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Be prepared… (interview advice)

A question I regularly get asked by candidates is “what can I expect at interview and how can I best prepare?”

Let’s face it, every process is different and every client will approach interviews slightly differently, so there is never going to be a ‘one size fits all’ answer to this question. However, the one thing that does apply to all interviews is that rigorous preparation is vital, at every stage in the process.

No matter who you are meeting, whatever their level and whatever the company, you need to show that this job is the one that you want and that you have thought very carefully about why you want to join this company.

Only yesterday I was speaking to a client about this very subject - she had recently met with a candidate whose experience could have seen her do well, and many aspects of her interview were pointing to this candidate being taken through to the next stage in the process. However, one thing let her down - she didn’t show that she really wanted it and the lack of preparation was a giveaway. Had this candidate taken more time to do her background research and dig around for information that would have given her an excellent basis for an informed discussion about both the company in question and the issues it was facing then the likelihood is that she would still be in the process now. It’s that simple, and it’s such an easy thing to do. The internet is an incredible source of information, let alone the abundance of sector specific publications and journals out there. There really is no excuse and somehow the “I’ve been too busy at work” line either never works!

So what are the key things that we would suggest you cover in your preparation for a first round competency interview:

  • Know your CV inside-out - prepare the most relevant examples to illustrate your experience in the competency areas that this role requires
  • Know the job spec inside-out - be ready to be quizzed on why your experience is a good fit for what they are looking for and why your experience is better than the next candidate’s
  • Know your strengths and weaknesses - everyone has development points, and a career move is a great way to address them
  • Learn about the person you are meeting - understand their career path to date and where they have been to date. A great talking point if nothing more and again, it shows your research. LinkedIn is a wonderful thing!
  •  Do your background research -recent news about the company and its wider sector, including competitor news and the issues they face.
  • Talk to people who work in or closely with the organisation; insider insight will prove invaluable.
  • Think about your own progression - where do you want to be in 3 or 5 years time? They won’t be looking for concrete answers, rather evidence that you have thought through how this role would fit into your longer-term plans
  • Be clear about why this role appeals to you and why you want to move on from your current role. Focus on the positive and not the negative reasons for this.
  • And finally, think positively - positive thinking will show in your approach and illustrate how much you want this job.

If all goes well and you progress to later stages in the process, then you may have to go through a series of case study interviews. For tips on how to master the case interview, take a look at Katharine’s blog on 11th November 2010.

In the meantime, don’t be put off by the kind of questions that some companies are reportedly using in interviews - I can’t help feeling that some are taking it all one step too far. Here is a small sample of what you could be up against if Google is where you are headed….

  • “How many piano tuners are there in the entire world?”
  • “Imagine you have a closet full of shirts. It’s very hard to find a shirt. So what can you do to organise your shirts for easy retrieval?”
  • “Explain a database in three sentences to your eight-year-old nephew”
  • “A man pushed his car into a hotel and lost his fortune. What happened?”

Good luck!

Polly MacLehose is a consultant on the Select Team at FreshMinds Talent