Interviews are by default, nervous, uncomfortable encounters. The initial excitement (maybe even surprise) at being offered an interview gives way to some nervousness as you start to think about how you will tackle the interview. Everyone has different ways of preparing for an interview but once the nerves set in, it is very easy to lose focus on the basic facts that your interviewer will want to know.
Chances are, the interviewer is a stranger and just like in other circumstances where you meet a stranger, you need time to build a rapport. But in an interview situation, you are immediately thrust into half an hour or so of questioning about your own skills and experience. After all, this is not a social chat at a party. This is meeting a future employer; the person who will decide your fate in getting a new job or not.
Learning how to stay calm in this type of situation is an obvious skill you will want to master. But in addition, there are key things you can do to effectively prepare for the questions at interview:-
- Remember what you said in your application this may seem obvious but all too often, people forget they may be asked about something specific they wrote in their application form. Even harder if you completed applications for a few jobs at the same time. Remember if you said you were a great team worker, be prepared for questions like “You have said in your application that you are a great team worker. What makes you think you are? Can you give us an example of a time when you demonstrated being a great team worker?”. In reality, all jobs require you to have this skill. You must be ready with a response to this. Did you receive feedback on this from either a manager or co-worker? What skills do you have that makes a great team worker? If this is your first job, what do you understand a great team worker to be and can you back this up with an example of taking part in something at school or college (a project perhaps) that would show you are a great team worker.
- Put yourself in the shoes of the interviewer what do they want to hear? What would you want to know if you were on the other side of the table? If the interview is for a typing job, and they ask you what you like about this type of role, there is no point in telling them you like filing. Believe me, I have interviewed many people who forgot to say they liked doing the very job they were applying for! If the job is varied, what do you like about working in a job that is varied and what skills do you have that enables you to multi-task? Similarly, if the job is a repetitive type job with less variation, there is no point in telling the interviewer you love variety in a job! People regularly forget to match their skills and interests to the specific tasks in the job description.
- Know when to stop answer questions fully enough to tell them what they need to know, and stop. Try not to ‘waffle’ on for 2 minutes about a simple answer. You should be able to make a point much quicker than that. The key here is to really listen to what they are asking you. For example, “Can you tell us about a time you had to cover for a colleague at work as well as doing your own job? How did you manage this?”. Try and explain clearly the task you had to do, how you managed it and the outcome/learning from it. For example, “I once had to cover my boss’s job for a week, taking on extra responsibilities in addition to my job. My job’s priority as a waiting staff member is to take orders and deliver food to customers. But my boss’s job was to work more closely with the kitchen and ensure a smooth process between waiting staff and chef. I therefore needed to spend less time on waiting tables and more time in the kitchen. I did this asking 2 of my co-workers to cover more of my tables so I can use this time in the kitchen and balance both tasks. (This shows you recognise the differences in priorities quickly and took immediate action to manage both). In hindsight, I didn’t delegate my work enough and still spent too much time on tables which I felt my co-workers could have helped more with. (Reflecting on the experience is a great way to evidence how you learn and tells your interviewer that you open, transparent and able to learn from mistakes). Don’t underestimate the impression you will leave by being upfront about mistakes and learning.
- Examples, examples, examples these days, a lot of questions are focused around the competency based interview technique. The interviewer is looking for you to give them examples of what you have done that shows you can do the job they are interviewing for. There are key softer skills required in every job. Examples of when you communicated well, when you demonstrated good team working skills and when you were able to work under pressure effectively are all useful to have prepared in the back of your mind. If you don’t have experience in an area, that’s okay. Your answer can be based on how you would handle that situation based on the skills you already have.
- Questions for the interviewer interviewers want a question. The standard answer of “I think we have covered everything” really isn’t good enough (bear in mind, a lot of others you are competing against may have already said that or worse for you, asked thoughtful questions). Chances are they will have told you a bit about the size of the team, what an average day would be like working for the company and the usual salary and holiday entitlement information. However, this is a last opportunity to ensure you have told them everything they need to know. The last thing you need is feedback following an unsuccessful interview that the interviewer wasn’t sure if you were good at multi-tasking. If the job required that, you should have already found a way to get this point across, but if you ask a question such as “You will understand that I really want this job. Is there anything else that you would to know that I may not have already answered and will help my chances today?” The onus is on the interviewer to tell you yes or no and if you have missed something, now is the opportunity to ensure you have left no stone unturned.
Finally, you can do all these things and you may still not get the job. I have been interviewed by many people who clearly did not have the skill or experience in recruiting and interviewing. Like the ethos that a leader can only be as good as their team, you can sometimes only be as good as the interviewer too.