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Succeeding at Interview: Understanding the Role you are applying for and the motives of the interviewer

Updated on May 30, 2013

Our last article looked at how to increase your success at job interview by researching the organisation well. This is only part of the story. Two other “must does” of your interview preparation are understanding the position you are going for and understanding the interviewer’s motivations.

Do your research thoroughly
Do your research thoroughly

Understanding the Role

Run a search on any major jobs board and you will find that jobs with similar titles may in fact be very different in their substance. The fact that you have reached interview stage suggests there is something about your skills and experience which meet the employer’s expectations. However, beyond reading the advert and job description, you need to look into what the job will really involve. Here are some questions you should seek to answer:

  • Will you manage a team and if so, how many people will be in the team?
  • Will you hold a budget, and if so, how much? How much autonomy will you have over its expenditure?
  • How will your performance be measured? Will there be clear, measurable targets to meet or will there be a more subjective element, such as how well you mesh with your team?
  • Will you be paid a salary or will part of your remuneration be earned through commission?

You should find the answers to these questions in the information pack for applicants (this is commonly available online now and you should always look it up). However, if you don’t, you should seek clarification of these points at the interview. These are fundamental, and you should not be in any doubt about them if you are serious about the job.

Then, you need to look more deeply. If the new job is part of your natural career trajectory, you need to be sure it represents the correct next step for you. Here are some questions that you should seek answers to, ideally before the interview but, if not, before it’s over:

  • Where does the position fit into the employer’s organisation? In other words, how will you fit into the hierarchy?
  • Is this new role at the centre of things or is it more peripheral to the organisation’s main activities?

Depending on what you find out and especially if it looks like there is a significant difference in the position of your function vis-à-vis what you are used to, ask yourself honestly what you feel about this. If you are used to your function being central, how will you feel if the new organisation regards it as a support role? Similarly, if you have been used to working in support, are you ready to be thrust into the limelight?

Prepare before you leap!
Prepare before you leap!

Changing Careers

We know that many job seekers, by choice or necessity, are looking to change careers. If this is you, then hopefully your research will have started long before you made the application, never mind the shortlist for interview. Simply telling the interviewer that you have a “lifelong passion” for something, especially if there is nothing on your CV to support this claim, will not hold much water. Ensure that when you get to the interview you can do the following:

  • Demonstrate a thorough understanding of the role, drawing on real examples which show that you are a credible candidate.
  • Explain your transferable skills, closely matching them to the different elements of the job description. Do not expect the interviewer to make assumptions about suitability.

Of course, preparation for a career change cannot really be based on desk research alone. If you do not have the time or money to work shadow or retrain, network and get it from the horse’s mouth what it’s like to do the job. These might be traditional networks, or you may take advantage of social networks, such as LinkedIn, to find people who can help you. Having established a relationship with people, why not ask if you can call them to talk about what they do?

A few words on the interviewer

You should also give some thought to the motivations of the person who is interviewing you. People rarely fill a role just because there’s a vacancy. Bringing your thoughts together in this way will help you to frame how you present yourself and your experience.

You may be interviewed by a recruiter from an agency or directly by the company, probably by the hiring manager.

If you are being interviewed by a recruiter, bear in mind the bottom line (i.e. their fees) will be a major consideration. They need to be convinced that you are placeable and credible in the eyes of their client. If you cannot convince them of that, you will not progress.

If you are being interviewed by the hiring manager, you need to work out what is keeping them awake at night and show that you are the answer to their prayers. You should be able to work out what the problem is likely to be from your research in to the organisation. If not, ensure you unpick it – so you can address it – during the course of the interview

Of course, it is always worth finding out a bit about the interviewer beforehand – about their interests and what makes them tick. Use this knowledge to create rapport with the interviewer but beware false empathy: don’t pretend you have an interest in common with the interviewer if you don’t. They may seize the chance to discuss their pet subject and, stuck for words, your strategy may unravel rather quickly.

Never underestimate the human elements of recruiting. Researching well who your interviewer is will pay off every bit as much as having a thorough understanding of the organisation.

Next: Getting to the interview and what to do when you’re there.


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