Succeed at your job interview by carrying out these 5 areas of preparation

If you want to maximise your chances of success at your next job interview, then there are some essential steps that you need to follow. Having interviewed 100s of people over the last 10 years, I have seen people making the same mistakes over and over again – things that could have easily been avoided if they had followed these 5 key steps:

STEP 1: Make sure you know the details of the job you have applied for really well

This sounds obvious but you would be surprised by the number of people who turn up for an interview knowing very little about the job. Perhaps they applied for multiple jobs and lost track of what each specific job involved? Who knows? The key thing though is to have an excellent understanding of the duties involved in the job and the main experience, skills and knowledge required. An interviewing panel will not be impressed if they ask you what aspects of the job you are most looking forward to and you struggle to remember the details of the job.

Moreover, if you don’t understand the job really well and the skills, experience and knowledge required, how can you properly prepare for the interview? See step 3 for more information on this point.

STEP 2: Understand the key things that the organisation does and how this job fits in

Now you have probably read people say that you need to do preparation for an interview but may be unsure what they mean by this. Well, one critical thing that candidates seem to fail to do is to research the organisation, so make sure this is a part of your preparation.  Now, I am not saying this should be the main part of your preparation but you need to spend around an hour reading about the company.  This can include things like:

  • Reading through the company’s website to get a sense of its values and key strategic aims
  • Looking at the company pages, relevant people and their roles in the organisation via LinkedIn
  • Searching for recent news articles or press releases that may contain gems of information
  • Asking the HR department if you can be sent a copy of their latest internal bulletin
  • Looking at relevant social media  - many organisations now have a Facebook and Twitter presence

Now some of you may be asking why you should go to all this effort to read up about a company before you have even got the job? Remember though, an interview is a two way process – just as the company is trying to assess your suitability, you are also assessing whether the company is somewhere that you want to work.  The more you read and the more you understand about the company culture and its values, the better informed you are to determine if this matches your personal beliefs and values.

In addition, the more informed you are about the company, the more chance you will have of impressing the interview panel. This is because there is bound to be a question or two where you can drop in some key information about the company that really shows your passion for the job and understanding of how they operate. Let me be clear though - I am not talking about facts and figures, as memorising these from the website and repeating them at the interview shows you have done some homework but not much more.  What I really mean is having the knowledge to be able to relate your skills and experience to specific information about the company.  Let me explain further. Perhaps you have found out from your research that the company is about to become involved in a merger or acquisition – something not obvious from the website but from recent news articles. Now suppose you have experience in this field but it is not obvious from your CV – well, what better opportunity to mention this than the interview when this will be fresh in the interviewers’ minds? Other similar nuggets about the company can be shaped around your relevant experience. It is only by reading widely though that you will find these and possibly avoid missing a great opportunity to enhance your credentials for the job.

STEP 3: Plan for the ‘why do you want this job’ question?

It is a fact that in 99% of interviews, you are going to be faced with some kind of ‘opening’ question that will  give you a chance to talk generally about yourself.  The exact wording will depend on the panel, but is always at the beginning of the interview and is your opportunity to make a brilliant impression from the very start.  Now make sure that, whether this is ‘why do you want the job’ or ‘tell me about yourself’, you are completely prepared for this question as I have seen so many people fluff this opportunity, and when they do, they rarely end up securing the job.

What do you need to do? It is straightforward really – you need to spend some time writing some key bullet points about your key overarching strengths for the specific job in question.  This means that you have to know what the selection criteria for the job is and think about how you can relate this to your experience.  However, the key point here is to keep this at a headline level and not go into too much detail at this stage.  You want to give them a juicy taster that will get their mouths watering but nothing more.

Think about your overarching experience to begin with.  This can be things like the number of years experience in a particular sector, your professional qualifications and other aspects that briefly summarise your relevant career experience.

Now consider the key reason why you want the job and how can you relate this to your experience? Don’t fall into the trap of saying that you want the job because ‘its seems an exciting role’ or ‘because it is convenient to get to from where you live’ or ‘because the salary is really high’. 

What the interview panel really wants to know is that you are passionate about the role, that you will be fully committed to it and that you are capable of doing the job. Address these things in your response by linking the answer to relevant skills, experience and knowledge that you have.  Think about the top one or two things that are fundamental in this role and tell the panel how you have experience or proven results in these areas – keep it succinct and at a headline level.

This answer is the chance to sell yourself so you want to aim to be talking for 1-2 minutes. So to summarise:

  • Start off by giving a brief overview of your relevant career experience and overarching relevant qualities. Remember every sentence should be relevant to the job in question.
  • Follow this by mentioning a few specific examples related to the key job criteria that gives the panel a taster of the relevant experience you have.

This will make a fantastic impression on the panel and set you up well for the rest of the interview.      

STEP 4: Prepare your key career experiences and examples

Now this is a critical part of the preparation, and if done properly, will take you at least 4-5 hours in total, if not more. Why is it important? Well, because you need to head into that interview confident that you know yourself inside out and can give a number of different examples to support the statements you are going to make. Bland, general statements are not going to convince the interview panel that you have what it takes to do the job.

The best way to tackle this is to brainstorm all the achievements you have accomplished throughout your career.  This doesn’t have to be something spectacular, as it just needs to be evidence demonstrating your skill, knowledge or experience in some way. Therefore, think about projects you have worked on and results you have accomplished. Try to think as widely as possible and include relevant evidence from other aspects of your life such as hobbies, groups, societies etc.

In conjunction with this, you need to start thinking about the key areas that are going to be relevant for this job interview or similar types of interview in the future.  Read each line of the advert or job description carefully and start writing down all the criteria that is relevant for the job.  This will include things like communication skills, leadership ability, negotiation, problem solving etc etc.

Now start mapping across your career achievements to these different areas, selecting the example that is best in providing strong evidence for each of these areas.  If there are gaps where you have no achievements, you need to try and think of what other examples you can use to demonstrate your ability in this area.  Remember, you could get a question on this topic so really wrack your brains to make sure that you are going to be able to answer this question well when the time comes. Not having an example is not an option!

Finally, once you have a long list of examples relating to different core areas that are relevant for that job or job industry, the final step is to learn each of these off by heart. I know this can be tedious, but the more practice and revision you do, the more likely you will be to remember the evidence and use it appropriately at the interview. 

STEP 5: Practice answering questions and practice some more

Right so we are at the final stage and you are very nearly set to give the performance of your life at your next interview.  However, don’t relax just yet as the fifth step is also vitally important. Failure to carry out this step properly could undermine all the hard work you have done and leave you bitterly disappointed.

Practicing answering lots of different interview questions is important as it is training you to listen to the question, think on your feet and communicate a powerful answer that completely answers the question asked.  Sometimes you might think that you know what you will say to a particular question but it is only by vocalising this out loud that you actually start to train your brain for the interview and learn how best to structure your answer. You have probably heard people say that the more interviews you do, the better you will become.  Unfortunately though, this actually means that you have missed out on a series of jobs that may have been ideal for you. With adequate practice, you can perform well at the first interview and secure the job at the first attempt.

If you feel you would benefit from professional support such as a mock interview session, then contact us here and we will create a session tailored to the job sector you are aiming at