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A Guide to Job Interviews

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What You Need to Know

  1. Make sure you research the role and the organisation thoroughly beforehand.
  2. Make sure you have prepared answers to the most commonly asked interview questions (featured further down the article.)
  3. Plan your transportation and route in advance, aiming to arrive at least 15 minutes early. Also ensure that you know exactly where you are meeting your interviewer.
  4. You only get one chance to make a first impression, so make sure you look the part. Dress for business and stick to neutral colours.
  5. Your body language will communicate as much about you as what you actually say. Be sure to make plenty of eye contact, smile and avoid actions that send a negative message, such as fidgeting or crossing your arms.
  6. Give yourself a pause to consider what you want to say before launching into an answer. Once you have said what you intended to say, don’t feel you have to keep talking just to fill the silence, you’ll only dilute your point.
  7. After the interview, be sure to send a follow up letter to create the best possible impression.

Research

Being a job seeker can be tough, but so is finding the ideal candidate. In an interview you want to give your potential employer the impression that you could step in to the job that minute and hit the ground running without a problem. Therefore, it is vital to demonstrate that you have a good understanding of what the role actually entails on a day to day basis, not just the skills that are required to do it.

You should research both the role, and the organisation as a whole, thoroughly before attending your interview. The internet is the best tool for this, with most companies having an online presence. However, if they have public premises you can visit, this is also a great idea.

It is very important that you can demonstrate a good knowledge of the industry your potential employer is operating in. Again, the internet is useful, but reading relevant trade press publications can give you an invaluable insight into the working environment that you will (hopefully) soon be entering.

Preparation

If you think turning up and just being yourself will land you the job, you are likely to be disappointed. Interviewers will be expecting you to have prepared and you’ll want to have drafted an outline to questions that are likely to come up well in advance of the big day.

Here are ten of the most commonly asked interview questions you should have a think about before heading to your interview;

  1. Tell me about your past work experience.
  2. Why have you applied?
  3. Why are you leaving your current job?
  4. Why do you want to work here?
  5. What are your strengths?
  6. What are your weaknesses?
  7. What is your greatest achievement?
  8. What would you bring to this role?
  9. Where do see yourself in 5/10 years time?
  10. Do you have any questions for us?

Having solid answers in place is vital. Ideally, you should hand these questions to a friend and practise answering them out loud, in a mock interview situation. This will do wonders for your confidence when it comes to the real thing.

Also make sure you take a close second look at the job description and the CV you applied with, as these will almost certainly provide the basis for some questions.

Getting There

Being late is not an option. It will undermine your entire interview performance and put you on the back foot from the start. Plan your route before hand, down to the smaller details. For example, find out exactly how long it takes to get from the nearest car park or train/bus station to the interview. You can use online maps to do this.

You should also make sure you know exactly where your interview is taking place. Many candidates arrive at a vast corporate HQ and then can’t locate where it is they are supposed to be. Knowing the name and job title of exactly who you’re meeting can be very useful in this situation. Always aim to arrive at least 15 minutes early and make allowances for public transport to fail you. Example if you are looking at jobs in Manchester and travelling by train from London, you'll want to leave a good buffer of time for any delays that might occur.

Confidence

Confidence is catching. If you are able to transmit a suitable level of self confidence, you’ll inspire the interviewer to have confidence in you. One area you’ll want to pay special attention to is your body language. Make sure you look engaged and open. Don’t slouch, cross your arms, or avoid eye contact. These things will make you seem, disinterested and/or defensive.

According to various body language experts it is best to sit in an upright position with your hands together, fingers touching. Apparently this has been shown to convey an air of authority! In addition, try not to fidget and always remember the importance of a good, firm handshake.

Another good area to focus on is the tone of your voice, especially if your interview is being conducted at an early hour and you’re one of those people who sounds a little croaky in the morning! Of course the best way to increase your confidence is to prepare well before hand.

Appearance

It is an oft regurgitated fact that people form their first impressions within 30 seconds of meeting you. Interviewers are no different, so make sure you look the part and are suitably groomed. You’ll want your garments ironed and shoes polished. Stick to conservative neutral colours (this also applies to make up) and men may want to consider a hair cut, as polls have shown employers generally see short hair as being more professional.

Interview Techniques

Answering interview questions is a subtle art. Luckily, there are a number of techniques that can be used to make it easier;

1. Listen

Understandably you’ll be focusing on saying all the right things, however be careful that you don’t forget to listen as well! Always make sure you answer the question you’ve actually been asked. Nothing is more annoying for an interviewer than to have a candidate reel off a clearly pre-rehearsed answer that has nothing to do with the question. That’s not to say you shouldn’t have answers planned, but match the answer to the question.

2. Pause

Take a second to collect your thoughts before giving your answer. Taking a sip of water after you’ve been asked a question is a good way of allowing yourself a second to think before launching in to your reply.

