Preparing For The Interview
Unlike preparing for a sporting event, you can never over-prepare before you go for an interview. You will never ‘leave your game on the training ground’. Think of each minute you spend in preparing as an investment in your potential career. To use a well-worn phrase: ‘Fail to prepare, then prepare to fail’.
When should I start preparing? Assuming that you did at least some preliminary research when you first decided to apply for the job, as soon as you receive the letter inviting you to interview! In order to prepare properly in terms of research on the organisation and analysis of yourself, you need to set aside time where you can be focused and free of interruptions.
You would be extremely lucky to attend an interview completely unprepared and sail through by a combination of your sparking personality and incisive wit (which no doubt you DO possess).
Remember, there are no second chances, no retakes in a real-life interview situation. You have to be on top of your game and be prepared to respond to questions you may find difficult and to talk about yourself in highly personal terms. This is not the time to hide your light under a bushel! The reality is that this is a selling exercise. You are selling yourself from the moment you submit that application form or post your CV.
Before you even embark on your journey of securing that fantastic job, it is advisable to take stock and do some self-assessment. In understanding what you are looking for in a job you can develop clear goals and targets to assist you. You shouldn't enter into looking for a new job frivolously. This is a potential life-changing decision after all!
There are many factors which may influence you reaching the decision to either begin work or change job. Maybe you feel you have not had the breaks you deserve this far. Maybe you’ve been overlooked in the past for promotion or development. Maybe you think circumstances are not right for you to have the job you want. I’m with George Bernard Shaw on this one, who said:
People are always blaming circumstances for what they are. I don’t believe in circumstances. The people who get ahead in this world are people who get up and look for the circumstances they want; and if they can’t find them, make them.
PERSONAL RATINGS AND COMPETENCIES
What follows is a simple method for assessing your strengths and weaknesses and also those skills known as ‘transferable skills’ or ‘competencies’ which are skills you acquire as you meander through life. They may be consciously acquired or gained by osmosis. Either way, these are not job-specific skills, but ones that can be readily applied to different roles. Incidentally, the word ‘competency’ has generated a lot of heat and light over the last few years within the world of human resources and indeed the interview which you attend may be described as a ‘competency-based interview’ or a ‘competency-focused interview’. In either case, what they mean is they will be asking you questions aimed at finding out whether or not you have the competency level in the areas they require rather than simply seeking confirmation of the information contained in your CV.
Have a look at the descriptions of competencies listed below.
Competencies tend to fall into broad categories such as those described below.
Drive for achievement
Defined as: The individual grasps opportunities to achieve and exceed their business and personal objectives; success is a great motivator for them; desires to perform tasks to the highest standards; is generally positive and enthusiastic at all times; does not suffer too greatly by setbacks and is tenacious; is resourceful and self-driven; can accept change and is flexible; has a high level of energy; leads by example.
Defined as: The individual can think about their industry/sector as a whole; can identify threats and opportunities to the organisation; can monitor the progress of short-and longer-term projects; can manage multiple priorities; understands the link between departmental and organisational objectives; recognises the interaction between people and technical issues in achieving objectives.
Defined as: The individual puts effort over a sustained period of time in building influential relationships; puts effort into building both external and internal relationships; understands the importance of good business relationships; demonstrates proactivity in utilising the expertise of others; works with others to formulate solutions; builds on friendships and actively networks.
Defined as: The individual understands how organisations work; can apply commercial and financial principles; demonstrates an active interest in the financial performance of the organisation in terms of profit and loss, cash-flow, added value, routes to market, competitiveness, etc.
Leadership of change
Defined as: The individual works with others to implement change; helps to clarify and avoid ambiguity; willingly accepts change; takes responsibility for driving things forward; can identify and initiate change; understands the interconnectivity of departments and how change affects others.
Defined as: The individual demonstrates an ability to share a sense of vision and common purpose; has respect of others through words and deeds; inspires loyalty and commitment; has an adaptable leadership style depending on individuals and circumstances; can create and build teams; is inspirational and enthusiastic; demonstrates empathy; can transform strategic objectives into firm actions.
Defined as: The individual demonstrates the ability to identify the actions needed to make things happen in a quality-oriented way; can ensure these actions are carried out; seizes opportunities to make improvements; establishes conditions to ensure continuous improvement; can plan and organise tasks; can challenge the status quo.
Defined as: The individual can demonstrate an ability to meet and exceed customer expectations; recognises the prime importance of the customer; can anticipate future customer needs; goes the extra mile for the customer; takes responsibility for developing long-term relationships with customers; forges partnerships that contribute to future growth opportunities for both customer and own organisation.
