This guide is a step by step guide to making sure that you retain as much control as possible over the interview process so that with preparation and your own experience you can anticipate and correctly answer each point. All of this follows a simple process aimed at ensuring that the interviewer will be confident that you:
- are able to excel at the position in hand
- can get up to speed quickly
- will bring value to the existing situation
- ultimately save/make the company time and or money
Introduction to the Process
The Interview process is the tried and trusted way for companies to hire what they perceive to be the best staff for each position that arises, whether the candidate is internal or external. However, it’s important to take a step backwards to consider why you have been called for the interview.
It’s safe to assume that you, the person looking for a new job are extremely aware of your own circumstances and these are different for each candidate, but we need to consider the hiring company.
Hiring Company A has a vacancy. To correctly prepare for the interview you will need to ascertain why the position has arisen and put some thought into why this reason aligns with your own situation. Either the vacancy exists due to success of the company or because of a requirement to backfill, i.e. the previous incumbent has left or is leaving.
If it’s a new position, your mindset has to match the hiring company’s thinking. You’ll be taking a leap of faith with them.
If the vacancy is for a backfill position, this gives you the opportunity to research the previous holder
of the role, why if possible they have left and this can allow you the chance to mentally focus again on the needs of the hiring company.
Establishing this fact can be easy. You ask the person who has called you for interview.
Why is this important? For roles to be backfilled there’s an existing structure, reporting line, targets, timelines and other factors already pre-defined.
For new roles, you must ensure that you have considered these.
- Interview Principles
By dint of your Curriculum Vitae, Market reputation and/or word of mouth you have been asked to be interviewed for a given role.
The hiring manager wants to find out:
- Can you do the job in front of you?
- Do you want to fill this position?
- Are you motivated to improve the performance of the company?
- Will you fit in with the current team/customer/client base? (Cultural fit)
- Will you provide return on investment for them?
- Is your background what they are looking for and will it improve the existing team?
These are the principles that you must consider and have foremost in your mind to prepare correctly for every interview, whether it’s an initial telephone screening or if it’s the final round of interviews. Bear in mind that there may be numerous other people being interviewed for this role but by the same token it’s important to realise that their performance and/or background is beyond your control.
- Linear Approach
What we are creating here is a logical “Critical Path” method of looking at the interview process. Approaching it as a Project Management based task you must have schedules, to do lists and tasks prepared, each leading on to the next one. At the conclusion of the document you’ll find this broken down into tasks for the interview. Apply this process and it will ensure confidence and belief.
- Thinking Across the Desk
As mentioned above, during this process you will need to be able to put yourself in the chair opposite. To correctly match your skills to their requirements and present them correctly you need to Think Across the Desk and be able to understand what constitutes success for the interviewer.
A lot of this information you may have heard before, but put a foot wrong in the basics and you are in trouble. It would be remiss to provide an interview guide without mentioning and addressing each of these points. It’s not an exhaustive list and following these guidelines will not get you hired but if mis- handled it can guarantee that you don’t.
Simple, I know but do you know where you are going? Google Maps is a vital help to finding a specific company and many companies will have this on their own site.
Consider how you will get there versus where you are scheduled to be immediately prior to the interview. Be prepared for bad weather, bad traffic and bad public transport!
I cannot stress highly enough how important it is to reconnoitre the building. Look at it, if possible during business hours which will give an idea as to possible traffic issues, where to park, how long a walk from the train and so on. You can adjust to avoid any problems.
Your appearance, demeanour and even odour can be vital in an interview scenario. Showing up dressed incorrectly will definitely work against you.
So what is the best way to dress?
The tried and trusted method is slightly more formally than their dress code. You can ask the hiring manager in advance what the dress code is and establishing this is mentioned above. In the case of IT and Technology roles, smart casual is probably best, but if you are attending the interview directly after a day’s work, the hiring company should be told this and of course you will be adhering to the dress code that currently applies. This will not be an issue as generally interviews whilst already employed are of course frowned on and companies accept this.
If you smoke, don’t smoke for some time before the interview, ensure that a modest amount of aftershave/perfume or deodorant is used; ensure you look like you work there!
- Time Keeping
Being late can be disastrous. It demonstrates lack of motivation and sends a really bad message. If you are going to be late, call them and let them know and you’d better have a good reason. But if you are late without prior notice and an excellent reason it will work against you. Be 10 minutes early is a good rule of thumb.
