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Preparing for your interview

First things first, congratulate yourself on securing a formal interview! You have been chosen from a large pool of candidates and you’ve done really well! No doubt you will be listening to great advice from those closest to you saying “just be yourself, you’ll be fine” however, you know that this will not be enough to secure the job you really want.

Hiring Managers are looking for the best person to fill their vacancy and they are interviewing you to find out if you are the best person. However, a job interview is always a two-way street. Not only do you need to convince an employer that you are right for their job, you also need to feel assured that they are right for you. Fail to plan, plan to fail. This phrase couldn’t be more pertinent when it comes to preparing for an interview. 

Initial Preparation

Being organised will alleviate some of those 'on the day' nerves and so that you set yourself up for success. Firstly, test out the journey to the interview. Sit outside in your car and observe people entering and leaving the building. Dress code has changed considerably over the years, and for many companies, the 'suited and booted' look has disappeared. What people wear to work nowadays varies by culture, and while you need to opt for the smarter version of the company's standard dress code, first impressions will make a big difference.

Next, consider who you know who already works for the organisation or someone who may be able to advocate you in the organisation. LinkedIn will be a great tool in this instance. Set up a time to speak with them and have an in-depth conversation to find out more about the organisation, the role and your potential interviewers

  • Follow the corporate social media pages (LinkedIn & Facebook) to review recent posts and recent news and press releases, which could educate you on their growth and stability
  • Research the company's and industry's challenges, trends and opportunities
  • Review the company's Glassdoor Reviews. Bear in mind that people will only usually comment if they have had an excellent or poor experience working for the organisation, so ensure you are reading the reviews in this context
  • For more senior roles, go onto Company's House to review their last financial results. Having an understanding financially of how the company is performing can highlight some pressure points that you might be able to help with

Develop a list of insightful questions about the organisation based upon your research. This will show the employer that you have done your homework and that you are genuinely interested in working for them. 

Company Research

 Your interviewer will ask you specific questions around their business, so make sure that you do your homework. 

  • Visit the company's website to ensure you fully understand the nature of their business
  • Review the careers pages to understand and appreciate the company's values, vision and mission statement

Find out about your interviewers

Ensure you know the format of the interview and who and how many people will be interviewing you, their names and job titles. To help to put you at ease and to demonstrate how well you have prepared, aim to find out more about the people who will be interviewing you. Look on LinkedIn and also the company website. Try and find out more about their background, how long they have worked for the company and what their role is.

Also, link in with your interviewers before your interview, this will allow them the opportunity to view your optimized profile and your LinkedIn activity, which will give a positive view of you before they meet you.

Understand the job

Your ability to talk simply to the interviewer about your relatable experience and transferable skills will be essential. 

  • Where possible, ask for a copy of the Job Description and Person Specification. If the company cannot provide you with these documents, review the job advertisement and look for people on LinkedIn who may be in a similar role with the company
  • Make a list of the knowledge, skills, behaviours and abilities required. How does your experience and personality traits compare to the attributes they will be seeking?
  • Talk to anyone you may know who is familiar with the kind of work you may be doing and aim to find out what qualities the prospective employer will be seeking. Particularly important if you haven't done this specific role before. 

Prepare some examples of relevant experiences you have encountered and successes and achievements you have had. Don't forget to provide data and evidence to back up each one.

For the inevitable questions

There are three questions which will feature in every interview you attend and mastering your answer to each one before your interview will help you to showcase your best self.

1. Tell me about your career journey to date?

This question sets the tone of the interview, but so many interviewees can spend far too long answering this question, losing the interest of the interviewer very early on. Ensure you craft a response which is concise, natural, involves some story-telling and filter in your successes along the way.

2. Tell me about your achievements?

The employer is looking at the value you can bring to their organisation, and they are looking for reassurance and evidence to substantiate this. You need to know your numbers when you are delivering your answers. Ensure you go into detail around sales, profit, new client wins, cost savings and KPI performance, whichever is relevant to your background and the role. Show ownership of the part you played in your impactful response.

3. Why do you want this job?

A predictable question as it's so important. Your response to this question should demonstrate that you have done your research about the company and the position. Use your knowledge to connect your skills and interests. Find something specific about the employer that attracts you to the position/company. It could be their training and development, their public image, or their mission etc.

4. Describe a time when you have worked effectively as part of a team?

We call questions like these competency-based questions. An employer will be looking for a specific example of when you have worked as part of a team. So, try to avoid giving just a general response. Describe the Situation, the Task you had to complete as a team, the Action you took and the Result.

5. What are your strengths?

A great question to ask as this is where you can showcase your most relevant skills and attributes. Sometimes, it can feel uncomfortable to answer this question as you won't want to appear that you are showing off or boasting. A simple way to get around this is to respond as if someone else is describing your strengths. For example, "My lecturers often compliment me on my curiosity. I am never afraid to ask a question if I am unsure and would like to find out more. Asking questions has accelerated my learning and my ability to achieve higher grades, a strength I feel will be necessary for the workplace to ensure that I am as productive as possible. Another strength is my reliability. I rarely took a day off school or college. I appreciate that reliability and commitment will be essential to the workplace too".

6. What are your weaknesses?

A question which many dread. To respond well to this question, think about something that you have worked hard to improve. For example, you may have struggled to feel confident meeting new people.

"When I was younger, I wasn't very self- confident. I didn't find it easy to speak to people who I didn't know. When I started my Saturday job serving in the local fish and chip shop, I was initially very nervous. However, I soon realised that the more I did it, the more confident I became. By the end of time I left there I was confident building rapport, I recognised the regulars and knew their favourite orders, and I was able to deal with complaints".

7. Do you have any questions for us?

Never reply with "you seem to have covered everything". It's a weak response and will give the impression that you are not interested in the role or organisation. Instead, hold back some insightful questions to ask at the end which demonstrate your genuine interest in working for them. The worst thing you can say is no, I do not have any questions. Preparing questions in advance will be essential. It's perfectly acceptable to write them down in a neat notebook not only does this show that you are well- prepared you won't forget what they are. Remember, you are interviewing them as much as they are interviewing you. You need to ensure that if you receive a job offer that you will be happy to accept. Avoid questions about sick pay, money, holidays, etc.

Here are a few questions to consider;

  • What is a typical career path for this position?
  • Can you provide me with more information on the training programme?
  • Will I be working as part of a team? If so, can you tell me more about the team?
  • Why do you like working for the company?
  • How will my performance be assessed?

By asking the right questions, it will show the interviewer that you have a genuine interest in the position and the company.

Finally, think of how you can stand out from the crowd. It could be that you have an insightful question about the industry/company from your research or you take a portfolio of relevant work.