Decision-making skills and judgement
Defined as: The individual can demonstrate a readiness to make high-quality decisions based on the information to hand using logic and analytical skills; breaks complex issues into component parts; considers the outcomes of varying courses of action; can draw reliable conclusions from disparate and often conflicting sources of data; can make sound decisions in a timely manner; is able to make decisions with an awareness of the political climate internally.
Defined as: The individual demonstrates competence in convincing others or impresses them in such a way as to gain acceptance, agreement or behaviour change; sets a positive example by modelling behaviour; has excellent listening, oral and written communication skills; has the ability to influence peers, subordinates and superiors and key decision-makers; can influence at tactical and strategic levels.
Development of self and others
Defined as: The individual demonstrates an interest in the development of others as well as himself; seeks out opportunities to learn new skills; encourages others in their development; accepts coaching and mentoring responsibilities; monitors own and others' skill levels; keeps abreast of development in their chosen field.
Defined as: The individual demonstrates an ability to work cooperatively and productively with others; copies the teamworking styles of others; looks for opportunities to work in ad-hoc and established teams; understands how to set and monitor team objectives and goals; recognises the differing skill sets of individuals and the need for a mix within teams.
LEVELS OF COMPETENCE
Interviewers will often have already defined the levels of competence the potential jobholder will need to possess in each of these categories prior to the interview. Their ideal candidate will score above the minimum level against each particular competence. However, interviewers also live in the real world (hard to believe, I know) and may recognise that they are unlikely to find someone who straightaway exceeds their minimum requirements. More often than not, the candidate who has the highest overall score will be the one that receives the offer. The fact that you may score lower on one or more competencies does not necessarily mean that you won't be offered the job – an enlightened employer will then build training into your induction period which will address these shortcomings.
Which level of each of these competencies do you currently possess? It is easily understood that someone can be ‘OK’ at something or ‘brilliant’ at something in everyday life. But how do employers stratify the level of competence an individual has? Many organisations have gone through a long and painful process of examining their competencies and putting into words what each level of competence looks like. Below is a typical example of the type of analysis that has been done in the ‘real world’.
Drive for achievement
Level 1 – is motivated by success and the desire to perform tasks at a high standard.
- Shows the desire to perform tasks to a high standard.
- Is driven to achieve excellent standards.
- Is enthusiastic and adaptable.
- Displays high levels of energy.
- Enjoys working hard.
Level 2 – is positive and enthusiastic generally; is resourceful and proactive.
- Often makes suggestions and recommendations.
- Is not phased by setbacks or new challenges.
- Displays a flexible and proactive approach to work and achieving objectives.
- Regularly uses own initiative.
Level 3 – can accept change and is flexible and applies sustained energy in order to adapt to new requirements.
- Can articulate the need for business change to move the business forward.
- Creates an environment in which peers and subordinates can achieve challenging objectives.
- Remains positive in the face of setbacks.
- Seeks to find answers, not problems.
Level 4 – displays tenacity in the face of unforeseen circumstances and difficulties.
- Understands internal politics and interpersonal sensitivities and differing agendas.
- Takes on enthusiastically new challenges and tasks.
- Is an effective planner and maximises the use of everyone's time who is involved.
- Goes above and beyond what is needed to get the job done.
- Is not afraid of taking calculated risks.
Level 5 – Models drive and resilience and leads by example.
- Is single minded in achieving objectives.
- Is driven by objectives and targets the majority of people could not deliver.
- Tracks the progress towards the achievement of objectives.
- Displays passion in their role.
- Demonstrates commitment to the company and acts as an ambassador at all times.
Level 1 – strictly speaking, there is no level 1 competence in this competency.
Level 2 – understands greater organisational context, markets and competitors.
- Understands relationship between own role and business strategy in the short term.
- Can interpret some business strategy in the terms of operational plans.
- Uses customer feedback to make improvements.
- Gives some consideration to external factors.
Level 3 – can maintain an overview of complicated situations with an eye on detail.
- Sees beyond the immediate needs of their own area to understand the interconnectivity of departments.
- Has an eye on the future at all times.
- Maintains an overview of complex situations but controls the finer details.
- Understands the impact of strategies on the medium to longer term.
Level 4 – sets plans and objectives with a view to the future success of the organisation in terms of technical and people issues.
- Understands the impact of strategies in the long term.
- Has cognisance of people issues.
- Embraces and works with technological advances.
