Be Prepared - How to prime yourself for interviews

Interviews are the worst – there, we’ve said it.

Very few people like them and yet they are an essential part of the recruitment process, both for you and the company looking to hire you. They take a lot more than just searching Google for “Common Interview Questions” - from fighting with the iron to cursing at the SatNav, bring prepared isn't just for the Boy Scouts.  So, where to start?

The name's Holmes, Sherlock Holmes
In most cases, you’ll be told who will be interviewing ahead of time.  Unlock your inner detective and find out about them! Use Linkedin and Twitter to research these people and how they come across on social media – not only will this give you an idea of their personality and how they are likely to conduct the interview, it will also provide potential commonalities for you to mention during the interview.

Once you’ve researched the individuals, the company’s website should be your next port of call.  Really look at what the company does and how the role you are applying for fits into their current structure. 

Also, blogs (if they have one), case studies and reports are great sources of material to mention at the interview.  For example, a blog post mentioning a team social event can be used to demonstrate how you would fit into the team culture or an interesting case study could provide a way for you to emphasise why you applied for the role and want to work for the company.

Seeing is believing
If you go into the interview as a nervous wreck, then your chances of getting the job are smaller. 

Visualising success is a great way to overcome nerves.  Play out the interview in your head and see yourself succeeding in answering the questions confidently and enthusiastically. 

Most nerves come from a self-applied pressure to get the job – remember, this isn’t the only role out there for you.  If you don’t get the job, whilst disappointing, it’s not the end of the world.  Whatever the outcome, it will have been a learning experience and most companies will give you feedback should you ask for it.

Practice Makes Perfect

Most interviews will have some “usual” questions e.g. “what attracted you to the role?’, “what can you bring to the team?” and “tell me about your career to date?”.  These are fairly easy and shouldn’t require too much thought.

More tricky questions could range from “What is your biggest weakness?” and “What would your current boss say about you?” to “If you were on a desert island and could take three things with you, what would you take?” and “What is your least favourite thing about humanity?”

Think about how you would tackle these questions and practise your answers aloud – either to your own reflection or to a friend who can give feedback from their perspective.    That way, you can keep practising your interview technique before the real interview.

Whilst it’s impossible to prepare for every single possible question you may be asked, by preparing a few answers, you will have engaged your brain with a method for tackling such questions which you can (hopefully) adapt to any question.

The key is to remain calm and answer the question in a way that represents you in a positive light.  With the more unusual questions, there is a rarely a wrong answer – it’s more about how you answer the question and how you explain your reasoning behind your answer as opposed to the answer itself.

Suit Up, Look Sharp
Whilst some industries accept t-shirt and jeans as suitable interview attire, most interviewers expect you to turn up suited and booted.  A conservative suit with a co-ordinating shirt/tie or blouse is apt along with clean polished shoes.  When it comes to the shirt/blouse, feel free to show your personality with the colour choice but be careful of any patterns and prints which may cause seasickness.

Go easy with scents and/or make up and keep jewellery to a minimum.

The Path Less Travelled Is The Least Known
You may already be feeling nervous about the interview so you don’t want to add to this with travel stresses.  Make sure you know where you’re going and how you’re getting there.  If you feel you need to, have a practise run of the journey before the interview.

All modes of transport come with potential pitfalls e.g. train delays or heavy traffic at certain times of day.  Once you’ve decided how you’re getting there, examine these potential problems and give yourself enough time to get to there. 

You could also build in extra time to get a pre-interview caffeine fix at a nearby coffee shop– not only will this give you the opportunity to calm any nerves from your travels, it will also allow you to go over your research one final time before heading into the interview.

Competency Based Interviews
Most interviews can be classed as “competency based”.  These are centred on the idea that past performance is the best indicator of future performance.
Competencies are skills needed to perform the job effectively and are normally listed as part of the person specification during the application process (e.g. communication, delivering results, interpersonal skills).
In this type of interview, questions are asked with the sole aim of discovering
if you have the needed skills.  They usually start with phrases such as:
  • Tell me about a time when you…
  • Describe an instance when…
  • Give me an example of…
With these questions, interviewers are looking for specific information about an event, task project or experience and, crucially, your involvement in it.  Base your answer on real experience in relation to your achievements as listed on your CV/application.  There is a basic framework you can follow whilst answering these questions:
  • Describe the situation
  • Talk through the task as it evolved
  • Explain the actions you took
  • Describe the result – if possible, use data and figures to illustrate the result.
Over to You
At the end of the interview, you will most likely be offered the opportunity to ask any questions you may have.  Interviews work both ways – you are interviewing the company just as much as they are interviewing you – therefore, it is important you take the opportunity to find out more about the company.

Ask questions that you genuinely want to know the answer to whilst leaving a good impression.  Some examples include:
  • “How will success be measured?”  - This shows you are results oriented.
  • “Can you describe the culture of the organisation?” – This is a good opportunity to demonstrate your research as well as showing that you have an interest in them as a company rather than just the job and/salary they are offering.
  • “Could I see the team/workspace?” – This shows an enthusiasm for the role/company and a keenness to see your place within the existing team.
Once you’ve asked your questions, remember to thank them for their time – it’s such a small thing which too often forgotten.  Also, try not to bump into the furniture when leaving, especially if it's a glass desk (talking from personal experience, glass shards all over your suit is not a good look!).

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