Prepare for battle! It’s easy to send CVs and cover letters, but interviews require one different and easy to learn skill....preparation. If you want to ace your next interview all you have to do is prepare. It is essential to do the groundwork prior to the interview to ensure you perform to the best of your ability. In this guide we will go through what to do in the days leading up to your interview as well as go through some standard question and answers.
Assemble the Following
A great way to get in the mindset and prepare for interviews is to work out the logistics well in advance:
- Time & date of interview
- Location of the interview; if you are unfamiliar with the area check Google maps to work out how long it will take to get there https://www.google.ie/maps.
- This is also the right time to figure out the best means of transport; drive, Bus, Luas etc. If you are planning to drive make sure there is parking available or nearby and if it is pay and display be sure to bring coins.
- Prepare your suit or interview outfit; does it need to be dry cleaned? Is it suitable? A smart business suit, with a clean ironed shirt or blouse and dark shoes is an ideal interview outfit. It is important to dress formally for every interview, whether it is company policy or not.
- Put the contact details of the person you are meeting with in your phone and ensure you charge your phone fully.
- Who are you meeting and what is their job title?
- Print at least two (possibly more) copies of your CV to take with you to the interview. These can be used as a study guide but also saves your interviewer(s) from printing copies.
- Prepare simple small talk questions for when you first meet your interviewer. If the office space is impressive, say so, if the weather is terrible, say so. Do not walk in silence to the interview room.
Preparing for an Interview
The research for an interview is the key to a successful one.
- Research the company beforehand, including
- What the company does and how it runs
- The company’s financial state, are they downsizing or expanding
- Major competitors
- Skills they are looking for, such as education or previous experience
- What you can offer them
According to a Robert Half Finance and Accounting survey, 44pc of executives said the most common interview pitfall for candidates is insufficient company research.
- Have facts and figures about your previous employers.
- Dermot O’Sullivan from Morgan McKinley (http://www.morganmckinley.ie/) recommends some research on your own background as well. ‘It’s very important to do a self-assessment on yourself: that is your skills, talents, strengths, weaknesses, achievements, motivations and work values. Keep these all on file as they can be easily forgotten'
- Turn off your phone before the interview, or better still leave it in the car, advises Dermot from Morgan McKinley.
All of these steps before an interview will boost your confidence and make you more comfortable answering questions on the day.
During the Interview
Once you begin the interview, it’s important to focus throughout on your body language, manners and most importantly, your answers. Follow these tips for interview success.
- Body language is vital to your first impression, with a firm handshake, a smile and strong eye contact making for a good start. Do not slouch, lean or move too far forward.
- When asked about your strengths and weaknesses, list out three strengths and one or two weaknesses. Avoid listing any personal traits and stick to professional qualities. Make sure you can prove your strengths with examples and turn any negative weaknesses into positives.
- If there are any areas you are asked about that you do not have any experience with, remain calm and confident and list some alternative experience you have instead that you feel is equivalent.
- Never badmouth a current or past employer and instead, just list your own accomplishments within their company. Potential employers will see any bad words about a past employer as a red flag to hiring someone.
- Don’t lie or try to hide any holes in your CV. They will easily be detected so just have a good explanation and point out what you learned from the experience.
- Don’t take credit for things you didn't do or pretend you had more responsibility or authority than you actually did: these facts are easily discovered when your references are checked.
- Keep any criticism about the potential employer’s strategy, product line or operations constructive and positive.
- As much as possible try and make the interview a discussion about the company. People love to talk about themselves and work plays a large factor in that.
Sample Interview Questions:
Tell me About Yourself.
Be careful! The employer does not want to know your life story. You should be thinking, what is the real question? What the employer is actually asking is: "What skills do you posses that I can use?". These can be both personal and professional. Use your previous research to determine what will be of value to the employer.
Where do you see yourself in five years?
Employers don’t necessarily care to hear that you expect to climb the corporate ladder and be a supervisor. If the job you’re interviewing for is not a supervisor, they probably aren’t concerned about your management skills. You can share how you’ve been a mentor to others and led projects with little to no supervision. That should indicate you have leadership potential.
Focus on them: In five years, you should have made a significant impact to the company’s bottom line. Think about how you can achieve this in the role you’re interviewing for. In technology careers, advancing your skills is important, too. You should be able to share what areas you want to strengthen in the near term (but be careful that they are not areas of expertise that the company needs now).