- Recognises trends in performance in both the organisation and it's competitors.
Level 5 – Translates short-and long-term decision-making into actions.
- Actively contributes to the strategic direction of the organisation.
- Is inspirational and engages others with the organisation's vision.
- Can utilise all specialisms in achieving organisational goals.
- Can provide solid business rationale for large expenditure.
Level 1 – makes efforts to build and maintain a network of internal and external contacts.
- Uses others to complete tasks.
- Responds helpfully to requests for information.
- Is courteous and honest in dealing with others.
- Is aware of own impact on others.
- Keeps others informed of own progress in work.
Level 2 – understands the value of building up sound working relationships.
- Puts sustained efforts into building relationships.
- Uses both formal and informal channels to communicate with others.
- Checks understanding when communicating.
- Can identify key decision-makers.
- Is aware of the importance of including the right people at the right time.
Level 3 – is highly proactive about getting others involved.
- Demonstrates diplomatic skills and is tactful.
- Recognises cliques and alliances and can utilise these.
- Recognises others' talent and utilises it.
- Can read ‘body language’.
Level 4 – with others, constructs solutions, building on their ideas.
- Encourages suggestions from others without being judgemental.
- Takes on board criticism.
- Can overcome traditional organisational barriers using novel solutions.
- Facilitates the efforts of others.
- Develops relationships which facilitate the resolution of complex problems.
Level 5 – regularly uses the cooperative and combined efforts of others to add value to the results.
- Builds an influential presence in the external business environment to raise profile with key customer groups.
- Represents the organisation's interests persuasively with key stakeholders.
- Is proactive in keeping a network of contacts across the industry or field.
- Attempts to build symbiotic relationships with others external and internal to the organisation.
Level 1 – shows a level of interest in internal and external business issues.
- Finds out about how the organisation works.
- Knows who the organisation's competitors are.
- Knows who the organisation's main customers are.
- Seeks to develop general business knowledge.
- Keeps up to date with current affairs.
Level 2 – can analyse in terms of profit and loss, cash-flow and added value.
- Understands basic financial and commercial terminology.
- Keeps abreast of current business performance.
- Keeps abreast in terms of product and market development.
- Understands how own role/department contributes towards business success.
- Is aware of cost implications and their effect on the bottom line.
- Seeks to maximise productivity and reduce costs wherever possible.
Level 3 – knows the marketplace, competition and business issues faced by the organisation.
- Has sharp operational focus so that actions can be prioritised and put into context.
- Fully understands the business plan and can communicate corporate objectives.
- Understands key messages from the profit and loss report and balance sheet.
- Knows the position of own business in terms of market share.
Level 4 – focuses on profitability and contribution to increase competitiveness.
- Capable of managing cost or profit centres.
- Uses commercial judgement to enhance growth opportunities.
- Can assess market trends and has the capability to make decisions which will enhance organisation's ability to compete.
- Understands the underlying issues affecting the performance of the business or organisational unit.
Level 5 – applies financial strategies and tactics in the wider context.
- Understands acquisitions, mergers and divestments.
- Develops creative new financial and commercial strategies to enhance growth.
- Confidently communicates messages from company financial documentation such as profit and loss accounts, balance sheets, etc.
- Benchmarks against others in order to seek commercial advantage.
- Uses external sources to keep informed of competitors' actions/developments.
Leadership of change
Level 1 – can successfully adapt to changing conditions and circumstances.
- Endeavours to be resilient in situations which may appear unclear or contradictory.
- Shows a willingness to broaden skills and try alternative work.
- Understands the need for progressive change.
- Can adapt quickly and successfully to change.
- Assimilates new ways of working well.
Level 2 – enjoys the change agenda and willingly accepts the need for change in methodologies, materials, workflows or technology.
- Understands how change supports the vision of the business and links with business strategy.
- Anticipates and plans for change in own function.
- Actively cooperates in implementing change.
- Demonstrates an awareness of the ‘big picture’.
- Sees change as a positive thing in respect of career-enhancing skills.
Level 3 – identifies ways to improve the organisation and encourages others to do the same. Takes on responsibility for driving the change agenda.
- Can articulate the benefits of change and shows confidence about taking on different tasks and activities.
- Works well within a continuously changing and improving environment and helps others do the same.
- Leads change with vigour and enthusiasm.
- Can produce own innovations and is prepared to take risks with new ideas and concepts.
- Supports people through the emotional impact of change.
Level 4 – frequently identifies and initiates change affecting specific organisational operations.
