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How to prepare for an interview – five essential tips

Often I get contacted after a client has failed multiple times at an interview and is feeling at an all time low. In the majority of cases they are spending a great time preparing but in the wrong way. Below are a five essential interview preparation tips to get back on track and be successful:

1.Know yourself

Interview Preparation TipIf you want to be chosen for the job then you need a clear idea of why you are the best candidate. This is often not thought about at all and if you don’t know then there is little chance that the recruiters will know after an hour’s interview or that all the interviewers will share the same positive impression of you. Clearly your strengths need to be relevant to the role and ideally offering added value. Telling them that you’re a hard worker, enthusiastic and honest are expected traits and will not differentiate you sufficiently from the competition. Highlighting a few of the essential criteria is positive but is unlikely to wow them as other candidates are likely to meet the essential criteria too. Think more about your combined strengths, where you’ve demonstrated these values and importantly when it’s had an impact at work.

2. Understand the role

A job specification will normally include the purpose, responsibilities, skills and abilities of the role. It’s your road map to landing the job. Apply for roles where there is a close match between the essential skills required and your own experience and skills. Against each skills ask yourself, ‘have I got significant experience of this?’ If the job description says that an essential skill is over 5 years experience leading transformational IT change programmes the there’s little point in applying if you haven’t got this experience.

I’m always surprised when a client tells me that they have been to interviews without having access to a job specification through the advise of a recruitment agency. Unless you have spare time on your hands and are just looking for a little interview experience, I believe it is a waste of time going for these interviews as without the job specification you don’t know whether the role is right for you or how to prepare for the interview, and every rejection will knock your confidence further. It’s suggests that the organisation haven’t yet decided who they are looking for or why so the chance of being offered a suitable job is very small.

3. Know the company

This sounds so obvious but often candidates don’t look beyond the company website. This is essential in order to demonstrate your motivation for the role or organisation. Think blog posts, published reports, social media pages, industry reports and even competitors’ websites.  Whilst you are job-hunting you can set up Google Alerts to receive daily or weekly news on a company or sector without having to do the research yourself. One client I worked with was moving from a role in the NHS to the private sector and in a mock interview with me I asked her, ‘What challenges the company faced‘?’ She answered by saying that she wasn’t sure about the private sector but thought they must be similar to the NHS and went on to describe the many challenges of working in the NHS. This was not a good answer, it didn’t demonstrate her motivation or analytical skills and suggested that she was struggling in her current role.  She then went away and carried out in depth research on the company and was successful in the interview.  So, a good check to see whether you have sufficient information is to ask yourself, ‘What challenges do the organisation face in the year ahead?’

4. Have stories ready

Most interviews today follow a behaviour competency structure and will ask you to describe times when you’ve demonstrated the skills they are looking for.  For example, ‘Give us an example of a time when you needed to keep calm under pressure?’ Whilst it is possible for you to remember stories whilst you are in the interview it is much more challenging to tell the story with sufficient depth. This is needed if you are going to get a high assessment and this is where many candidates fall down. There are many acronyms that can be used to help your structure your story but a common one is STAR; Situation, Task, Action and Result or PAR; Problem, Action and Result.  You’ll be more engaging and memorable if you can tell both relevant and interesting stories. If you are applying for a leadership position then the stories need to demonstrate your ability to manage complexity and overcome challenges. Don’t be afraid to share some war stories.

5. First impression matter

Projecting confidence is essential. It makes others want to work with you and have you on their team.  Even today when work dress is more casual in many organisations appearances still matter. You need to look appropriately smart and groomed. Portraying confident body language, making eye contact and being able to speak up and communicate clearly all matters. Try and talk to some colleagues whose opinion you trust and ask them how you come across. Then use the mirror to practise answering some questions and be aware of your body language and voice.  You are unlikely to get the same questions but practising thinking and speaking on your feet can help to build and portray confidence.

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