Interviews suck, this is known (yay Game of Thrones is back on!). Nobody likes to be interrogated and judged in front of a panel. But it doesn’t have to be that bad. I am in no way saying I am an expert at interviews, but I feel I have swapped jobs enough times and had enough interviews to share my tips with anyone who will listen. I am one of those applicants that will not necessarily be invited for an interview, but when I do, I always end up getting the job – must be doing something right…right?
I am not a magician (I wish) and there sadly is no cutting corners here. The key is preparation. The good news is that most employers are now scoring people through Competency Based Interviews (CBIs). You hate those and don’t see how is this good news? Well, it means you only have to spend loads of time seriously preparing once and you can amend the same material to suit pretty much every interview!
Let’s start with some basics that apply to every interview. I will continue with more ‘serious’ advice after this.
Advice for your person
- Check that you have all the documents needed for the interview at least a day before the interview. Believe me, if you haven’t used your passport in a while you might find yourself digging for it through the gazillions of bags you never knew you had. You don’t need that stress.
- I know ironing is for the weak, but just do it. Iron some interview-appropriate clothes. Make sure they are clean, tidy and simple. Statement pieces might be trendy but they will only distract interviewers’ attention from what you have to say. Same goes for the make up.
- Wake up as early as you can, depending on when your interview is. Get enough sleep. Like, sleep a lot, prevent yourself from your mushy brain. If forced to choose between extra preparation or sleep – always choose sleep.
- If you’re very nervous, do not eat anything stupid like something that has a laxative effect. You do not want, nor need that. Just trust me.
- Always have tissues, there is nothing more distracting as sniffling or sneezing during your speech.
- Actually I take that back, don’t ever chew gum during your interview. That’s more distracting. It’s disrespectful, distracting and just not attractive. I understand I do not need to include this as everyone knows that, but just in case. Do chew some gum to make sure your breath is nice and minty (actually a good tip) but remember to spit it out before your interview starts.
- This hits near home – always turn off your phone. Little known fact, if you had a reminder for anything set up – even if you put your phone on silent the reminder will ring as loud and clear as it can. Then you will apologise repeatedly while fidgeting in your bag just to accidentally press a snooze button and repeat all this 5 to 10 minutes later. Can you tell that this had happened to me (yesterday)? Just play it safe and turn it off completely.
Now that the basics are covered, let’s get into it.
Advice for your performance
8. Save the job description on your computer after applying. It will disappear after the closing day and you might forget which job exactly was it, since you applied to so many.
9. Get yourself a highlighter and get down on that job description. Mark the main qualities in the job description: maybe it’s organisational skills, problem solving, effective communications, team work, leadership etc. These will be your indicators on what sort of person they are looking for and how you should present yourself to suit that description. You should focus down at least 5. Most of the times there will be 4-8 competencies that the questions will target during your average CBIs. The most common competencies are:
- Communication skills
- Decision making
- Goal orientation
If you generally prepare example situations to answer questions targeting these you will be fine at most interviews.
10. Pull out your CV and decide which job/volunteering experience/hobby fits which competency the best. Make sure not to focus on one specific experience and include as many as possible. If you do not have that much to refer to yet, you can (and should not be afraid to) include your hobbies and talents too.
11. The questions will always ask for a specific instance where your actions demonstrated these desired traits. This is why it’s so important to prepare for these. You need to look back and carefully chose a real situation where you think you showed team leading skills, excellent problem solving, stellar organisational skills etc.
12. Prepare your answers using the STAR scheme. That is:
Situation – with few to-the-point sentences set the situation. Always determine which past position you are referring to.
Task – describe the situation and the problem/s that were involved. Try and make it clear why it was unusual for that role. You can go with the every-day situation example but I find that the unusual/problematic situations also add the sense that you do not crash under pressure.
Action – this is where you should include most details. Explain what you have decided to do and reasons why. It’s important to provide these reasons and show that you were able to assess the situation and efficiently decide on the best course of action.
Results – happy ending. Do not brag and make yourself an office hero, just be to the point and explain what your actions prevented and/or gained, how did the team or company benefit from this.
Have the samples prepared, and even if the question differs slightly you will be able to adjust it to suit the situation. ‘Winging’ it really doesn’t work here. Sadly. Maybe to a degree.
13. Before you go to your interview, pop into the bathroom and do some “Power Poses”. That pretty much means to stand straight and take up as much space as possible. Studies show that people who do this for a few minutes before the interview perform statistically better. This is just because acting like an alpha (by assuming the stance) grants you the confidence, and confidence is, obviously, really important and transparent during the interview. There are many studies that show similar effect but you can watch this really interesting Ted talk to learn more about it.
14. While answering questions confidently look at the person who asked it. If there is a panel of people, distribute your attention to the 9:1 ratio, focusing mostly on the person who asked you a question and very infrequently look at other interviewers to acknowledge that you have a bigger audience.
15. Body language is as important as what you actually say. I still remember the study done in 1974 by Word et al where white interviewers subconsciously (as rated themselves not prejudice towards race) adapted different (hostile) body language when interviewing african americans resulting in african americans performing worse and not getting the job. Then they brilliantly decided to hire an actor to either perform the body language that was seen in interviewing white people or african americans but in both cases do this with white population being interviewed. White people who were treated with the same body language as was seen with african americans performed much worse than white people who observed the non-hostile body language. I think this was a fascinating study. You cannot control the body language of your potential employer but you should do everything to make sure you display positive queues such as:
- Lean towards the interviewers
- Do not cross your arms/legs/fingers. Just don’t cross anything
- Keep eye contact (don’t stare like a creep though)
- Do not sit at an angle to any of the interviewers, shoulder orientation does matter
16. This one takes a little while to perfect but some research has shown that subtly gesturing at yourself every time you use a positive adjective/trait will create an association between you and those traits. Now if this does not come/look naturally maybe skip it until you feel confident. The last thing you need is to either get really distracted by it or looking a bit weird.
17. If they do add the additional ‘what’s your biggest weakness’ question, your best answer is always to say ‘That I have not worked for you/your company before. I will not know everything the minute I start. However, I have demonstrated my quick learning skills at the (insert the position) through (insert the situations where you needed to adapt to a new system etc quickly) and given some time I am very confident I will be able to meet and exceed your expectations.’ This way you admit a weakness (so you answer the question) but you quickly turn the question around from focusing on what you lack in to what you are good at. Works every time. You’re welcome haha.
18. If you are desperate you can exaggerate slightly but do not lie. If you found yourself lying for some unknown reasons even to you (it happens) and if no follow up questions made it clear you were lying, learn as much about that something you just made up once you are back home, cover everything in case that comes up again on your first day at work.
19. Always ask questions about the role at the end of the interview, it shows that you are genuinely interested in it and you want to choose a position that suits you well.
20. DO NOT ask about the salary – this sends the exact opposite message. If the salary was not included in the advert, you will have time to ask this once you’ve been offered the position.
To anyone who is still reading – congratulations and thank you for your patience. I know this ended up being quite lengthy but I did not want to limit this by force. I am sure I forgot at least a few important points and will edit this to add them at the end once the realisation hits hah. I hope you have found at least 1 point that you think might be useful for your next interview.
Never be upset if you did not get the position, you got to practice your interview skills and you are one step closer to performing better at it!
Let me know about your experience during the interviews and feel free to add your advice and tricks in the comments!