- Prepares and implements plans for the changes taking into account the material and people factors necessary to make the implementation work.
- Conducts changes with an eye on minimising disruption to outputs and quality.
- Manages and anticipates the consequences for those outside and inside the organisation.
- Works closely with subordinates, peers and superiors to integrate change activities.
- Takes the time to get to know what people really think about the changes and allays these fears where possible.
Level 5 – understands how change drives towards the achievement of the business vision and strategy and can manage complex change programmes.
- Manages the expectations of key stakeholders such as customers and shareholders effectively at all stages of the change process.
- Leads dynamically organisational change.
- Maintains a powerful motivating vision for all affected by change and encourages a positive approach at every level of the organisation.
- Maintains an overview and focus on the change agenda to ensure it is happening.
Level 1 – in deeds and words, gains the respect and confidence of colleagues.
- Able to give guidance and support to colleagues.
- Gains the confidence and respect of the team and supports them in achieving targets.
- Clearly communicates individual and team goals.
- Generates plans instructions and directions.
- Continually reviews progress and gives clear and specific feedback.
Level 2 – can build teams, involve others and motivate them.
- Demonstrates integrity and trust in dealing with others internal and external to the organisation.
- Is able to maximise the performance of others.
- Anticipates conflict and takes steps to resolve this at the earliest possible stage.
- Defines tasks clearly, including objectives, outputs, timings and available resources.
Level 3 – inspires loyalty and establishes credibility quickly, motivates and enthuses.
- Celebrates and rewards successes with colleagues and teams.
- Adopts a coaching and mentoring style with subordinates.
- Delegates effectively to encourage skill development.
- Is accountable for the organisation's policies, agreements and procedures.
- Is committed personally to the organisation's vision.
Level 4 – handles situations involving people with confidence and is empathetic. Develops a leadership style that empowers others to constantly achieve and exceed personal and company objectives.
- Talks beyond today, about future possibilities optimistically.
- Shows others how they can benefit and contribute to the business.
- Takes personal responsibility for the team/department, representing them and their interests to the business.
- Displays flexibility in leadership styles in order to tell/sell/involve and delegate.
- Communicates inspiringly to wide audiences.
Level 5 – contributes to the strategic direction of the organisation and has influence over behaviour at an organisational level.
- Can steer through complex political situations effectively.
- Establishes goals and gives others freedom and accountability for achieving these goals.
- Acts as a role model to all of the leadership and brand values of the organisation.
Level 1 – completes tasks within the allotted time and with the correct quality.
- Pays attention and challenges processes and content.
- Typically gets things right first time and within timescales.
- Plans own time and resources to meet the tasks ahead.
- Can prioritise work in order of importance and urgency.
Level 2 – can challenge the status quo and generate new ideas.
- Searches for new solutions to make required improvements.
- Challenges current working practices in order to identify areas for improvement.
- Can manage multiple tasks to meet a goal.
- Adapts own working practices to meet new requirements.
Level 3 – knows how to plan and organise tasks.
- Good at mapping out processes in order to get things done.
- Can use resources such as people, materials, machinery, etc. effectively in order to achieve targets.
- Understands key performance indicators and knows how to measure against them.
- Understands how to combine or separate tasks in a workflow.
- Sets daily, weekly, monthly and yearly targets.
Level 4 – grasps opportunities to make improvements and sees them through.
- Is able to identify existing processes and suggest improvements.
- Recognises duplication and opportunities for integration.
- Gets rid of as much red tape as they can.
- Understands both the tactical and strategic picture.
- Encourages others to challenge the status quo and to suggest improvements.
Level 5 – creates strategies that lead to process improvement and longer-term business planning.
- Develops products or services that stay ahead of competitors' efforts.
- Plans for the longer term.
- Recognises and champions the need to work ‘smarter’ not ‘harder’.
- Brings in on time and within budget large projects.
Level 1 – understands that the customer is important to the organisation. (Note: ‘Customers’ in this sense can mean internal as well as external customers.)
- Recognises the importance of internal and external customers.
- Treats every customer respectfully.
- Complies with organisation's brand values.
- Can utilise customer-care skills effectively.
- Spots potential problems and resolves them before they reach the customer.
Level 2 – identifies customer needs and responds appropriately.
- Displays a positive attitude when dealing with customers.
- Responds quickly and with respect to customer requests and informs them of progress.
- Can negotiate a positive outcome with customers.
- Has refined questioning technique to clarify customers’ needs and expectations.
- Researches customers for ways to improve the service offered.
