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You’ve been invited to an interview but keep getting rejected. How do you ace an interview? The fact of having been invited to an interview indicates that your application was well received and that on paper, at least, you demonstrated that you have the requisite skills, knowledge and experience required to effectively carry out the role. For most people what comes next, namely the interview(s), proves to be far more challenging. Once you have been invited to an interview there are two key elements which require your full and undivided attention:

  • Thorough Preparation
  • Intensive Practice

Interview Skills Clinic offers one-one interview coaching to help you achieve the success you deserve. On the face of it this seems very straightforward, namely, read the job description, and prepare some examples which demonstrate the key skills and experience listed within. However, when there is often little information to glean regarding the interview format, the interviewee can be left feeling at a loss concerning where to start. To help you get ahead of the competition, here is a plan which should help you to structure your preparation so that the intensive practise that you undertake is relevant and focused. Candidates who have secured roles ahead of you will undoubtedly have got these two elements right.

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Prepare to Succeed: Knowing the Interview Format

When you start preparing for an upcoming interview there are a few key steps to follow. The first is to gather every piece of intelligence and information that you can lay your hands on to develop with reasonable certainty a clear picture of the interview process.

How many stages will there be to the interview process?

You need to know this so that you can prepare accordingly as each interview will typically require a different approach.

How to find out

This information may be provided within the job description, for example Civil Service job descriptions are very detailed and will state exactly how the interview process will run. Some large corporations also have a very structured and well documented approach, for example Amazon typically has four interviews at management level. If you are applying through a recruiter, then they should be able to tell you or if you have applied directly to an organisation there is no harm in approaching the HR contact.

The Screening Interview and how to prepare

Typically, this is a 30-minute telephone interview with either a member of the HR team, the recruiter if you are applying through a recruitment agency, or the hiring manager. This is used to explore your CV and your motivation for the role. It is crucial for them to know why you moved between roles, how your career has developed, and why you are motivated by this role and the company in general. Do not forget to research the company’s mission and values so that you know what the cultural fit is likely to be.

The Panel Interview and how to prepare

Following a successful screening interview, you will be invited to a first interview. This is where the hiring manager, joined by other relevant members of the organisation, seek to challenge your skills and experience using some or all the following types of question:

  • Competency-based
  • Strength-based
  • Value-based
  • Situational

If the interview invitation does not give details of the interview format, then you should ask. You can also visit websites such as Glassdoor.com to gather feedback from others who have already undergone the process.

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Typical Panel Interview Question Formats and examples:

Opening Questions

Prepare your answer to an opening question such as ‘Why are you interested in this role?’, ‘What skills and insights will you bring to the team?’ or ‘What do you know about our organisation and why does it interest you?’  To answer these questions, you must craft a polished personal sales pitch. This should last up to three minutes and will walk the panel through the relevant examples from your career which demonstrate the skills, knowledge, and experience that they are looking for.

Competency Based Questions

The interview will undoubtedly contain competency-based questions which is a tried and tested way to find out how you handle a relevant task. You should prepare examples using the STAR format (Situation, Task, Action, Result) and make certain that each one has a degree of challenge and complexity; describing just another day at the office will not impress! You need to really focus on how the actions you took led you to achieve the task. Common example competencies are Communication, Influencing, Organisational Skills, Teamwork, and Leadership.

Strength Questions

Strength-based questions are more direct and demand shorter answers. They are designed to uncover whether a particular strength comes naturally to you because it will help you to be successful in the role. For example: How adaptable are you? Do you like explaining things to others? Make sure to identify the potential required strengths from the Job description and craft some brief examples. Expected answers are generally 90 seconds in duration and must include anecdotal evidence to support your claims.

Know the Company

You must complete detailed research around the company in advance of the interview and be able to impress the panel with your knowledge of any recent news or developments.

Practice, Practice, Practice

Importantly, once you have completed your research and examples you must practice, as it is essential to know what you are going to say without using notes. If you know your examples well, then you will be able to concentrate more on your communication and less on your words. A helpful tip when practising is to record yourself, preferably in front of a video camera so you can observe how you come across. Are you easy to follow, do you radiate energy and are you engaging? If you find that you are falling short on your communication skills, then you may want to consider seeking some coaching support to help boost both your preparation and delivery.

Prepare a couple of questions of your own so that you can ask informed questions at the end of the interview. Don’t make these too complex, try and choose a topic around something that the organisation is doing which you find interesting and want to learn more about. For instance, if the department that you are joining is newly formed then asked how the development is going.

Having successfully navigated your way through the first two interviews, there will be a final deciding interview. This will normally be with the hiring manager’s boss or a member of the senior team. This is generally more focused on how you will fit into the organisations’ culture and to discern whether you be an asset to the existing team. Think about how the people that you have already met, been interviewed by, or have seen on the website dress and present themselves. Study the language the company uses and how much emphasis they place on the company’s core values and try to reflect these in your answers to ensure that you present yourself as a plausible future member of the team.

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In summary:

  1. Do your homework. You need to understand the types of interviews that are going to be used in the recruitment process and plan your approach to each.
  2. Practice your personal sales pitch. Why should they hire you?
  3. Craft your competency answers using the STAR method or design short concise examples for strength-based questions.
  4. Research the company in depth.
  5. Practice in front of a video camera and be motivated and enthusiastic. If your interview is via video link, then this is an excellent way to prepare.
  6. On the day of the interview do not talk over the interview panel or pre-empt what they are going to ask. Listen carefully to each question and be sure to modulate your pace and tone of voice so that you remain interactive and engaging to listen to.

If after following these recommended steps you still feel that you are not presenting yourself in the right way, then consider seeking coaching support, with a view to finding a better indication of how to improve and gaining some additional key tips on how to secure that dream job.

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