3. Address the Question’s Hidden Meaning

Most questions asked by an interviewer are designed to find out something quite specific about you. Sometimes this is not immediately obvious. For example, you may be asked ‘what are your weaknesses?’, but the question you really want to answer is ‘how self aware are you and how do you use that self awareness to turn your weaknesses into strengths?’

It certainly won’t work to your advantage to simply answer the question without expanding on what you say.

4. Silence is Golden

When you have given your answer, stop talking. Sounds simple enough, however some interviewers use the off putting and fairly aggressive tactic of remaining silent when you have finished talking. Your natural reaction will be to fill the silence and keep going. This will only dilute your answer and waste time. Wait and indicate clearly that the ball is back in the interviewer’s court.

5. Have Anecdotes at the Ready

Be ready to back up the points you are going to use to sell yourself with anecdotal evidence. Many interviewers use a technique called ‘funnelling’, where a general question is asked, only to be followed up by increasingly specific questions, normally to do with your own experience. “Can you give me an example?” is a typical funnelling question.

6. Use Sound-bites

If you memorise your answers word for word you will end up sounding like a parrot, however, you do want to have key phrases, facts and figures on the top of your head so you can drop them into the conversation at any opportune moment.

Remember, many interviewers are actually quite bad listeners and will not follow your points unless you condense them into easy to take in sound-bites along the lines of what they are ideally already expecting to hear.

Types of Interview

As well as the classic one-on-one style interview, there also a number of other forms an interview can take. You should try and find out exactly what style of interview you’ll be having in advance, to avoid being taken by surprise on the day;

    • Panel

In some cases the role you will be applying for will be important to various different parts of the organisation. Therefore, the decision the hire you needs to be taken jointly by a panel of the people you’ll be working under.

This type of interview does not differ that much to a standard one-on-one, other than the number of people involved. You’ll still sitting down and answering the same sort of questions you’d normally expect.

However, there a few things you should remember. No matter who asks you a question, address your answer to all present, giving a roughly equal share of eye contact to everyone, even if they seem less involved. If you are saying something particularly relevant to one member of the panel, make the effort to drive the point to home to them.

Don’t forget to thank everyone when you leave and give each person a parting handshake.

    • Psychometric and Aptitude Tests

These are tests you may be asked to sit as part of an interview process. They include personality tests, verbal and non verbal reasoning, as well as various other IQ tests. These would only be part of the interview for certain jobs and you would normally be given good prior warning.

As with any exam, keep cool and read all instructions carefully. With personality tests it is best to simply be honest, however you can improve you capability in other forms of aptitude tests by practising. You can find some useful practice tests online.

    • Group Interviews

This is where you are interviewed in a group with various other candidates. Normally this will involve some verbal and physical group activities. The key to performing well here is to match your role in the group dynamic to what your role in the organisation would require, such as being a leader, a motivator, a generator of ideas etc.

Though you may be tempted to view the other candidates as competition, remember that you want to present yourself as someone who will work well in a team and can handle people effectively.

One popular activity at these kind of interviews is for candidates to give presentations to the each other. If you have to do a presentation, be sure to use the following techniques;

    • Presentations

At assessment centres and group interviews it is common to be asked to do a presentation. This is normally on a set subject and has to be delivered within a certain time limit.

The main thing is to stay on topic and deliver your presentation in a calm, confident manner. It is a good idea to use cue cards to prompt yourself and avoid having a mental block. Of course, getting plenty of practice in is the best thing you can do.

Remember at all times that keeping the attention of your audience is just as important as what you are actually saying. Talk slowly and clearly and try and make use of visual props to bring your points home. If you are attending a group interview, remember that many people are likely to cover similar ground to you. Think how you can make your presentation standout (without going overboard!)

    • Assessment Days

These combine elements of group interviews with various forms of previously mentioned testing. This kind of interview is commonly used by big companies to recruit students on to their graduate schemes, other than that they are quite rare

    • Telephone Interviews

After you apply for a job or upload your CV to a jobs site, you may receive a phone call out of the blue which will turn out to be a request for a telephone interview. For jobs where the application process is lengthy this is normally the first stage and is done in order to screen people for a formal interview.

They will normally ask if it would be better for them to call back later, or they may use their first contact with you to set a time for a full phone interview. Use this time to prepare. Your technique should be the same as with a standard interview. Obviously, you can’t utilise body language in the same way, however if you smile, they’ll be able to hear it in your voice.

Sometimes they will want to launch into the interview straight away. If so, don’t panic. They are aware that they are catching you off guard and will judge you accordingly.

Following Up

If you think the interview process ends once you’ve left the building, think again. It’s not over until a decision has been made. Up to that point you need to keep being proactive, as you can still make a positive impact.

The first thing to do once you get home is write a ‘follow up’ letter to the interviewer. This is basically a note to say thank you for the interviewer’s time, but you should use it as a chance to reiterate your suitability for the role.

If you are applying for lots of jobs and attending a lot of interviews, keep a spreadsheet to help you keep on top of where you are with each application.

Further Reading

 

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