The job interview is one of the most important parts of the job search process. It can also be the most daunting. When an employer invites you to an interview, he/she is indicating an interest in bringing you on board. However, it's not all one sided. The interview gives both of you the opportunity to exchange enough information to determine if you are a good "fit" for each other.
The interview is giving you a chance to convince the employer that you are the best person for the job. The goal of the job interview is to show the employer that you have the skills, background, and ability to do the job and that you can successfully fit into the organisation and its culture. Employers do not usually hire on merits alone, they will look for an individual who is confident, enthusiastic, a positive outlook and excellent interpersonal and communication skills count heavily in the selection process.
The job interview is a communication process, if you can impress your employer with your communication skills, experiences, and interests then there is a good chance that the employer will remember you. It is important that you can show the employer how you can be an asset to the company.
Although it is during the interview that you make your impression, you can do a lot beforehand to help ensure that the impression will be favourable. The interview is also your opportunity to gather information about the job, the organization, and future career opportunities to figure out if the position and work environment are right for you. Here are some areas that you should keep in mind as you prepare for that all-important meeting:
Research the company. Find out everything you can about the company. Request brochures and an annual report, if available. Search the Internet and the library for articles and information about the company. An employer is likely to be more impressed by a candidate who has taken the trouble to research their organisation. Many employers will expect a candidate to at least have checked out their web site and to avoid asking questions that are covered there. Try to find out the answer to the following questions:
• What do they do/make/sell?
• Who are their customers?
• What sort of organisation are they?
• Financial information - turnover, profits etc.
• What exactly will the job involve?
• What sort of person do you think they want?
• How can you best fit your skills to match the job?
Research the job. Some research into the job on offer will help you to prepare your interview questions and answers. You may identify areas of concern that will have a particular impact on your decision. You may also be better able to pre-empt any concerns an interviewer might have about you as a candidate.
All of this should help you to identify the decision-making criteria that the employer is likely to adopt.
Sources of information may include:
• Job description (may be available from company/personnel department)
• Person specification (as above)
• Advertisement (look for key words that give clues to what they are looking for)
• Current or recent employees
• People holding a similar job in another organisation
Practice makes perfect. This can’t be more true with job interview. Make sure your answers are clear and succinct. You should practice answering with a friend or with your family members. When practicing avoid terms such as “like” and “you know” and don’t sound too rehearsed, as though you have memorised each answer. Some interviewers simply start by asking, "Tell me about yourself." Prepare and rehearse a brief verbal resume. Give special attention to any work experience and skills that relate to the specific position for which you are interviewing. If possible, get a friend to role-play with you. A friend who acts as "the interviewer" may surprise you with questions you didn't anticipate, which can be a great help to you in preparing.
Revise your CV and type a list of references. Be ready to answer any questions about your CV. Be clear on the dates of each period of employment and be able to explain gaps positively. Know your own qualifications and how they relate to the position. Review your skills and the character traits you have that will help the company's bottom line. Mentally review your past achievements and be prepared to describe your work experience in detail. Have a list of references with accurately updated telephone numbers ready to offer. Ask each person on your list for permission to use him or her as a reference before submitting the list. Also, prepare examples to back up the skills you have listed on your CV - you will be asked.
Interview details. A good interviewer will not be setting out to surprise you or catch you out. They should help you to prepare by telling you in advance what you should expect but they may not so you should be prepared to contact the organisation to establish what is likely to happen.
What type of interview?
For example, is it a preliminary or screening interview? These are often used where there is a large number of applicants. They generally employ a limited number of decision criteria decision designed to produce a short list. Someone not involved in the final selection process may conduct them. A screening interview will almost certainly be short (20-30 minutes) and may be highly structured. You may have little opportunity to ask questions or put across your key points. Will other candidates be present as, for example, at an assessment centre?
Who will be conducting the interview?
- Will it be one-to-one or a panel?
- What are the names and positions of the interviewers?
- Will the interviewer be the recruiting manager and/or a personnel specialist?
- What (if anything) can you find out about the interviewers: their prejudices,
expectations, concerns etc.
How will the interview be conducted?
Will any tests be involved? These might be tests of:
You may be asked to:
- Complete a personality profile
- Answer test questions
- Perform in problem solving exercise (team or individual)
- Make a presentation (check what equipment will be available)
- Take part in a group discussion
- Complete a case study
- Take part in role-play
Questions you may be asked. Obviously, no one can know exactly what questions you may be asked at an interview but there are certain topics that will almost certainly come up.
While it is impossible to predict the questions you will be asked at interview, it is worth spending some time preparing your response to those that seem more likely to arise, either because they are ‘stock’ / frequently asked questions or because something on your CV makes them more likely. Skilled interviewers will often ask you some “ice-breaker” questions to put you at ease. Think through your answers to the questions you are likely to be asked:
• Tell me about yourself
• Tell me about your work experience
• What are your goals for the next (1,2,3,4,5…) years?
• Why did you leave your last job?
• What are your strengths?
• What are your weaknesses?
• How would you describe your management style?
• What attracted you to this job?
• What do you think makes a good team?
• What was the most difficult decision you ever had to make?
If an interviewer puts you on the spot, don’t panic. Pause to collect your thoughts and, if necessary tell the interviewer that you would like to think about the question before answering. Your objective should be to answer questions openly and honestly while not putting yourself in an unnecessarily unfavourable light. You may need to put your answers in context, particularly if you feel the question is not relevant to your ability to perform the job. For example:
“I didn’t get involved much in staff training because my manager specifically wanted me to concentrate on new product development”.
