So, you’ve made it this far – you’ve fought off potentially hundreds of other applicants, and been given the opportunity to get a foot in the door to present yourself face to face at an interview. I don’t think people give themselves enough credit for this in itself – contrary to popular belief, companies don’t just enjoy interviewing candidates for the sake of it, as a kind of sadist pastime in which they get the opportunity to make others unnecessarily self-conscious and uncomfortable….
They’ve invited you to an interview because they think YOU could genuinely be the ideal candidate for their role. Hiring managers are almost always extremely busy taking care of other areas within their business, so they want the recruitment process to be streamlined and as quick as possible. Also, and surprising to some no doubt, is the fact that at the point you sit down with the interviewer, they’re not eyeing you up with suspicion and wondering the various ways they’ll be able to catch you out or throw you off guard. Instead they’re probably thinking something along the lines of “Please be as good in person as you are on your CV, so I can offer you the job and get this vacancy filled” (unless you’ve turned up to the interview wearing crocs – in which case they’ll be wondering how soon it would be reasonably acceptable to say, “we’ll be in touch”).
You owe it to yourself and the interviewer to do everything in your power to make sure that by the time the big day comes, you’re ready to impress, or more rightly put – not disappoint. Of course, once you’re in there you’re on your own, but by following the steps below in the days/weeks leading up to your interview you’ll set yourself up for the best chance of success.
Location, Location, Location
First things first – do you know EXACTLY where you’re going? And before you answer “yes” and move on to Number 2, read on for a little gem of advice that works wonders… When I say, “exactly where you’re going,” I don’t just mean that you’ve driven past the building every day for the past 5 years. What if the parking situation isn’t as it seems? What if there is a separate site entrance that visitors have to use? What if the building has multiple external entrances – where is the reception? Imagine having done all your preparation for this interview, arriving in what you believe to be good time, to blow it all by actually arriving to the interview late. The best way to avoid this is by doing a good old “reccy” or in other words, take the time to drive to, and scope out exactly where you’ll need to go on the day in advance – ideally at a similar time of the day as your interview so you get a true reflection of the journey traffic.
Here’s the gem – a lot of interviewers open with small talk – “Did you find us alright?”/ “Have you had to travel far?” “Yes, I actually dropped by the other day so I knew exactly where to come”/ “Not too far but I knew where I was going because…” Nothing says, “I’m taking this interview very seriously and I really want this job” like going out of your way to make an extra journey, and trust me they’ll take note.
Get to Know the Company
Employers want to hire candidates who want to work for THEIR company, so if you turn up with the impression that you’re just after job regardless as to where it is, you’ll put them off immediately. The easiest way to get across to the interviewer that you’re interested in an opportunity with them specifically is by doing your research. To do this properly there’s no point just having a quick look round their website – you need to be extremely thorough, and dig into the deeper level pages so you understand exactly what they’re about. Try and find any direct links between your own knowledge/experience and the information in their website and jot them down. Have they got any recommendations from clients that you’ve had dealings with in the past? Do they do any work in geographical areas that you’ve also had experience of? You’re essentially looking to find common ground that will make for easy conversation with the interviewer, whilst impressing them that you’ve done your homework.
Next is the research that will almost certainly set you apart from any other candidates they’re seeing, especially those who’ve done minimal preparation. Start by running a Google search of the company, and filtering the results to “news.” Here you might find success stories that have been covered in the press, or recognition and awards they’ve received – which they’ll no doubt be very proud of. Flattery goes a long way, so if you can tell the interviewer how impressed you were to read about their latest achievement, it will go a long way. Finally, most companies are now utilising social media channels to further market their business, and by checking them you may find other interesting snippets of information that are worth taking note of. Have a quick search for them on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram and LinkedIn - the great thing about social media is it is in real time, so you may come across a new product launch/recent announcement that hasn’t yet made it to their website.
Competency-based questions have become an increasingly popular interview method in recent years, so it’s crucial to be prepared. If you don’t know what competency-based questioning is, stop, and do some research immediately! There’s countless articles available online, giving examples of the kinds of questions you may be asked based on the role you’ve applying for, but they often include variants of the following:
- “Can you give an example of a time whereby you overcame a difficult situation?”