One thing that is a very important is keeping focus on the questions being asked, the reason that you are in front of the interviewer and the fact that this is an interview. This is not a casual chat about your next career move. They may say it is an informal chat, but it is always an interview. Don’t bring in water bottles or chewing gum. If you meet in a hotel or a bar, don’t order alcohol.
Later on we’ll introduce the concept of Situation, Behaviour, Outcome which will help the focus, but it’s vital not to forget to focus. If you feel the interview is going well it’s easy to relax, maybe even slouch and start making jokes. Appropriate humour is welcome, but if you’re not focussed it’s easy to
say the wrong thing. Remember, this is NOT a chat, it is an INTERVIEW.
This is the real bones of this process. All else is pure common sense, however in this section we will break down the methods to ensure that you are supremely confident going into any interview. As time goes by this process will become second nature and you will follow it automatically.
- The Curriculum Vitae
Your own CV you should know like the back of your hand, however in your case it’s a relatively new document perhaps using phrasing that you normally wouldn’t use yourself.
For this reason it is imperative that you are very very comfortable with each word and every associated benefit of each action in previous/current roles.
CV Review: This will not take much time but it will require a friend to help you. Hand the CV to a friend and ask them to read it to you, line by line.
After each line you should then tell them all about it. E.g.:
- Senior Sales Manager with direct responsibility for improving margins, client register and geographical reach; achieved 74% increase in turnover within a 6 month period
Tell them about client register. Assume you are to be interviewed by a Managing Director. Her job is to manage and direct. Her direct reports deal with these issues and it’s just words to her. So the real test here is can you explain complex issues to an audience who may not be directly involved in your role?
Your friend will get up to speed quickly with this process and might even learn something!
What this will achieve is that in a short time you will be able to speak at length in plain English about each and every skillset on your CV. Therefore, no matter what is thrown at you during the interview, bearing in mind that all interviews are a combination of the Job Spec and the CV you will be comfortable, knowledgeable and able to project your knowledge easily.
- The Company
Would you employ somebody who knows nothing about your company? Neither would I. Going into an interview without having researched the company, the Organisational Chart of Employees (even a notional one is good, use LinkedIn or the Company site) and where the company has come from and where it is going, is vital.
You won’t need to work too hard to demonstrate this knowledge but it will help guide your answers. From a business standpoint, you will be able to establish what type of technologies they use, what their competitors use, what’s coming down the line in terms of future plans for development, social
media, mobile advances etc. and you can leverage this knowledge in how you frame your answers.
Use Social Media to get a grip on how they operate. Find their Facebook page and join it. Follow them on Twitter and LinkedIn.
You need to know:
- The origin of the company
- The future direction of the company
- Who are the players here?
- Who is the competition?
You will find other nuggets on their websites and other sources, but research is key.
Reason for leaving
Be positive about your reason for leaving your current position. Or any previous jobs, for that matter. The key word to remember is “more”. You want more challenges, more responsibility, more opportunity, etc. If you’ve been dismissed, stress how much you learned from the experience and how it has helped you become even better at what you do. Be as positive as you can.
- The Job Specification
The strongest clue you have to their requirements is the Job Specification. Later in this point I’ll address what to do if none is provided but we’re assuming that in this case they have.
The genesis from “Across the Desk” for the Job Specification is simple. They write down what the role entails and what their vision of the successful candidate is. Remember, it’s generally a wish list. If someone fills every criterion then they already work for the company! Another point to consider is that if the role is for a Contract or Interim position, then the successful candidate must be more experienced than the role in hand. If it’s a permanent role, in normal circumstances then the candidate should be slightly below the requirements so that the move suits all parties and there’s a motivation to move to this role on the part of the candidate. However, in recessionary times this shifts to parity with the experience required. Employers generally can pick and choose from a range of candidates.
If no Job Specification is supplied, then you need to write one for the role. How do you do this?
If the Job Title in question is: Senior Sales Manager, what you need to do is write a checklist of what you think the client is looking for.
- Experience in exceeding sales targets
- Internal liaison experience
- Industry knowledge and the ability to bring in new clients
- Extending geographical reach
- Onboarding exceptional sales staff and mentoring same
Assuming that you now have a Job Specification, we will address this specific preparation in the SBO
heading below and for this purposes we will use a real world specification.