Level 3 – anticipates and responds to changing customer expectations.
- Recognises the cost/benefit implications of providing the service or goods.
- Identifies a range of solutions which exceeds customer expectations.
- Actively suggests improvements to make the customer experience better.
- Establishes empathy and rapport with the customer.
- Benchmarks customer satisfaction levels.
Level 4 – develops long-term relationships with customers and establishes personal relationships with key players.
- Can adopt the perspective of the customer and understands their needs, wants and expectations.
- Seeks first-hand customer data and is able to utilise it well.
- Meets with peers regularly to assimilate their experiences with customers.
- Looks for symbiotic outcomes with customers.
- Recognises service which is above and beyond what is required.
Level 5 – forges strategic partnerships that enable inputs to business opportunities.
- Shows that the customer is at the core of decision-making.
- Understands the bigger picture and communicates this to others.
- Sets customer-focused strategies and objectives.
- Promotes a customer-focused culture.
- Is a champion for excellence in service and enthuses others to be the same.
Decision-making skills and judgement
Level 1 – analyses issues and breaks them down into smaller parts before coming to a decision.
- Thinks through outcomes before acting.
- Can learn from mistakes.
- Generates a range of solutions and challenges existing practice.
- Assesses all the available data and refers to others before making decisions.
Level 2 – considers and takes responsibility for the impact a decision may have on others and in relation to business success.
- Understands when the decision needs to be referred to others.
- Makes decision within their own authority boundaries.
- Uses established procedures to ensure correct action is taken.
- Makes high-quality decisions in a timely manner.
- Can make decisions without complete information.
Level 3 – draws reliable conclusions from disparate sources of data.
- Gives consideration to how decision impacts on others.
- Deals with unusual problems confidently without hesitation.
- Does not put off making a decision to avoid conflict.
- Does not put off a decision to avoid ‘getting it wrong’.
- Considers the cost implications to a decision.
Level 4 – makes timely and sound decisions when data is less accessible, inconclusive or contradictory.
- Not afraid to take risks to find a solution.
- Seeks a practical solution despite vagueness of data.
- Can assess multiple or complex or contradictory data in order to reach decision.
- Understands cause and effect.
Level 5 – can take decisions which require political or organisational interpretation with an eye on internal politics but which are beneficial to the organisation.
- Evaluates the relationship between short-term consequences and long-term gains.
- Is persuasive when presenting case to stakeholders.
- Is confident about making decisions which involve the organisation going forward into uncharted territory.
- Is not afraid of controversy and will make decisions with cognisance of the political landscape.
- Is often sought out for advice by peers, superiors and subordinates.
Level 1 – behaves in a straightforward and transparent way that sets a positive example.
- Wins respect and influences others by own behaviour.
- Is confident and determined.
- Sets a positive example.
- Encourages others to challenge and does not mind being challenged.
- Communicates clearly both orally and in written form.
Level 2 – is aware of the impact on others, is a clear communicator, speaks and writes clearly, is a good listener.
- Regularly shares own views in a clear manner.
- Can articulate the key points of an argument.
- Can be assertive when working with others.
- Observes and listens and understands what is being said.
- Demonstrates integrity when dealing with others at all times.
Level 3 – has the personal stature and capability to influence a broad range of people including key decision-makers.
- Displays a variety of styles of action from diplomatic to assertive.
- Uses the appropriate approach to diffuse difficult situations.
- Is able to compromise when necessary.
- Identifies key influencers and focuses on their requirements.
- Demonstrates clearly confidence in all communication scenarios.
Level 4 – adapts style and interacts at all levels, whilst maintaining credibility, to secure commitment.
- Identifies the key influencers and focuses on their requirements.
- Can compromise in order to achieve agreement seen as benefiting all parties.
- Uses appropriate influencing, assertive and negotiating techniques to diffuse difficult situations.
- Can persuade senior colleagues by being confident and assertive, and sensing best timing to gain most favourable outcome.
- Radiates experience and self-confidence in all communication situations.
Level 5 – influences at individual, team, departmental and corporate level.
- Can deliver organisational messages confidently and with conviction.
- Keeps abreast of sector developments to influence external and internal customers.
- Understands completely organisational politics.
- Has strong lobbying skills.
- Can influence at all levels within the organisation.
Development of self and others
Level 1 – knows own career path and actively works towards achieving career objectives.
- Has a positive mental attitude and seeks to be professional at work.
- Contributes fully and seeks additional responsibilities.
- Seeks goals for self and looks for learning opportunities.
