Congratulations! If you have been called for an interview for a job, it means that you have passed the first hurdle. ”On paper” (your CV and application letter) it appears that you satisfy the criteria for the role.
The purpose of the interview is to meet in person (or over the phone, or Skype / videoconference) to get a feel for you as a person and how you would fit into the culture of the company and future potential. Some things to remember for your interview and preparation:
- The interview starts as soon as it is called. You will be observed in how you respond to the interview request. Don’t be too difficult in arranging time (they possibly have several people to interview and only a small window of time). Offer to move other appointments if you need to, or negotiate a time that suits both parties. Remember to ask who will be participating in the interview and their positions (if it’s a panel interview you will want to do your research beforehand). When you arrive at the interview venue, be aware that the receptionist and others you come in contact with can all be contributors to the hiring decision.
- Prepare questions, research and practice. Much like preparing your application, you need to think of how to present your experience, skills and what you can offer this company. You need to research them, so that you can see what the hot spots are to highlight. Use the acronym SAO(SW) when preparing for common questions that ask a behavioural question such as “can you tell me a time when you had to deal with a difficult customer or client?”
- S – Situation. Briefly give a description of the incident to paint the scene for the interviewer.
- A – Action. What did you do? What actions did you and/or your team take? What tasks did you complete? Use this stage to highlight your skills and having done your research about the company and position, choose aspects that highlight that you have the skills, abilities and experiences for the job. Try to keep to a logical format and give three main actions you took (too many and you might lose them…)
- O – Outcome. Outline what actually happened as a result of your actions. Don’t forget this bit, it’s important to highlight what you were able to achieve as a result of your actions. Eg. “These actions saved the company $20K in fees.”
- SW – So What? Link the outcome to the aims of the organisation. eg. The outcome “I achieved the publishing of the annual report by the deadline”, is added to with “so, I have the experience, skills, knowledge and contacts to be able to produce a high quality annual report for X (company name) in a timely manner.” Try to address their pain points, for example, if you know they have had problems in the past you can address them here if relevant, by offering a solution.
Write out various scenarios and learn them. Teamwork, difficult people, reaching deadlines, developing partnerships are just some that you may encounter, along with “what are your strengths and weaknesses” and “where do you see yourself in 5 years time?”. Ensure that you review the job description, selection criteria and any other recruitment documentation if provided, as these will provide clues for interview questions likely to be asked.
You will often be asked to provide a brief background or “tell us a bit about yourself”. Narrow down to some key elements that suit the role you are going for. Avoid giving them your entire life story! Around 2-3 minutes is good for this, so practice with some bullet points and time yourself. Also prepare for “why did you apply for this role?” “It appears to be a great fit for my skills, experience and interests and provide opportunities to develop my interests in ……..” (while sometimes the truth is closer to “because I need a job!?”, of course the former response is closer to what they are really looking for.)
Your responses ideally should be shaped around the interviewer and organisation. How you fit THEM. In answering, always try to tie your response, to the company and how what you just told them can be of benefit. eg. “I’ve prepared and produced documentation for the Board for over 3 years. I am confident that I can prepare your board papers as well as take care of the minutes and any other reporting you require”.
- Research your interviewer/s. Find out who is going to be interviewing you – their names and titles / organisations (if externally sourced). Beyond Googling, you might check their LinkedIn profiles (remember that you may be seen to have viewed them, which isn’t a bad thing necessarily). Viewing their headshots, printing them out and having them on your pin up board or on the fridge may help you to get to know them beforehand so they are more familiar on sight and you can remember their names more easily.
- Dress appropriately. Seek advice on this, for the specific industry that you are interviewing for. Insurance is more conservative than graphic design for example. If it’s possible to do a “recon” beforehand if you are unsure, then do so. Present yourself neatly and smartly, with attention to detail. Good interview “outfits” don’t need to be expensive, you can get great clothes at op shops. In general dress smartly and “up” ie a bit more formal/professional that you usually might and pay close attention to your grooming.
- Prepare physically. When I worked with elite athletes I learned that they each have their preparation before going into “battle”. It may be listening to music, going for a walk in nature, having a quiet cup of coffee to collect your thoughts or any manner of things that personally help you prepare. It’s good to also to take on board the research Prof Amy Cuddy from Harvard presented in her popular TED talk “Your Body Language Shapes Who You Are”. This is a fabulous precursor to an interview (although you may wish to do those “power poses” in private!)
- Greet with a good handshake. No dead fish, knuckle crunchers or holding onto ends of fingers. Practice on someone! If it’s a panel interview, move around the room greeting each person and shake hands and say hello as you are introduced. (It is possible that you will be one of only a few who do this).
- Breathe! It’s okay to show a little bit of nervousness in the interview. This shows that you are keen on the role and trying to do your best. If you miss a question, or don’t hear correctly, just ask politely if the interviewer can repeat the question. Try not to fidget too much – place your hands on your lap and ground yourself by placing your feet flat on the floor.
- Have some questions prepared for the interviewer, as they will likely ask if you have any, usually towards the end of the interview. You may acknowledge that they have answered most of them during the interview process and perhaps have one to ask that is relevant and appropriate to the role or company.This is also your opportunity to give a closing statement. Eg.“Thank you all for your time today and the opportunity to interview. I’d like to say in closing that I am able to bring / contribute X……, Y…….. and Z and affirm my interest in the position. I look forward to hearing from you soon (or when they say they will advise you of the outcome).
- Following the interview, thank the interviewer/s for their time, using their names. If you feel it’s suitable, you can follow up with an email later that afternoon. (Again, this will put you in the minority).
- Learn from the experience. What did you do well? What do you feel that you could do better next time? If you get the role – celebrate! If not, ask the interviewer for some feedback. If they are helpful in this regard, follow up with a thank you note. It is not uncommon for the person selected to decide to take another role, or leave the job if it isn’t what they expected. You may get a “call up”!
- Like anything, you get better with practice. Take the opportunity to practice “role plays” (I know, it feels a bit silly, but think of it like an actor rehearsing for a performance) so that you feel prepared. Then give it all you’ve got. Good luck!
- Review, then detach. After the interview, you may have a feeling that you did well, or not. You did your best. Reflect on what you did well, and perhaps make some notes of what you will do better next time you interview if you felt there were some things you missed. You may find it useful to debrief with your career coach.
Now relax and reward yourself! – try to detach from the outcome, as you have done all you can and they will now make a decision based on many factors, including your interview performance. By all means follow up if you haven’t heard back a few days after the timeframe that was specified for you to receive a response. Here’s hoping that you will hear in the positive – then it’s on to the negotiations!