Interview Techniques and Tips
Following on from my recent article about writing good CV’s I thought it would be a logical move to write down my thoughts on some interview techniques and tips. Again, I can’t guarantee these tips will get you the job, you have to demonstrate you’re the right candidate for that, but hopefully some of the guidance will prove useful.
The Big Picture
So let us first take a step back and think about where you are and what you’ve already achieved. You’ve found a job that interests you, you’ve probably filled out an application, written a cover letter, and tailored and submitted your CV. The recruiter has reviewed all your information and has contacted you for an interview. This is excellent – well done! This means you have stood out from most of the other candidates, and the organisation is considering hiring you. You should use this as a great confidence boost and remind yourself of this before your interview.
Do not underestimate the amount of preparation needed for a good interview; it can easily take several times the amount of time of the interview itself!
Preparing the Practicalities
First of all think about the practical and logistical aspects:
Where is the interview?
You might think you know but are you sure? If practical drive there the day before and make sure you know where you’re going. If that’s not practical, use Google street maps and street view to familiarise yourself with the area
How are you going to get there?
If by train or bus, find out the schedules. If you’re driving work out how long its going to take to drive there, taking into account the time of day (if its rush hour add more time). Think about where you can park and how close it is to the interview location. Make sure you have change for the parking meter. Always add some contingency time onto your journey as thinks can, and often do, go wrong.
Do you know where to go once you get to the interview location e.g. reception, and who to ask for?
If not ask your recruitment contact.
What are you going to wear?
- The day of the interview can be stressful enough without having trouble finding a shirt that’s clean or a suit that fits. Make sure you decide a day or two before your interview and try things on!This gives you a day or two to find something new if what you have is not suitable.
- Give your shoes a polish before the big day too. Doing this when you’re all dressed up invariably ends up with polish all over your hands and shirt, which is not a good look! Trainers are a big no-no when interviewing for a professional position.
- Make sure whatever you wear its smart, clean, and comfortable. There’s nothing worse than sitting in an uncomfortable situation such as an interview, in uncomfortable clothes.
Once you know where you’re going, how you’re getting there, and what you’re wearing, you can start to think a bit more about what you’re going to say. Ensure you know the type of interview you are going for and prepare accordingly.
If you’re going for a practical or technical based interview make sure you revise your technical knowledge in the days before the interview. They won’t expect you to know everything, but they will expect you to know how to find out. For example, if you’re going for a job as an experienced programmer in a particular coding language, you would be expected to know the basic keywords and how to develop that into complex programs. They won’t expect you to know some of the less common keywords, but if they ask you about them, be honest. Say “I don’t know what the exact actual coding would be, but I would find out quickly by using the reference guide or online documentation”. Remember, technical interviews will be led by technical people, and they’ll know if you’re making stuff up or trying to blag it.
If you’re going for a competency based or general interview, think about the sorts of questions you might be asked. The interviewer will be looking for certain characteristics about you when asking questions, such as team work, dealing with problems, communication, making difficult decisions, and so on. Make sure you think up 2-3 examples of each that you can tell them about when asked. For example, consider the question, “Can you give me an example of when you’ve had to intervene when a project was going badly”. An answer might be, “I took over a project recently which was red flagged as it was badly off track. I investigated the bottlenecks quickly, and escalated appropriately to remove them. I also introduced additional resources to catch up and get back on track, and the project went live on time”. This is of course an example answer and you could add more personal detail into the response based on your scenario. You would probably be probed for more detail on how you went about your investigation and therefore be able to demonstrate more of your skills, but this basic answer uses an important interview technique by addressing the three strands of a competency based answer. Those three important things to remember are:
1. What was the situation? The project was red flagged and off track
2. What did you do/what was your behaviour? I investigated the bottlenecks, escalated and removed them, introduced extra hands
3. What was the outcome? The project successfully got back on track
Remember! Situation, Behaviour, Outcome
- Before the interview, make sure you re-read your CV and application. These documents will likely be the basis on which a lot of the interview questions are derived and so you need to remind yourself of your previous projects and experiences. Remember, if you’ve had any gaps in employment, prepare a good answer to these. “I thought I’d take some time off and be lazy” is not a good answer. “I took a career break to spend some quality time with my new child”, or “to go travelling to broaden my horizons” are more rounded answers. I’m not saying make it up, just phrase things wisely! They are likely to ask you to expand upon whatever you tell them
- Always re-read the job description and look for the key attributes the recruitment team are looking for. Prepare your answers based on these attributes
- Research the company you are applying for, and in particular the department you are looking to join. Try and demonstrate you’ve done this research in some of your answers. It shows you’re really interested in the position, and that you’ve taken the time to understand what the company does, what its values are, and where you would fit in
- Questions for them – always prepare 2-3 questions for the interviewers. More so around the future of the company, or development opportunities, rather than questions about pay etc. This can show you’re interested in staying with the company long term
On the day
So you’ve done your prep, you’re all smartened up and ready to go. As mentioned before make sure you get there in plenty time. Arrive at the reception desk (or wherever instructed) around 10 minutes before your allotted time and ask for your contact.