- Identifies opportunities to develop and support colleagues.
Level 2 – markets self and others for opportunities for development; recognises others’ career aspirations and supports them.
- Regularly asks for feedback on own performance.
- Is aware of what is required to achieve career ambitions.
- Gets actively involved in developing others.
- Does not prevaricate and makes things happen for themselves.
- Consistently tries to develop current skill set.
Level 3 – continually improves the capability of the organisation through contributing to a learning culture.
- Gives practical feedback to others.
- Mentors and coaches others to achieve their full performance capabilities.
- Takes direct accountability for success or failure of subordinates.
- Sees the appraisal system as an excellent way to identify training needs for self and others.
- Ensures training needs analyses results are acted upon.
Level 4 – actively addresses career development and pushes for the achievement of career plans.
- Is pragmatic about one's own strengths and weaknesses and how best to get the results needed.
- Gives practical guidance and support to others in achieving their career ambitions.
- Recognises more subtle talents in others and actively encourages the development of these talents.
- Conducts the appraisal process in a professional and thorough manner.
- Looks for opportunities to ‘stretch’.
Level 5 – measures and monitors skill levels throughout the organisation with an eye on future needs.
- Keeps abreast of developments outside immediate area of expertise.
- Makes sure others get the resources they need to deliver what is expected of them.
- Is intuitive about people; takes informal and creative risks with them.
- Maximises the potential of the organisation's human capital.
- Strives to be an employer of choice by demonstrating commitment to people development.
Team working skills
Level 1 – is an effective team member.
- Works effectively with others in a team.
- Requests help, or offers support when required.
- Cooperates with other team members and has a flexible and open-minded approach.
- Projects a positive image of teamworking.
Level 2 – Develops effective and supportive relationships with colleagues.
- Draws on each team member’s particular talents to maximise the effectiveness of the team.
- Contributes to the running of the team.
- Shares ideas and data with team members.
- Can work across team boundaries.
- Aware of the strengths and development needs of other team members.
Level 3 – understands how and when to set team objectives and utilises the talent of all team members.
- Able to capitalise on the strengths of team members.
- Makes use of everyone's innate abilities.
- Recognises the cultural aspects of teamworking.
- Is a champion for diversity.
- Defines success as when the whole team contributes and shares in the glory.
Level 4 – looks for opportunities for inter-and intra-teamworking to achieve bigger business goals.
- Can put personal needs aside in order to concentrate on team needs.
- Suggests ways of teams working together to achieve business goals.
- Suggests formation of new teams to satisfy the needs of particular projects.
- Can identify factors which hinder team performance.
- Strives to assist the team in developing its own identity.
Level 5 – models teamworking and champions the benefits of partnerships across the business.
- Acts as a role model for others.
- Can use ‘blue sky thinking’ to circumvent hindrances to effective teamworking.
- Encourages a sense of esprit de corps.
- Is inspirational and morale boosting.
Phew! Quite a list, I’m sure you will agree. It can be quite cathartic to go through this exercise. The information you glean from doing this will not only give you a general sense of what your competence levels are at this moment in time, but it can also advise you when you are revising the content of your curriculum vitae. Perhaps some of the terminology I have used here has caused you to think ‘Yes! That’s exactly what I do!’ If so, I’m glad. Use these terms to expand on your role and responsibilities detailed in your CV. It is often difficult to find a form of words that fully describes what it is you do exactly. I’m sure there are some phrases here you can adapt for your own use.
RESEARCHING THE ORGANISATION
An obvious place to start preparing for your interview is to research the organisation you’d like to work for. There are many, many sources from which to gain the kind of information you need, ranging from the Internet to periodicals, annual reports, etc. All of these have their own part to contribute in building up the picture you have of the organisation.
The Internet will obviously give you access to the organisation's own website. However, be aware that the organisation will use this medium to present the face to the world that they want, and it may be heavily ‘spinned’. Putting cynicism aside for a moment, make sure you read as many of the web pages as you can and jot down salient points as you come across them. You will often find information on their markets, their products, their employee numbers, their green credentials and usually details of how you can contact them directly.
For larger companies, call up their public relations department (it may have many other titles) and ask them to send you any brochures or literature that they have all about the company.
Now most employers will have expected you to do at least a basic Internet search on them and I’ve lost count of the number of times a candidate has recited verbatim statistics published on the website. To many of us, this is lazy research. Unimaginative and predictable. I will expand on this in Chapter 6 on questions and answers later on.
