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September 3, 2014

Preparing for an interview?

Our Deputy MD Neil has rounded up his top tips in this week’s blog.

Our Deputy MD Neil has rounded up his top tips in this week's blog.

Interviewing can be daunting for a variety of reasons - lack of practise, lack of confidence, a fear of an unknown situation.  In all cases, the primary problem that lies behind difficulties in interview situations is a lack of preparation.

You will need to bear in mind the following areas when preparing for interview:

Specific Questions
Knowing the Brief

Strong communication in an interview is absolutely essential - without it, your experience and skill set are almost irrelevant.  If you cannot accurately and clearly convey your message to your interviewer, then the content of what you're saying is rendered useless. 

Always remember that, in general, interviewing is not the same as a normal conversation.  The way that you communicate, verbally and non-verbally, should be structured differently to your ordinary conversational style:

  • Listen to the whole question
  • Consider your whole answer
  • Deliver your whole answer
  • Wait for the next question

Many interviewees fail to communicate clearly because they fail to consider their answer before delivering it.  Instead, they will plough straight into delivering the answer and attempt to think as they go along.  This approach can lead to long, unstructured, vague and weak answers.  

In non-verbal terms, your communication should always convey alertness, enthusiasm, and attention:

  • Maintain eye-contact
  • Sit up straight
  • Don't fidget

Above all else, you should aim to speak more slowly and more deliberately than you ordinarily would.  Don't be afraid to pause for thought (not for too long!) in order to make sure that you have a clear point to deliver, and you know the approximate wording that you will use.  This will ensure that you answer extremely coherently, and come across as considered and clear in your thinking.

Specific Questions
Interviewees will often run into difficulty in an interview if they find themselves having to think on their feet for long periods of time - it's difficult to sustain clear, accurate communication in an interview if you're constantly struggling to find the right answers to the questions being put to you. 

It's sensible, therefore, to prepare for specific questions - to have answers lined up for questions that you know are extremely likely to be asked during the interview. 

Every type of organisation, and type of role, will have a slightly different set of questions that frequently get asked during interviews. There are a few generic questions that get asked in nearly every interview and for every kind of role:

  • Why are you leaving your current role?
  • Why do you want to work for us?
  • What do you know about our organisation 
  • What are your long term ambitions in your career?
  • What are your strengths?
  • What are your weaknesses?

If you've prepared strong, robust, clear answers to these, and other generic questions that are highly likely to be asked, then you are setting yourself up for a less stressful interview - you won't be forced to think on your feet constantly, and you will gain confidence from delivering answers that you already know are suitable.

Knowing the Brief
Job specs are written for a reason.  Likewise, recruitment consultants brief you on a role for a reason.  Interviewers are rarely impressed by interviewees who are unable to demonstrate that they understand the role that they are interviewing for.  Why?  Because interviewers don't want to waste 15 minutes of an interview filling you in on what the job entails - rather, they want to spend that time getting to know why you're suitable for it. 

Furthermore, by thoroughly reading a job spec you can begin to get to grips with understanding the kinds of questions you're going to be asked, and the areas that your interviewer might focus on during your interview.  Look at the "role requirement" or "experience" section of a job spec.  You would be sensible to prepare to answer questions based around your experience, vs. these wish lists.  Consider areas of your experience that you think are especially relevant.  Make sure that you talk about these areas during the interview when given the opportunity. 

Knowing the Organisation
Knowing the detail of the organisation at which you're interviewing goes hand in hand with knowing the job spec, and benefits you in the same way.  Spend time researching their core activities, their history, key members of their senior staff.  Talk about what you've found out, always making sure that you link your findings to positive reasons why you're keen to work with the organisation.  

Thoroughly understanding the organisation means that you'll be better prepared for questions surrounding your motivation, and also has the added benefit of clearly demonstrating to your interviewer that you're taking the prospect of working for them seriously. 

Top Tips
Bear in mind these possible pitfalls during an interview:

Filling the Silence - don't feel compelled to continue speaking once you've delivered your answer.  Remember that interviewers will frequently be taking notes as you speak - don't take their silence as an indication that they want you to keep talking, they will often be noting down the points of your answer.  Continuing to talk once you've delivered your answer can undo your hard work if you're not careful - you can start to be vague, unfocused, and talk about irrelevant topics. 

Boundaries - remember that an interview is your opportunity to present yourself in the best possible light to a prospective employer.  Be constantly aware of the way that you could be being perceived.  Tailor your conduct to suit the tone set by the interviewer.  However, always remember that you should maintain a standard of behaviour in an interview that goes further than the "bare minimum" required.  And always follow the golden rules: don't swear, don't get personal, don't talk about confidential information, and don't get caught out by being too flippant.

Complacency - remember, you may be getting all the right signals from your interviewer and be feeling extremely positive about the outcome, but you should be wary of switching off. The best interviewers maintain their focus and discipline until the final handshake. 

Finally, remember to look and dress the part!  Dress as smartly as you can, and work hard on your presentation - because first impressions count, even in the charity sector.  Remember to smile as much as you can, because interviewers will decide within the first 5 minutes if you are right for them - and a candidate who smiles a lot will help the panel to relax as well.

Good luck!


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