When your interviewer comes to meet you, remember, first impressions count! Say hello, smile, make eye contact, and shake hands. As you’re walking to the interview room make small talk, don’t stay silent. Typical ice breakers tend to be talking about the weather, or commenting on the “nice offices”, or how easy/tough it was to get to the office.
Take the lead from your interviewer; sit down when they do or when invited to. If it’s hot in the room, don’t be afraid to ask if you can remove your suit jacket, or ask for a glass of water if one isn’t already provided.
Normally, your interviewer should explain the format of the interview and any specifics they want to mention. A good interviewer will introduce themselves so you know who you’re dealing with, and they’ll summarize the role so you know you’re in the right interview!
When they are asking questions, try to remain calm, and don’t get flustered if you can’t think of an answer straight away. Interviewing is a nerve wracking process and sometimes your mind goes blank. It happens. Maybe ask your interviewer to repeat or reword the question and something will probably trigger an answer in your mind. Make sure you provide full answers (definitely not one word answers!), but don’t waffle – get to the point – remember “Situation, Behaviour, Outcome”. Also – listen to the full question. Its easy to hear the first few words of a question and think of an answer, but if you’ve missed the second part of the question, your answer maybe irrelevant.
Remember to keep smiling! An interview is a serious occasion, but try not to get overly serious, keep things light hearted where possible, don’t be afraid to add a little humour, just be careful it’s appropriate, and not controversial. Having said that, if an attempt at humour doesn’t go well after the first attempt, maybe avoid a second attempt and consider if you really want to work in such a serious place!
Try to ensure you use every question as an opportunity to demonstrate the attributes that they are looking for in the role, but don’t kick yourself afterwards if you forget one or two examples, you only have 45 minutes to an hour to impress!
If you are currently employed, you will almost certainly be asked why you want to leave your current employer. Try to keep things positive no matter how bitter you are, or how much you hate working where you are now (if that is the case). Point out that you’re looking for new opportunities, and mention what those opportunities are that you’re looking for.
One thing I can’t stress enough is, I’ve had so many interviews where all the candidate talks about is what they want, and what my company can give them. That’s not what recruiters like to hear. Recruiters want to know what you can bring to their company, why they should hire you, and what advantages to the company there would be.
Finally, end the interview with asking when you should hear from them about the outcome, and thank them for seeing you.
- First impressions count - be smart, friendly, and polite
- Don’t be late, unless there is some sort of unprecedented event which has made everybody else late too, there’s no excuse!
- The potential employer already likes what they see on paper, you just need to convince them that what you claim is true, and that you are a personable, high quality candidate
- Never bad mouth your current or previous employers
- Remember its what you can bring to the new company, NOT what they can do for you
- Situation, Behaviour, Outcome
After the Interview
After the interview, relax!!! It’s all over and there’s nothing more you can do. Try not to get hung up on the things you did or didn’t say. You can’t go back in time and change what’s already happened so there’s no point worrying about it. Keep your phone with you and hope for the best. If you don’t get the job, ask for feedback on why not. Don’t take the feedback personally; use it to your advantage the next time you have an interview. If you do get the job, congratulations! Be careful not to resign straight away though, ensure you have an unconditional contract in place first. Some initial contracts are conditional on receipt of satisfactory references or other documentation. Whatever happens, whether you accept the job or not, enjoy the satisfaction of being the right candidate for the job and being chosen over all the other applicants!
I hope this has been of some use, and that you can use some of these interview techniques and tips I’ve mentioned above to your advantage. Good luck and thanks for reading!
© Geordieg00 2010
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