So what should you do? Using what you have gleaned about the organisation as a starting point, see if you can find out who their competitors are and what they have to say on their websites.
It is much better to answer an interviewer in response to the question ‘What do you know about us?’ with a brief summary of what you’ve learned followed by your own question such as ‘... however, I see that Company XYZ is also expanding into the Pacific Rim market in direct competition with yourselves. How do you see that battle going?’
It is a golden rule when researching or collating data on any subject to suffer from ‘paralysis by analysis’. You must react to what your research tells you.
The Annual Report is an invaluable source of historical information on an organisation as it reflects the previous year's trading/activities.
The Annual Report is often a daunting read as it contains highly detailed financial information. My advice is that unless you are familiar with financial terminology, simply scan those pages. The juicy stuff is contained in the Chairman’s Report (usually near the end). This is the narrative report to shareholders by the top person in the organisation on how the previous year has gone. It will also point out where the organisation hopes to be going in the future. This again is valuable information you can take with you to the interview.
Lastly, but not least, how much information on the post you are applying for is actually contained in that job advert? Not much, I’ll wager. Enough to capture your interest, sure, but enough to decide whether or not this really is the job for you? Probably not. Telephone or e-mail the Human Resource Department and ask them for a copy of the formal job description. This should have much more detail than the advertisement and again provide you with clues on how to prepare.
TIMING IS EVERYTHING
There is an old saying relating to appearing for an interview: If you are not ten minutes early, then you are ten minutes late! Do you know, it's true!
If you are way too early it may appear that you have (a) not researched the travel time; (b) are a tad desperate to impress; (c) have poor time management skills. Be aware of potential road traffic issues if you are travelling by car and make sure all public transport selections will have you arriving in plenty of time. Take along with you the original invitation letter which will give you the organisation's telephone number should you have to call ahead and explain that you are going to be delayed. If you do not have a mobile phone, make sure you have change for a payphone.
Ten minutes is almost ‘respectful’. It allows the organisation plenty of time if they have not finished their preparations just yet and you are the first candidate.
It may well be that the previous candidate’s interview is extended a little or they are late in seeing you. However fed up you are at this obvious personal slight, please do not let it show on your face! Remember, you might just be grateful for the interest you have generated in them whereby they don’t notice the passage of time and your allotted time runs on!
PLANNING WHAT TO WEAR
It's time to head for the interview and you have one question: what is the dress code?
Should you be strictly formal? Should you just go ahead and be yourself? After all, they won’t want to employ yet another worker bee, will they? What about earrings, nose studs, tattoos, etc.? Should they come off? Would you make more of an impression if you stood out from the rest of the crowd?
Dressing for the interview is a big issue and many get this woefully wrong. The answer is actually very simple. The job interview is a formal meeting between people who are assessing each other’s capability and suitability to work together in a professional environment which could lead to a legal formal agreement between an employee and employer – the employment contract – therefore its not overstating the case to call it professional. The dress code then must obviously be biased towards the formal.
Prepare for it with all the seriousness it requires because you need to create an impression on those whom you are meeting that you are a responsible and resourceful kind of a person.
This means that the casual look or even the smart/casual look is out. It means that the conservative (no, that doesn’t mean going for the David Cameron or John Major look, I meant with a small ‘c’) look is what you need to work at. Even if you are going for an interview as a call centre operative who has no contact whatsoever with the public or a part-time summer job, it will surely make a difference if you go to the interview dressed formally. One rule that most human resource people promote is that an applicant must dress as if he or she is going for the interview of a job one level higher than the post actually being applied for.
The point of dressing yourself well is to leave behind an impression of yourself as well groomed and professional. Nothing does this as much as the clothes you wear, the fragrance you wear and the colours you wear. With conservative colours and clothes you are in the safe zone with most people whereas a daring fashionable look could just disqualify you for too much attitude of the wrong kind.
Some of the things for female applicants that are to be avoided are:
- too much jewellery – remove any visible piercings except discreet earrings;
- brightly coloured clothes or nail polish;
- chewed, unsightly nails;
- skirts that are too short and clothes that are too tight or revealing;
- accessories that are too colourful or floral;
- Inappropriate shoes (leave those killer Jimmy Choos with the four-inch spikes at home);
- collarless shirts, etc;
- strong perfume.
And for guys:
- pale coloured suits;
- suit, collar and no tie combo;
- rolled up sleeves;
- tattoos on display;
- overpowering aftershave;
- brown shoes with any colour suit except dark brown;
- always wear a black belt unless you are wearing a brown suit;
- white socks with any outfit!! (This is a golden rule for life: unless you are taking part in sport, there is no room in life for white socks.)