- The Interviewer
We have briefly touched on the interviewer above but you need to be as armed as possible based on what knowledge you can garner about the actual person who is interviewing you. A simple Google search will probably find something on almost anybody but I strongly suggest using LinkedIn.
Obviously they are a senior person in this organisation, so where did they come from? Are there any similarities between them and you? Perhaps they are interested in Science Fiction podcasts too? You never know and if you can find a common area of interest beyond Technology and have a legitimate reason to bring it up, this can allow you to demonstrate attention to detail, rapport, how seriously you take and want this role and generally put the interviewer at their ease.
- Why you? Why them?
Part of what the interviewer needs to establish is precisely this. Why you and why them. You need to be able to demonstrate to the interviewer and the company at large that you are the best mix. You need to show that you can fix their pain. You are looking for a Solutions Designer. I design solutions.
From the other point of view, Why Them? Hiring companies want their prospective employees to WANT to work for them. Imagine Google. Lots of people really really want to work for them, but why? Great PR? Super funky offices? Perhaps and they hear that all the time. However, the people that they do hire are genuinely aligned to their core values.
They want not to be evil! They want to be part of the most innovative and creative software related company in the world. Not what the company can do for them, but what they can do with the company, to paraphrase. When your interview is confirmed, consider this sentence and what is it you
want to do with the company. Not how much they can pay you.
- Situation, Behaviour, Outcome (SBO)
As mentioned above regarding Job Specifications, SBO is the easiest and most overlooked method of acing interviews. In the interview itself you will be asked questions based on the Specification and
your CV. To make sure you get your point across you should take the following steps.
- Listen to the question and you request clarification or repetition if required.
- Tell the interviewer the Situation. This is how it was.
- Then tell them the Behaviour. This is what I did.
- Then tell them the outcome. This is how it is now.
- Smile politely and answer follow up questions in the same fashion.
If you are lucky enough to be called for a competency based interview, approaching each competency or line from the Specification in this fashion with prepared answers will allow you to score incredibly highly (as it’s a statistical way of interviewing). If it’s not a really formal competency based format and
a more traditional “chat” one, then the interviewer cannot help but be impressed with your approach and your no nonsense way of answering the questions.
SBO appears to be all very well but how do I prepare? Going back to the real world it’s essentially Responsibilities v Requirements. If we take a sample line from a random job specification;
- Building a business field sales team capable of meeting and exceeding the companies sales targets across the companies network footprint
Interviewer will ask this question or something very similar.
Tell me about a situation where you built a sales team and exceeded targets?
When I was promoted to Sales Manager the team was underachieving and were low on morale.
I put in place a number of initiatives, refocused the team by predefining exactly what Key Performance Indicators were expected of each and created an ongoing training programme to help them identify and address issues that each were having. I also negotiated a bonus with management
for a weekend away for the entire team if we hit target by Christmas.
By Christmas, we had already hit the initial target and brought on board a new staff member, so we all received our bonuses but also went on our weekend away.
And repeat. For each line of the Job Specification you will now have an SBO ready. The hiring company wrote the outline of what it is that they want. Now you have been told what they need to know. You should prepare in this fashion so that anything they ask you about in any of these areas you have knowledge of you will have examples. And you will have examples in the SBO format that follows the linear fashion that most interviewers want, and especially technically minded people.
- The Mock Interview
As mentioned above you will need some help with preparing the CV. Use the services of your friend when you have prepared your SBO and hand the spec to them.
Ask your friend to Interview you based on the spec.
“Tell me about read a line from the spec”
Using your memory of creating your SBO, brainstorm the answers. You now have written the answers down, you have answered them in a mock environment and verbalised them. From a psychological point of view, seeing the words and getting them out of your head is all very well, but enunciating
them is a different kettle of fish and can be very hard to do the first time.
You now are very well prepared for the interview by knowing your own skills and how they are presented and taking their requirements and matching your skills, with the ability to present the answers that they need to hear in the Situation, Behaviour, Outcome format.
- Curveballs and Sample Questions
It’s extremely difficult to prepare for curveball questions, but there are the classics.
What are your weaknesses? What mistakes have you made?
And so on.
Giving answers to these are always on a case by case basis. What you can control is what not to say. Turning a weakness into a strength can be construed as arrogance. So be careful.
E.g. I work too hard sometimes Prepare an answer for this that is honest but not over the top.
