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Preparation is a key ingredient for an interview

Getting your preparation right is the best way to reduce nerves and to ensure that you perform well on the day.
Key aspects of preparation are:

  • What the employer is looking for: understanding what the employer is looking for and how you meet the criteria specified. Go back to those initial three questions (Can you do the job? Will you do the job? Will you fit in?) Think about the skills and experience you have and how they link into the position you are interviewing for.
  • Commercial awareness: what is the nature of their business? By understanding the culture, customers, marketplace and who their competitors are will give you the winning edge.
  • Knowing the details of your interview: what is expected – a presentation, test or interview, what time it is taking place, location, travel, contact details in case of a problem. Like the old adage says “Fail to prepare, prepare to fail”.

What are the different types of interviews?

Understanding what the employer is looking for

When recruiting for any post the employer will draw up 2 documents:

Job description: This is a document that outlines the duties and responsibilities of the job itself. It will describe the typical duties that you would be required to undertake if successful within the recruitment process.

Person specification: This is a key document as it will clearly set out the mix of skills, knowledge and experience being sought. In other words this describes the person they are looking for.

Job descriptions and person specifications are readily available when applying for jobs within the public sector but may not be as readily available when applying for jobs within the private sector or for graduate programmes. If this is the case then it will be necessary to analyse the job advertisement or the graduate recruitment web pages to discern the mix of skills, knowledge and experience being sought.

Understanding what the organisation is looking for and identifying the evidence to show how you meet their criteria is perhaps the most important aspect of your preparation. Questions asked during interview will focus on the criteria and the expectation is that you will provide some specific evidence that illustrates the competency being focused on.

The STAR approach can help you to reflect on the range of your experiences and to identify specific examples that could be used at interview to demonstrate how you have developed and applied the skills, competency or quality that they are looking for.

A candidate for a marketing executive role might be asked: “Tell me about a time that you solved a problem to a tight time-scale.” Here’s how you could structure your response:

Situation

Situation - set the context for your story.

For example, "We were due to be delivering a presentation to a group of 30 interested industry players on our new product and Stuart, the guy due to deliver it, got stuck on a train from Birmingham".

Task

Task - what was required of you.

For example, "It was my responsibility to find an alternative so it didn’t reflect badly on the company and we didn’t waste the opportunity".

Action

Action - what you actually did.

For example, "I spoke to the event organisers to find out if they could change the running order. They agreed so we bought ourselves some time. I contacted Susan, another member of the team, who at a push could step in. She agreed to drop what she was doing and head to the event."

Result

Result - how well the situation played out.

For example, "Stuart didn’t make the meeting on time but we explained the problem to the delegates and Susan’s presentation went well – a bit rough around the edges but it was warmly received. Stuart managed to get there for the last 15 minutes to answer questions. As a result we gained some good contacts, at least two of which we converted into paying clients".

Types of interview question

The questions asked at interview can take a variety of forms but would generally include the following types.

  • Checking questions: Can you confirm your contact address?
  • Warm-up questions: Tell me a little bit about yourself?
  • Competency questions: Tell me about a time when you have an effective contribution to a team?
  • Scenario / Hypothetical question: What would you do in a situation where…
  • Challenging questions: Tell me something that has not gone as well as you would like and how did you handle this?
  • Behavioural questions: An example of this could be ‘Tell me about a recent successful experience in making a speech or presentation?’

There are many themes and variations on the options given above; you can guarantee that a number of questions will fall under these brackets.

You can prepare yourself in advance by thinking of examples of answers you can give and one way to do this is to re-look at the job description and person specification and think about what the job entails.

Asking questions

It is normal practice to be given the opportunity to ask the panel any questions. Preparing your questions is a good idea and it can be useful to take them into the interview with you.

It would be a good idea to avoid questions relating to pay and holidays at this stage, you can discuss this when an offer is made. Instead focus on topics such as training and development, future plans for the organisation, mentoring programmes. With regards the specific job role you could ask ‘What are the key tasks of the job itself?’ or ‘What would typically be done by a new entrant to the firm?’

Also if you find your questions have been asked during the interview then it is fine to say ‘all my questions have been answered’.

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Final preparation

  • Do some research on the company and prepare questions to ask, this shows you are keen on securing the position and are interested in the company
  • Re-read your application form and or CV
  • Decide which examples of your skills and experience to use in the interview
  • Re read the invitation letter to ensure that you have prepared everything needed for the day. If possible re-check your travel arrangements ensuring that you have sufficient time
  • Make an appointment with the Employability Team who can take you through a mock interview process

After the interview

It is always useful to seek feedback on your interview performance – even when you have been successful. By contacting the interviewers in the days following interview you may get some information on you came across and how you can improve your performance.

Further Help

It is possible to arrange a mock interview with the Employability Team which will give you the opportunity to practice and test yourself in an interview situation. If you need any more help or wish to make an appointment with our Employability Team please use the contact details below.