Preparing for an interview

You have secured an interview and now you have a few days to prepare for the big day. Get it right and this could be start of a brilliant new chapter in your career. Even if you don’t finally get offered the job you will still have the opportunity to learn from the experience and so prepare yourself even better for the next interview that you attend.

First of all the basics:

Location and time

Get clear and precise details of the location and time of the interview. It is astonishing how many candidates either arrive at the wrong location or arrive late for an interview. Your interviewer(s) will almost certainly be working to a tight schedule and if you arrive 15 minutes late then you will probably have 15 minutes less time than you had expected. Avoid this by checking the location and if necessary doing a “dry run” at the time of the interview so that you are sure that you know how long the journey will take. Aim to arrive at least 15 minutes before the appointed time.

 Dress for success

This might seem obvious but surprisingly not all candidates for job interviews seem to think this is important. My advice is clear, always dress as smartly as possible for a job interview. Even if you are going to see a Recruitment Agency rather than the actual employer “look your best”.

There are some subtle variations on the “dress-smart” advice and of course there are some business sectors where a business suit might be considered inappropriate. A good tip would be to look on the company web site. Are there any photos of staff working there? Try to fit in with whatever seems right for that particular organization. If you are working through a recruitment agency then ask the advice of the recruitment consultant who will most likely have attended a meeting there. Even if the dress code is “smart casual” the word “smart” still applies and turning up for a job interview in scruffy jeans and an un-ironed t-shirt is never going to be a good idea.  You need to look smart and professional at every interview.

Personal Hygiene

This is a tricky issue but it needs to be mentioned! Attend to your personal hygiene before an interview and don’t be tempted to have a last smoke before the interview or worse a quick pint of beer. The smell of cigarettes or alcohol will definitely be considered a negative point by most interviewers.

Understanding the job

The best way to gain an initial understanding of the job is to carefully read and re-read the job specification or job advertisement. If you have applied for the job through a recruitment agency they should also provide you with a thorough briefing on the role.

Remember that sometimes the actual job can be very different to the job specification. If you are not applying through a recruitment agency, look at the company web site and read the trade press to try and find out a little more about the job that you are applying for.

 Prepare your own interview

Many candidates for jobs (particularly for senior roles) are themselves experienced interviewers. In that case prepare an interview for a candidate for the job you have applied for. Actually write down the questions and think carefully about exactly what answers you would expect to hear.

Research the employer

Plan to spend at least 2 hours researching the organization and don’t leave this until the morning of the interview.

As a minimum you should have answers to these questions:

  • Who is the Chief Executive or Managing Director?
  • When was the organization founded?
  • What are their key products or services?
  • Who are their major competitors?
  • How are they performing financially?

All of this information will help you to build up a clearer picture of the background to the job that you are applying for. Don’t get caught out by the very first question at many interviews: “What do you know about us?” Demonstrate that you have done your research thoroughly by giving a very well thought out response and make clear why you would like to work for that particular organization. Look at the company web site, find their annual report (if available) and use a search engine like Google to find out as much as you can before the interview. Perhaps you have a friend or relative who works for the organization or has done business with them. Ask them if they can provide you with any additional background use this information to prepare some of your own questions at the interview.

Research the Interviewer or Interviewers

If you know the name of the interviewer or interviewers try to find out as much as you can about them. Try putting their names into a search engine (or search LinkedIn) and of course see if you can find their biography on the company web site. It’s important that you know about the person you are seeing for a number of reasons. For example if you are attending an interview for a technical role (perhaps in Information Technology or Engineering) and your first interview is with the HR Manager then you might expect that the questions at that interview will focus mainly on you as an individual and not on your technical expertise. If on the other hand the interviewer is the IT Director or Head of Engineering then you can expect a different line of questioning.

 

Total Job Search TipResearch the employer and the interviewers well before the interview 

 What will the interviewer(s) be looking for?

There is plenty of research to suggest that, in addition to the professional qualifications or technical skills that you have, there are a number of “deal-breakers” that will guarantee that you will not be offered the job. In other words even if you are the perfect candidate in every other way if you don’t demonstrate these traits at interview you will not be offered the job.

These critical areas are:

Your motivation

You must be able to show the employer that you really want the job. You need to show the interviewer your passion and enthusiasm for the job.  Remember that they will be investing considerable time and money to get you up to speed while you settle into the job. So make sure that you demonstrate your commitment not only by your answers to interview questions but also by the tone of your voice and your body language. One of the ways that you can clearly demonstrate your commitment is by the amount of research that you have undertaken prior to the interview.

  • You might print out key pages from the employer’s web site and take these with you to the interview.
  • Obtain a copy of their brochure or catalogue of products and services and take these with you.
  • Obtain a copy of the accounts if available.
  • Find out at least one key piece of background information about the organisation and mention this at the interview.

If you are working in Finance then it would be surprising if you didn’t have information about an employer’s accounts. If you are in sales then it would also be very surprising if you didn’t have some information about the company’s sales figures (if available) and their key products and services. The key here is to demonstrate to the interviewer that you have taken the trouble to undertake this level of research which will most definitely confirm your motivation for the job.

Communication

 

You could be the best and brightest candidate interviewing for the job but if you can’t communicate your ideas effectively you will not succeed. Good communication at interviews is not just about what you say but also about how you say it. Speak with real passion and make sure that you also use effective eye contact and body language to get your message across. Remember good communication is also about listening. Demonstrate this by listening carefully to the questions being asked. Many interviewers complain that candidates don’t listen to the question or don’t answer the question. If you are not sure what is required ask the interviewer to repeat the question. Make use of the STAR technique  to describe your career achievements. Answering interview questions using the STAR technique will ensure that you communicate in a structured and clear way. Most interviewers will assume that if you answer their questions in such a structured way then this approach will also follow through into your everyday working practices.

Empathy

 

Whilst it is important to “be yourself” at job interviews, you also need to be able read the personalities and characters of your interviewers. Try to adopt an appropriate tone and ensure that the interviewers can feel that you will fit into the team and the company culture. Knowing something about your interviewers and the organisation prior to the interview will help you to do this.