”there have been occasions in the past where I’ve focussed too much energy on areas that are not critical to the go live period. I’m aware of this, so I tend to be a stickler in dealing with issues of clarity with Project Managers. This can drive them mad on occasion but it’s important for me to make sure my work is focussed.”
Something like this shows self awareness and an ongoing ability to fix it. A good rule of thumb however is to ask yourself this.
“What are the questions that I really hope are not asked.”
Write down three of them and then write the answers down. You’ll then find yourself hoping that they ask those formerly tricky questions.
Most people’s insecurities are based on not addressing issues that are bothering them. Face up to what you’re afraid of in these situations and you will become bulletproof.
A concern with looking at body language is that it’s an art in and of itself. So much effort can be put into body language and how to convey meaning and subtext, truth and belief.
You can avoid this by only paying attention to the most important things to get yourself in the situation where all of your body language is natural and effective. Getting passionate about your subject
Take some time over the next few weeks to watch the body language of people who are engaged in what they are doing. Watch the focus as the barber cuts your hair. See how the football fan is on the edge of his seat during a big match.
What makes the interviewer see that you are engaged will happen as long as you are engaged and you know that they need to see it. Look like you’re paying attention. Don’t slouch, don’t doodle and maintain eye contact during the question.
This is more about mental comfort than physical comfort. Assuming your clothes fit correctly and you’re dressed correctly for weather conditions you’ll be fine. But if you have prepared you are comfortable. You can discuss at length anything that’s asked about your CV, your experience, the company, the jobspec and even curveballs that are thrown at you.
Preparation is key and if you’re prepared you’ll win.
- Passion v Gravitas
Passion can become excessive, where you’re discussing a given technology and foaming at the mouth, going off topic because you’re discussing your two favourite subjects. You and Technology. Gravitas is the demonstration of your seriousness of the situation, i.e. the interview and the chance to work with this company and should temper the passion. Passion + Gravitas = Credibility.
As mentioned above you may find common ground with your interviewer on a personal level. Maybe you are into golf and they have a golf trophy on their desk. Golfers love golfers, sci fi fans like other sci fi fans!
Rapport cannot be faked but it really helps to be in a positive frame of mind. To remember that each of us has our faults and as such, we’re all in this together.
Of course there is such a thing as negative rapport, but that’s beyond your control.
Closing and Following up
Here we will consider what happens towards the end of the interview and after it is over. Again it’s important to remember that the interview itself is only part of their process, although it’s extremely big for you, it’s part of their day to day operations and they may be interviewing several other candidates.
To this end, you need to consider the following.
- Any Questions?
Have you any questions for me (us)? A line that gets asked at pretty much every interview. You MUST prepare good interesting questions for this.
How long have you been with the company?
Why have you stayed so long with the company? What attracts you to here?
These are good examples of leading questions that allow the interviewer to talk about their two favourite subjects. Lots of rapport building and it also gives them a chance to sell the company to you. The interview should be a two way process and people do turn down offers of employment. You need to be comfortable continuing with the process.
- Next Steps
Depending on the scenario itself, are you dealing with the HR department, interviewer direct, recruitment agencies and so on, each process will be different. However my strong advice is to give them the impression that you’d like it there!
“Really good to have met you and I enjoyed hearing about the company, I’m definitely interested in meeting again” is a good line. But however it’s delivered you want them to feel wanted.
- Call to Action
This again is essential. Irrespective (as above) of the nature of the process and who you’re dealing with, you definitely need clarity on how it’s going to go. Ask them. What are the next steps?
Should I give you a call? Will you speak to my references etc?
Before you leave the room you should find out how and when the next contact will happen. If you don’t, then you’re in limbo and waiting for the phone to ring and that’s bad for you.
I won’t go into them in much detail bar the following.
- Use a landline or a strong connection
- Make sure you will not be disturbed
- Prepare as above
- Be aware that they want to find out “Can you do the job”
- By dint of it being a telephone/Skype interview, they need to shortlist quickly, therefore no waffle and very little in the way of small talk
- Before you get into the call, make sure that your voice is steady and relaxed – the 100% surefire guaranteed way to do this is to sing very loudly (and if you’re like me, badly) about half an hour before the interview. This technique is used in almost all television interview scenarios for amateurs. Seriously.
This document should be read over and the steps recommended taken until such time as you do not need to refer to it again.
When you feel that is the case, read it again once more then put it aside.
There are no silver bullets but with preparation which will give you confidence you will leave your best game on the pitch.