- “Can you describe a time when you suggested a new idea within the workplace?”
- “Describe an occasion when you went above and beyond the call of duty in order to help a client/customer”
Whilst it’s impossible to predict exactly which questions you’ll be asked, the best thing you can do to prepare is to take a little while to reflect on your career/previous work history. Start by thinking of the highlights – what have been your greatest achievements, or your proudest moments in the work place? Think about them in detail – how did the situations come about? What did you do exactly to give you that sense of achievement? Did you do anything different than would have been asked/expected? By reliving these moments in your mind in detail, you ensure that you’ll have some good, and most importantly specific examples that could be relevant to a number of competency-based questions depending on which ones come up.
Next, and uncomfortable though it may be, you need to reflect honestly on times when things just haven’t gone your way, or you’ve simply dropped the ball and made a mistake – it happens to everyone! Employers know you’re only human, and understand that sometimes things go wrong, but what they’re most interested in is how you react in these situations. I’m sure any person in a position of leadership reading this would agree there’s nothing more frustrating than constant excuses, and an inability to take ownership and learn from mistakes. What an interviewer is looking for is someone who can say “If I’m being honest, I hadn’t anticipated X may happen prior to doing Y. I did Z to rectify the issue on this occasion, and going forward I always did X,Y,Z beforehand to make sure it wouldn’t happen again.” By focusing on what you learned from your mistakes in planning for competency-based questions, you’ll ensure you’ll be able to demonstrate the level of maturity in handling difficult situations the interviewer is looking for.
The end of every interview almost always finishes with an interviewer asking, “Have you got any questions for us?” and there’s nothing worse than being sat there blankly wondering whether or not you should have…you definitely should! Interviewers want to know that you take a real interest in their company, and this is a perfect opportunity to demonstrate the research you’ve done in advance! Don’t rely on thinking that throughout the course of the interview questions may come to you, as depending on how the interview goes you may end up with nothing.
Write down at least 5 questions in advance, based on information you’ve learned about the company – and certainly not along the lines of “How much annual leave would I get?” (Yes of course you want to know this, but hang fire until they actually offer you the job – you’ll be in a much better position to negotiate!) You need to think of engaging, open questions that show you’ve taken the time to learn about the company in detail, such as:
- “I noticed on LinkedIn that you’ve recently launched a new product/service – how’s that going?”
- “I’m very keen to develop in the future, and I noticed on your LinkedIn profile that you’ve been promoted – what progression routes are available within the company for someone in this role?”
- “I’m aware that the company has done some work with X,Y,Z – who would you say are your biggest clients?"
Once you’ve prepared you questions, don’t feel that you can’t take them into the interview with you (so long as they’re not scribbled on the back of a beer mat!) If you go into the interview with prepared notes it only further demonstrates your preparation, and shows how seriously you’re taking things.
Finally, and obvious though it may seem, always take the time to prepare yourself the NIGHT BEFORE the interview. You may already know exactly what you’re planning to wear, but wait until you’re digging your best suit out of the wardrobe only to realise there’s a mark on it, or its somehow creased beyond ironing… Nobody needs the stress of having to make an unexpected shopping trip the morning of an interview. Pick out your outfit, iron and hang up at the ready the evening before, along with any extras like handbags, cufflinks, ties, and shoes, so that all you need to do the next morning is relax and enjoy a coffee!
I wish you the best of luck if you’ve got an upcoming interview, and know that if you follow the steps above you’ll have the best possible chance at success. If you’re sat thinking you don’t have the time, or don’t really feel the need to do all of this in advance, perhaps you need to ask yourself if this is really an opportunity that excites you? Would you be thoroughly disappointed if you didn’t get this job? If not – do yourself and the interviewer a favour, call up the company and politely let them know that on reflection you don’t think you’d like to continue with the application process. They won’t mind – they’d rather know now than at the interview that your heart’s not really in it, and you can save yourself your time to concentrate on the roles that really are worth putting everything in to.