The best way to deal with issues where you feel potentially exposed is to prepare a response in advance and wherever possible turn a weakness into a potential strength. This is not the same as lying. In fact what you are doing is describing the positive side of your weaknesses and indicating the steps you have taken to deal with them. For example:
“I am not good at time management. I deliberately work with quite structured people who help me to organise my work, and in return I bring some spontaneity and creativity to team projects that would otherwise be lacking”.
Aim to answer with specifics
Interviewers will be more impressed if you talk about specific events and achievements rather than generalities.
For example instead of describing yourself as a hard working person, tell interviewers about a time when you worked hard and as a result something good happened. Be clear about what you mean by “hard work”, for example:
“We had a rush job two months ago. I worked through the weekend and as a result the job was completed on time”.
Handling inappropriate questions
Some interviewers still insist on asking questions that are inappropriate (prying or insensitive) or even illegal, because they breach legislation on for example, equal opportunities. If an interviewer asks you a question of this sort you must decide how to respond. It is possible that the interviewer may not realise what they have done, and will respond positively to some sensitive feedback by rephrasing or rescinding the question. In extreme or persistent cases you may need to terminate the interview. You can console yourself with the thought that this is probably not an organisation you want to work for.
Questions to ask. Asking well-worded questions will ensure you obtain information you need to make a decision. Employers are as interested in your questions as they are in your answers. It is a huge plus if you ask intelligent questions about the position, the company and the industry.
They will also demonstrate to the interviewer that you have a good understanding of the job, or a real interest in the organisation. Trivial or irrelevant questions will of course have the opposite effect.
Good questions will also help you to understand the needs of the organisation so that you can highlight the particular benefits that employing you will bring. (See the next section for more on matching benefits to needs). Questions should therefore balance your own need for information with an interest in the organisation’s requirements and concerns. For example:
• How will my performance be measured?
• What are the organisation’s development plans?
• Who are your customers/clients?
• What development opportunities does the organisation offer?
• What induction training will I need?
One of your questions will probably concern the terms and conditions, and in particular the salary. You are unlikely to be penalised for taking an interest in this subject. However, before you make the decision whether to ask this question do check to see if the information is in the original information pack, as many organisations do initially sent this information out. Indeed a good employer will want to be sure that you have taken all aspects of the job into account in making your decision so that you don’t have regrets later. Timing is everything and it is probably best to leave questions about the terms and conditions until both you and the interviewer seem to have developed a broadly positive opinion of each other.
You want to be sure your image says "professional" from the moment you walk in the door. Here are some actions that are not only appropriate during an interview, but are entirely necessary for creating a positive impression.
Be on time. Allow extra time for traffic, parking and slow elevators. Do whatever it takes to arrive a few minutes early. If necessary, drive to the company the night before and time yourself. Late arrival for a job interview is never excusable.
First impression counts. You should dress suitably. Wear your best work outfit. The things to remember are cleanliness, simplicity and no strong or 'loud' colours. Do not chew gum or smoke.
Shake hands. If the interviewer doesn't offer his or her hand, you should offer yours. Make sure your handshake is firm and confident; smile and make eye contact.
Wait to be seated. If the interviewer doesn't offer you a seat, ask where you should sit.
Be yourself. Speak clearly and enthusiastically about your experiences and skills. Be professional, but don't be afraid to let your personality shine through.
Listen carefully. There is nothing worse than to ask a question that the employer has already talked to you about. You will want to remember what you learn about the job, and you will want to answer the questions that were asked.
Be positive. Don’t talk about your bad feelings or give any excuses about a negative experience. If you are asked why your grades are low, then don't give excuses, instead, focus on stating the positive facts and what you have learnt from your experiences.
Emphasize your strengths. Tell the interviewer exactly why you are the best candidate for the position. Show him or her that you know something about the company.
Keep your answers brief and to the point. Nervousness sometimes causes people to become chatty. Don't ramble or stray off on unrelated tangents. Answer the interviewer's questions in a manner that is honest, straightforward and succinct.
Don't use jargon or slang. You want to sound articulate, knowledgeable and professional. Never try to be funny during an interview.
Keep your cool. No matter what the interviewer asks you, don't allow yourself to become annoyed or antagonized. If a question seems so inappropriate that you truly don't wish to answer, you can ask the interviewer calmly and politely how the answer to that question pertains to the position. If the interviewer persists and you are still uncomfortable, you can hold your ground by stating that you would be happy to discuss any information that would truly help determine your qualifications and interest in the position.
Establish the "next step." Ask the interviewer when he or she expects a decision to be made and when you might expect to be contacted. If the interviewer needs more information from you, establish a definite time when you will provide it.
End on a positive note. Even if you decide you don't want the position after all, smile, shake hands, and thank the interviewer pleasantly for seeing you.
After the interview, proper etiquette demands that you send a note of thanks for being extended the interview opportunity. In addition, it is perfectly acceptable to follow up with a phone call, within certain guidelines.
Send the thank-you note immediately. In your letter, summarize your conversation and re-emphasize the skills you would bring to the position. If you are interested in the position, avoid sending a generic thank you letter; besides the general “thank you for your time”, instead note some reasons why you are the perfect candidate for the job. If you have decided that you are not interested, you should still send a thank-you note for the time and attention that were given to you. It's the polite thing to do, and someday another, more appealing, position may open up at the same company. The interviewer might change jobs or companies at some point, and you may be interested in speaking with him or her again about a different position.
Calling to follow up. If the interviewer has told you that a decision about the position will probably be made within a week, check in at the end of the week. If you learn that you didn't get the position, try to get some feedback from the interviewer. It may not be what you'd like to hear, but it could be of great value to you in preparing for future interviews. Of course, don't make a nuisance of yourself by phoning every day.
Whatever happens, an interview is good experience. If it didn't go the way you hoped, review it mentally to see how you might have presented yourself more effectively. The next interview will be better. If you don't get the job, get feedback why so you can improve the next time.