Part Thirteen: Interviews

This is the thirteenth part of a series of mini guides which aims to help you find a career you love. They include tips from me but also practical advice from some of the hundreds of individuals who I have coached over the last 10 years, the sort of things they may have shared with friends or family going through a career move.

When it comes to interviews my advice is preparation, preparation, preparation. Most people find it difficult to talk about themselves and by practicing this gets more familiar. It can help to remember that the purpose of the interview is not for you to overly sell yourself but rather let the interviewer know that you have a solution to their problem (their problem being the need for expertise in their team). Also, I encourage interviewees to be naturally curious; try to make the interview a conversation rather than you simply waiting for a question, answering it and then waiting for the next one. The best interviews are a 50:50 split in talking between interviewer and interviewee.

“Be confident, but not arrogant, in the interview. They want you to do well, if they didn't want you wouldn't have been invited to interview. Research the company before you apply, and make sure you have thought of some questions to ask them (especially if the questions demonstrate you have done your research). Be ready for the "describe your strengths and weaknesses" question - most people go straight to weaknesses and struggle to come up with strengths.”

“The mock interview I did with you was great because then I practiced talking about myself all the time. Part of that process was eliminating negative thought. The last few years at my old company had been pretty brutal for all and demoralizing. Letting go of frustration, tiredness, cynicism took time. It was crucial, though, because no one wants to hear any hints of 'bitter'. You have to sound positive and believe what you are saying.”

“Do extensive research on any company that you get an interview with.  Take print outs of key documents and ask questions to the interviewers about these documents.  I am never afraid to surround myself with printed paper at an interview as it shows the prospective employer that you have put significant thought into their business.”

“Again preparation is everything and you can get lists of common interview questions quite easily off the internet.  Know who you are and what is your USP - the most common question I have found is 'Tell me about yourself'?'.  As a basic fundamental you should have a rehearsed and memorised a 60 - 90 second piece ready for delivery on this question or similar. This should cover a potted history of your recent or most notable achievements and your key skills with examples - it should not be just a list of your roles with description - they will want to know what you are going to bring to role for which you are being interviewed not a list of battle honours.  The process for going through this exercise is quite cathartic as it really makes you think about what you have to offer and this needs to be practised in front of the mirror.  A lot of what an interview is about is a performance - the interviewer really only wants to know 3 things - can you do the job?, do you want the job? and will you fit in? and a well prepared opener will put you in a good position re the first two of these requirements. Remember that the interviewer will probably make up his or her mind about you in the first 4-5 minutes and rest of the interview will be about the panel giving confirmation bias to their initial impression.”  

“With respect to going for interviews, good preparation involves practice with telling your career story, having an 'elevator' pitch to sell yourself. Practicing with a coach can be extremely helpful to iron out nervousness and polish your delivery.”

Many interviewers will use competency based interview questions to determine how you would approach a particular situation. A common way of responding to such questions is by using STAR stories, as below:

S – What was the situation?
T – What tasks were you involved in?
A – What actions did you take? These should be specific and personal.
R – What was the result, outcome or benefit?

Whilst the situation and tasks are important to set the scene, the actions you took (and why you took them) and the results are what recruiters will be most interested in.

“The best thing that worked for me was developing several examples of what I had achieved, using the STAR model for clearly describing my achievements.  I developed 7 or 8 different STAR anecdotes, and practised them. It really helped me clarify my thinking about why certain activities had been important and helped me make more effective points around results in interviews, rather than getting long-winded describing the background to situations. I found that an anecdote would cover off, for example, leadership and influence and teamwork, so allowing me to adapt each story to the specific competence being asked about in the interview situation. And remember, practice makes perfect!” 

“I have a document that lists out my top 10 achievements with the companies that I have worked for.  This document looks at the situation, what you did, and the result”

This series of mini guides will give you some practical tips and hints from people that have been through it and found what they are looking for. The next one is about self-employment.

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