Why should we hire you?
This is a differentiation question. What you want to tell them is: they'd be crazy not to they hire you.
Focus on them: You need to not only share how you meet almost all the criteria they seek, but also have two to three additional abilities that they might not even know they need…yet. They need to know you are a candidate who can meet their needs now, but also be valuable for where they want to go. Are they likely to need another skill set as they grow as a company? Or maybe you have skills that you noticed are in another job description they are looking to fill; you can help out with those deliverables until they find someone (or be a backup to the person they hire).
Have you been down a path already that they are currently starting? Having “lessons learned” to offer them is a very strong plus for a job candidate.
Why do you want to work here?
The answer to this question has two aspects: the content and the delivery.
Focus on them:
- Content -- Employers want to know you feel you can fit in at the company quickly. That means on deliverables, but also company culture. You’ll likely have to do some homework to answer this one. You need to understand the reasons why others enjoy working there. Is it a great place to advance your skills, have great challenges to add to your CV, or will it allow you to grow as a professional?
- Delivery -- The delivery must be genuine. If a hiring manager feels you’re just “telling them want they want to hear,” but don’t mean it…well, the interview is over in their mind. They want to know this is not just a job and paycheque. They want to hear this is what you want to do and the best place to do it.
What do you know about us?
This is actually a test. If you know very little, it is an indication that you are not very serious about working there.
Focus on them: Candidates who are really excited about the prospect of working there have done their homework. If you really want to stand out, learn more than what is listed on their web site. Do some heavy research—perhaps find some articles on the company that not many would know about. It may even come up in conversation spontaneously, and you can show them a copy of the article.
How do people describe you?
Here’s another opportunity to differentiate yourself. Everyone claims to be: a hard worker, good communicator, and team player. But how many are a: problem-solver, game-changer, leader in the industry? Be creative, and have stories to back it up. The interviewer will want to know why someone thinks you are one of these things.
Focus on them: You want to present attributes that make you sound like the go-to guy or gal wherever you work. Even the standard answers can be taken a step further to be more valuable:
- Yes, they want hard workers, but most likely that’s commonplace at their office. Maybe you work hard, but also help others work fewer hours (by helping them do their job better or making their jobs easier).
- Good communicators are everywhere. But this doesn’t mean just speaking well. It includes listening. Do you hear things that others don’t? Do you understand things quickly? Can you figure out what people are trying to tell you through other clues (body language, for example)?
- Being a good team player is expected, too. But what does this really mean? Getting along with everyone? That’s not hard to do if you’re a nice person. Pulling your weight in the office? Again, expected. What have you done, beyond your job description, that saved the team from a disaster or helped them make an impossible deadline? Have you won an award for this?
What is your greatest strength/ greatest weakness?
Your greatest strength is something they need.
Focus on them: You have many strengths, but pick the one they need help with the most. Is it your expertise in a particular skill? Is it your ability to turn low-performing teams into high performers? Share something that makes them think they need to hire you…right now.
Everyone hates the “greatest weakness” question. Everyone knows it’s a trap, and everyone knows the candidate is going to say something trite (popular example: "I’m a perfectionist"). When you give a real answer, you are being genuine. You are admitting you have some growth opportunities and are not perfect. But you can include that you already have a plan to overcome this weakness through training or practice.
Some people even insert a little humor in their answer—“I wish I was better at tennis.” You can, too, if you feel like the interviewer has a sense of humor. But, be sure to quickly follow with a serious answer. Showing you have a lighter side is usually a good thing.
End of Interview Questions:
Always ask questions at the end of the interview, as it shows you are considering the company as much as they are considering you. Conversing at the end could also boost your rapport with the interview, increasing your chances.
- What induction and training are provided in the role?
- How would you describe the company's culture?
- Beyond the hard skills required to successfully perform this job, what soft skills would serve the company and position best?
- Can you walk me through the typical day of someone in this role?
Closing the Interview:
- Manners are invaluable in interviews, so thank the interviewer for seeing you and shake their hand again.
- A follow up mail is a great way to either confirm everything that went well in the interview or show that you followed up and researched anything that you think went poorly. For more information on follow up mails click here.
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