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 deal of time preparing but are preparing in the wrong way. Below are a five essential interview preparation tips to get back on track and be successful:
1. Know yourself
If 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 do not know why you are the best 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 are 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 and when you have demonstrated these values, and most importantly when this has had a positive impact at work.
2. Understand the role
A job specification will normally include the purpose, responsibilities, skills and abilities of the role. This is 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 skill 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 then there is little point in applying if you do not have this experience.
I am always surprised when a client tells me that they have been to interviews without having access to a job specification through the advice 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 do not know whether the role is right for you nor how to prepare for the interview, and every rejection will knock your confidence further. It suggests that the organisation has not 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 do not look beyond the company website but doing some further research is essential in order to demonstrate your motivation for the role or organisation. Look for 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 does the company face?’ She answered by saying that she was not 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 as it did not 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 does the organisation face in the year ahead?’
4. Have stories ready
Most interviews today follow a behavioural competency structure and will ask you to describe times when you have 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 a story with the depth that 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 will 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. Do not be afraid to share some war stories.
5. First impressions matter
Projecting confidence is essential as 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.