Interviewers generally look at three key areas:
- Can you do the job?
- Will you do the job?
- Will you fit in?
They already have a good idea of your intellect and ability. The interview allows them to analyse your skills, strengths and other qualities.
An interview is an opportunity for both parties to discover more about each other. If you have little or no interview experience, you are likely to suffer from pre-interview nerves. This is nothing unusual and experienced interviewers will expect it. Remember: nerves are good – they show you want the job.
Preparing for your interview will enable you to tailor your questions, increase your confidence and show the employer you are keen, thoughtful and can plan ahead. Think of responses that will back up your positive qualities.
- Think about where your strongest skill or strength lies. This is what sets you apart from the rest.
- Where have you successfully employed this in the past? Outline what you did – and the results.
- Showing enthusiasm to learn new skills is vital. Think about past occasions when you have actively taken on new skills and methods.
- Problem-solving is a major area for scrutiny in interviews, so prepare some anecdotes about problems you have encountered and overcome.
- Interests or pastimes are important to a recruiter because they demonstrate your motivation, values and, in some cases, your intelligence. Think about leisure activities that may have relevant attributes for your potential career.
- Do your homework on the organisation. Showing that you have done this is critical, as it will demonstrate that you are keen, confident and knowledgeable. You can also sell yourself by introducing your research through questions.
- Contact the company and ask them to send you some literature, such as annual reports, newsletters and brochures, or use the Internet or your local library.
- Read relevant trade journals and use your network of contacts to see if you can find out anything about the company and the person who will be interviewing you.
- Use stories or to give examples, because they are more likely to stick in an interviewer's mind.
Think about where your strongest skills or positive qualities lie as this is what sets you apart from the rest. The STAR method is a useful tool to help you frame responses for tough interview questions:
S – Define the situation: set the scene and remember to focus on a specific event or activity. This could relate to your studies, sporting activities or work (paid or voluntary).
T – Identify the task: what’s required, when, where, who.
A – Describe the action taken or initiated: what you did, skills used, behaviours, characteristics. For this aspect the focus needs to be on what you’ve done, so use of “I” rather than “we”.
R – Highlight the result achieved: the outcome or what was achieved. Try to identify more than one positive outcome.
You won’t be able to predict the questions the interviewer will ask, but using the STAR method you can compile some “stories” (remember to be truthful) to demonstrate your skills. Using examples will help the information to stick in an interviewer's mind and reinforce the message you are trying to convey. These mini “case studies” can then be applied in response to the questions posed by the interviewer. Remember to always relate the answer to the question posed rather than just reeling off a rehearsed monologue of actions undertaken in the past.
It is important to have a few questions to ask the interviewer at the end of the interview. Nine times out of 10 you will be asked if you have questions and it can look bad if you do not have at least a couple. Prepare in advance. Use a plain postcard to note down your questions, but remember: do not ask about terms and conditions until you have been offered the job. Try to ask about things that will show your keenness for the position. For example:
- Ask them to expand on the details of the job itself – the job profile
- Ask about what the team is currently working on
- Ask what type of training is provided
- Be careful with respect to questions about promotion. It is a minefield, so you are better off asking an oblique question, such as, ‘How do you see the role developing?'
- Find out why they are recruiting for this position
- Asking questions about the interviewer is always a winner. People love talking about themselves.
- How did you get into this industry? What do you like about working for this company? Where do you see the company being in five years' time?
At the interview you will have already asked about the next steps in the recruitment process and the likely timeframe. You could just sit back wait to hear from the employer. However, it is always useful to get feedback from the employer as it will show that you are keen. Plus, even if you are not successful, it will help you to prepare for future interview situations.