you need to be thinking about your interview outfit. You are aiming for a clean, unremarkable and professional look. There is no room here for individual expression, novelty ties and bright colours are out. A suit is always the most appropriate form of dress, regardless of the position.
Buy and try on your outfit well in advance to make sure you are happy and comfortable in it, buy two identical shirts/tops in case of mishaps on the way to the interview (ketchup stains are not a good look!). Try on your outfit in front of a full length mirror, walk towards it with your hand outstretched smiling, see yourself as your interviewers will see you. Based on this make any adjustments needed to your posture or dress. Always have your suit jacket buttoned throughout the interview. Men-always have your top shirt button done up and a tidy tie Knot (if this is uncomfortable try a half shirt size larger). This may seem overly fussy but these details will be noticed and absorbed unconsciously by the interviewer/panel.
Interview timing – If given a choice of interview slots always take the latest available or the last of the day. Following the advice given here will give you an edge but being fresh in the minds of the interviewers will not hurt. I have of course been offered jobs after being the first interviewee of the day but this advice comes from my experience as an interviewer discussing candidates at the end of the process. The first one or two interviews tend to become a template that the interviewers use to guide the encounters with subsequent applicants, this is a positive for you because your preparation will leave you more assured in your answers than the “caught on the back foot” ones of the earlier candidates.
On the day – If the interview is more than an hour’s drive away stay locally the night before (this also applies if flying). If your journey is less than one hour’s drive double the normal journey time. If possible drive to the interview location at some time prior to the interview to make sure you know where you are going. Arrive a minimum of 30 minutes before the appointed time and review your stock questions and answers, read over your CV, check your appearance (have a wet-wipe and a tissue in the car to clean any stickiness or moisture from your “shaking hand” and a bottle of mouthwash for a quick rinse) and have a final visualisation session. If driving yourself, hang your suit jacket on a hanger in the car and put it on immediately before the interview. Present yourself at the reception desk 5-10 minutes before your interview slot and politely refuse any offers of coffee etc. You cannot spill what you don’t have and any nervous shakes become more obvious when holding a cup or glass. Have a few printed copies of your CV in a slim folder or transparent plastic sleeve (holding something will make you seem less awkward). If kept waiting read over this rather than sit staring into space.
Dealing with interview nerves – Visualisation (see above) should go a long way to calming these perfectly natural anxieties. Being confident in your appearance will also contribute to your positive frame of mind. A degree of nervousness can be a positive in that it gets the adrenaline flowing and sharpens responses and will be expected and allowed for (to a reasonable extent) by the interviewer/panel. If however you are still overly anxious in the minutes before the meeting carry out the following steps: Close your eyes and concentrate on your breathing. During the first “out” breath see yourself shaking hands and (smiling) introducing yourself to the interviewer/panel. During the second “out” breath see yourself (smiling) thanking the interview/panel for their time and alternate these for about 12 breaths (this is roughly a minute of “at rest” breathing). Do this with 5 minutes to spare as it can make you a bit too relaxed (there is a danger that this can come across to the interviewer/panel like arrogance or “not that bothered”, this is obviously not good) and we need to bear in mind the positive level of nervousness mentioned above. If you get this balance correct you will shine-but this can be difficult to achieve without experience so aim for “normal plus” think your normal self after a double espresso.
Stock questions and answers – It is likely that certain common questions will be asked and you should have pre-prepared answers for these. These should not sound rehearsed however and your response should begin with a “pause for thought” while you search the memories of your professional life:
What can you bring to Acme Plc?
Why do you want to work for Acme Plc?
How do you see your career progressing/where do you want to be (careerwise) in x years?
What do consider your career achievements/what do you consider your greatest career achievement to date?
Give an example of a work situation where:
The most common of these are listed below. Have an answer prepared for each. If you cannot find a real life example try to “creatively remember” an incident or event which fits the bill.
(i) You overcame an obstacle to complete a task/project/achieve an aim.
(ii) You resolved a conflict situation.
(iii) You introduced/implemented a change for the better or improvement in a company you were working for/with.
(iv) You improved communication/co-operation between colleagues/departments/companies.
Why did you leave/want to leave Smith and sons?
Would you describe yourself as go-getting/dynamic/cautious/thorough etc?
Robin Cavendish 2010.
About the Author
Robin Cavendish is an experienced career development consultant. He provides highly effective interview coaching and CV/resume writing and to job-seekers in need of expert help. http://www.careermasterclass.co.ukn