You may have had interviews in the past that felt like a general chitchat, where the interviewer didn’t ask you any particularly focused or challenging questions.
This might have gone well and you might have happily landed the position (in which case good for you!) but this post is aimed at preparing you for the well-prepared interviewer, and ensuring that you emerge as a favoured candidate!
1. Basic Preparation and the ‘S.T.A.R.’ Interview
Your initial preparation for the interview should involve:
i) reading up about the company, including any current issues reported in the public domain affecting it (while compiling your own questions and coming to your own well thought-through conclusions)
ii) a thorough review of the job description and preparation of answers to respond to competencies required (see S.T.A.R. below)
iii) an understanding of your strengths and weaknesses and preparation to discuss your weaknesses in a positive/self-improving light; and
iv) making sure you know where and when you are supposed to be for the interview while planning to arrive in plenty of time!
You should prepare to face a ‘S.T.A.R.’ interviewer, meaning there will be a focus on some behavioural examples covering ‘Situation, Task, Action and Result’. This is a recognised interview method to help the interviewer assess your abilities. The focus will usually be on real situations you have been involved in rather than hypothetical ones, however should the interviewer use hypothetical situations the S.T.A.R method will equally help structure your responses.
Using the S.T.A.R. method, your interviewer will want to hear examples of leadership, teamwork, initiative, problem solving, communication and commercial awareness. In preparation, think about past situations where you have demonstrated these competencies, e.g. through work experience, studies or hobbies. Then think about presenting these naturally (i.e. not in a ‘rehearsed’ manner) covering the S.T.A.R. checklist:
This sets the scene for the example, e.g. ‘While I was working at…’ Keep this brief and to the point.
What was the specific task you were faced with? Keep this credibly within the situation: If the task is something that you were required to do beyond your normal day-to-day activities this will come across well.
What did you do to complete the task that was asked of you/what competencies did you put to the test? Explain what your objective was and how you evaluated what needed to be done. This is where you can talk about overcoming any challenges or obstacles you faced while performing the task.
Your chance to express what a great outcome your actions led to! Try to be as clear and specific as possible about the result and perhaps conclude with a description of what you learned from the experience. Negative results are fine: Show how you were resilient and learned to improve from the negative experience.
Remember to listen carefully and to respond to questions honestly and precisely. Stay relaxed and trust that you have prepared adequately to show the interviewer you are serious about the position. If your responses are not what the interviewer is looking for, chances are you’re better off not pursuing that contract anyway.
2. Body Language/Non-Verbal Communication Skills
Up to 90% of communication can be non-verbal. Here are some body language dos and don’ts during the interview:
- Touch your face or scratch your head or back of neck. This sends a message that you are not comfortable or otherwise not focused
- Fidget, repeatedly cross your legs or drum your fingers on the table
- Fold your arms in front of your chest – this is a defensive posture at best or at worst indicate that you have something to hide
- Slouch down in your chair
- Prior to the interview, check that your tie, jacket and/or dress is straight and that you are happy with your appearance
- At the start of the interview, stand-up, make sincere eye contact with your interviewer and firmly (not overly firmly!) shake your interviewer by the hand
- Take a seat only when invited to do so
- Sit upright (but not in a forced manner), keeping your hands rested on the table or crossed, squarely facing your interviewer
- Use positive body language throughout the interview, including nodding, smiling and agreeing where appropriate, while maintaining eye contact throughout such gesturing
3. Phone Interviews
A key to any successful interview, in particular a successful telephone interview where it is not possible to put forward good non-verbal communication, is the composure that comes with natural and calm speech. To achieve this, some practice might be helpful. Taking the points in 1. above and in particular the S.T.A.R. method, try to construct some interview questions and ask a friend or member of your family to conduct a mock interview.
Try to record the mock interview. Apart from ensuring you have the right content to respond with, you can play it back to hear your composure, clarity of tone and whether you are overly prone to interrupting your answers with “ums” or “ahs”; you can then consciously adjust for this.
Some tips for the phone interview itself:
- Be sure you know whether the interviewer is calling you or if you need to make the call
- Sit, or if it suits you better, stand (standing can give your voice more enthusiasm), in a quiet and comfortable area so you can focus on the interview
- When you answer the phone, do so with your name rather than a ‘hello’
- When addressing the interviewer, use their title and last name unless they have said that you can address them by their first name
- Do not interrupt the interviewer (you will come across as a good listener) and feel at liberty take a brief pause before answering any questions
- Don’t be afraid to ask the interviewer to repeat a question if you have not absorbed it fully
- Have a notepad handy and jot down any questions that occur to you for when it is your turn to talk
- Keep a copy of your CV in front of you
- Smile often when you are responding – this will naturally change the tone of your voice and project a positive image to the listener
- Don’t forget to thank the interviewer when it is over!
If you have the email address of the interviewer, consider following-up from the phone interview with a further thank you note to demonstrate your continued interest in the role.
4. It’s a Two-Way Street
Remember that the interview should be as much about you learning about your potential client as them learning about you. Use the time wisely and when appropriate ask any burning questions you’ve been storing-up or which occur to you during the interview. Apart from creating a good impression by showing an interest in the company (and importantly the human being in front of you), people often like expressing their own views or sharing their own experiences, so you should indulge them a little and help them come away from the interview with a positive impression!