- sandals or any type of open-toed shoe.
These all just go to prove that you do not really care about the job and all you are worried is about your own personal attitude, which may not be a great advertisement to someone who is looking for a colleague who is going to fit in. Once you've got the job there will be plenty of time to assess the ‘real’ dress code of the organisation.
Now what is it that you must wear? Colours that are suitable are the traditional blue and grey. Blacks and dark browns are fine as well, but are less conservative than blue and grey.
Whatever the role is, remember organisations do want disciplined, professional, responsible people in their jobs and it is best that you reflect that in your attire and attitude. White shirts, plain, striped or small patterned tie and jacket are de rigueur for guys, while for ladies, it's best to stick to a business suit if you can or alternatively a demure jacket/skirt/trousers combination work best.
In all cases, never wear brand new clothes. You don’t want to be sitting down to the embarrassing sound of a too-tight seam on your trousers parting company or be near to tears because those new shoes really are a tight fit!
I know, I know, it sounds like advice from two centuries ago, but believe me, most interviewers are conservative in outlook and do actually believe this stuff. As they are the ones with all the power and you are playing in their back garden, you need to adapt YOU to fit them, not the other way around.
If you are still unsure, it does make sense to call and ask beforehand what the dress code is and then dress appropriately.
You are trying to make the interview as memorable for good reasons as you can, so to that end:
- Do not eat garlic for 48 hours before the interview.
- Do not smoke for an hour before hand. If you do, make sure you are able to wash your hands and freshen your breath before you go in.
- Do not ever, ever, EVER chew gum!
WHAT SHOULD I TAKE WITH ME?
The answer to this will depend on the role and perhaps whether or not you will be required to do a presentation. I will cover presentations in the next section.
It is a good idea to take a copy of your CV with you for your own reference. I have seen many candidates fumble and splutter when asked to talk through the CV simply through the pressure of the occasion. Unfortunately, a candidate who simply waffles or prevaricates at this time often comes across as ‘shifty’ or suspect. By having a copy to hand, you can glance at it and you will be surprised just how effective a prompt a peripheral glimpse of a past employer’s name or an old job title is!
Do you have any, easy-to-read documentation that backs up your claims of success in the past? For example, you may wish to take copies of annual appraisals which show you in a good light. As these tend to be lengthy documents, highlight the narrative comments of your line and functional manager for the interviewer. If time allows they will read these, as they are much more insightful than formal references as many employers these days only supply basic, factual information on an employee’s time with them for fear of litigation.
If you can, take hard-copy examples of work that you have done – particularly if it is new or innovative. Do not, under any circumstances, plagiarise anyone else’s work! Also have consideration for copyright issues and do not take controlled documents with you without the appropriate permissions.
Again, time is the likely deciding factor for whether or not the interviewers will look at these. Often, it may even be the interviewers’ curiosity that prompts them to ask what it is you have brought with you. It is a good idea to place anything you have brought to the interview in plain sight and to one side of the desk or table you are sitting at. If the interviewers have set the room up in a more casual manner, e.g. with their chairs at 45 degrees to you, then place it at your feet on the side that faces them. If possible utilise clear-covered folders rather than have them within a posh leather folio.
It is a good idea to take a notepad and pen with you too. At the outset of the interview ask if it is all right for you to take notes during the employer’s input as you may wish to ask questions based on what they say.
OUTSIDE THE DRAGON’S DEN
When you are shown to the waiting area, be polite and thank your guide. Once there, use your eyes and ears. Tannoy announcements may just give you some snippet of information that you did not know. Look at the walls. Are there copies of the Mission Statement? Are there copies of Quality Assurance awards? Are there pictures of past successes? There will most likely be trade magazines on a table for guests to peruse. If you are there in good time you will have the opportunity to scan these searching for any specific references to the organisation and also any other snippets which may be of use to you once your inside. All of these sources can yield little bits of data that can enhance your knowledge of the organisation and may inform your conversation once you are inside.
Sit up straight on the seats provided. I know, I’m being your mum again! The reason all this sounds so familiar is because it is a universal truth. When you are collected to go in, if you are sprawled all over their plush leather couches then the very first image of you (and there are varying reports of people making their mind up about someone within the first 10, 20, 30 seconds) will not be a complimentary one. Think of the interview process as having started the minute you enter the building. Be polite to every member of staff whom you encounter. Your big chance starts here!