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Make the interview work for you!

09/02/2021

Our L&D team have been busily preparing some resources to help any previous employees who may be searching for their next role. Our previous articles gave some useful resources for building a CV and writing your covering letter and then we also posted some resources that might help your job search. All of the information and handouts that we provide on this site can be downloaded and used in your own time, when the time is right for you.

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In this article, we wanted to provide you with some useful information regarding the interview stage. Interviews can be nerve-racking, even for people who have done them recently. If you haven’t done one for a long time, don’t worry – the important thing is to prepare and just to be yourself. Here are some useful tips and advice, written by our brilliant L&D department to help you.

1. Prepare, prepare, prepare
Start preparing for your interview the minute you find out your application has been successful. The more prepared you are, the more confident and relaxed you will feel on the day. Some things you can do include:

  • Study their website in detail. Look at their language, corporate vision, their social impact, do they invest in their people (?), have they won any awards or even if they have launched any new products or services?
  • Look them up on social media to understand what kind of relationship they have with their customers.
  • REMEMBER: Companies can often look into the social media accounts of their applicants, so it may be wise to remove any dodgy photos or extreme opinions that you may have on yours!
  • Try to identify what makes them stand out from the competition and have a think about why this makes you want to work for them?
  • Think about what you are going to say about your abilities and achievements.
  • Make sure you read the interview invitation carefully. Your letter of invitation should tell you all you need to know, but don’t be afraid to phone and ask for more details if it is not clear.

2. Stay calm
It is natural to feel nervous on the day! Don’t worry, try to take control of your nerves by planning your approach to the interview. There are things you personally do everyday that helps keep you calm and relaxed, do these as much as possible on the lead up to your interview. These might include:

  • Watch your breathing! You will need to keep your speech slow and measured during the interview so, regulate your breathing beforehand to help lower your heart rate and control your speech.
  • Make yourself as comfortable as possible. Ensure you are well hydrated, have eaten and slept well and are sitting comfortably during the interview.
  • It may sound silly but, practise how you sit before your interview. Try not to slouch and lean slightly forward on your chair, as if you are interested in what the person opposite you is saying.
  • Plan your journey (if you are able to do it face to face) or if it’s virtual, familiarise yourself with the technology in advance. Don’t give yourself anything extra to worry about on the day. Allow yourself the time to arrive or the time to set up the computer/call beforehand
  • Tell yourself – you’ve got this!!

3. Plan your outfit!
Work based dress codes have changed a lot over the years, but an interview is still an interview, with certain rules to follow.

  • The most appropriate option for everyone is always the classic business suit. If you are worried then ask the person who contacted you about the interview what you should wear. It’s more than okay to enquire about the dress code.
  • If you are told things are not formal, it would still be wise to follow these rules of thumb:
    • No jeans
    • No t-shirts
    • No trainers
  • Business casual doesn’t mean completely casual and you want the employer to know that you are making an effort.
  • The general rule is not to experiment with fabric or colour. Wherever possible, choose dark colours over light, cotton over linen. Saying this however, I wore a yellow jacket to my interview at the NEC Group and got the job!
  • Just try to be appropriate for the role and the company. This isn’t a night out or a walk to the shops.

4. Arrive in style
Relax and breathe, it’s great that you may have rehearsed some interview questions but stop going over everything when you arrive, use the time to just breathe and relax. Your interview should be a flowing conversation not a scripted dialogue anyway and have faith in yourself. Some other pointers:

  • If you are attending in person then aim to arrive outside the building early so that you can enter ten minutes before your interview starts. That way, you are allowing yourself time to sign in or get the specific area of the building if needed.
  • Be friendly to others within the building. Receptionists and security guards (for example) can often get asked for their impression of you.
  • Push your shoulders back, stand straight and lift your chin slightly. It will make you feel more confident! Give yourself a little smile, you have done amazing to get this far so make sure they know you are happy to be there.
  • Before you go in (or start the interview if it’s virtual), turn off your phone. You do not need to be distracted by calls, messages, emails and social media.
  • Take a moment to look at yourself in the mirror to make sure you are clean and tidy.
  • Take a few deep breaths and you are ready to go.

5. Positive communication
So your in the interview room (or on the video call!!). You’re doing great!! Now remember, it only takes a couple of seconds for someone to decide how they feel about you. First impressions are critical!

  • Non-verbal communication (i.e. body language) is really important. Smile and make eye contact! Nice to meet you.
  • Try to avoid fidgeting. If you’re worried then why not ask your friends and family for guidance before your interview, you might just discover you click your fingers or chew your lip! I know I do…
  • Avoid negative statements or words, they can instantly change the atmosphere. Keep things upbeat.
  • Also try to avoid positive casual words, make sure that nothing is “cool” unless you are talking about temperature!
  • Keep your opinions about your ex-colleagues to yourself – stay professional.

6. Answering questions
Many employers will use a ‘competency based framework’ when asking questions. These tend to start with a variation of, “Tell me about a time when you...”. The last thing you want to do is leave the room wishing you had said something important and so there is an acronym that may help you to answer questions in a structured way: STAR!

  • Situation: Open with a brief description of the situation (who, what, where, when, how).
  • Task: Explain the task you had to complete, highlighting any specific challenges or constraints (e.g. deadlines, costs, other issues).
  • Action: Describe the specific actions that you took to complete the task. Highlight desirable traits without stating them (e.g. initiative, dedication and leadership).
  • Result: Finish with the result of your efforts including figures and stats where possible to quantify your actions.

It may be worth creating a bank of answers in this format in advance to make your answers appear as seamless as possible. Anything to help you feel more prepared is going to help on the day!

If you do all of these things then you definitely stand a great chance of getting the job! But if it isn’t enough, here are some other top tips:

  • Small Talk - Interviewers use opening small talk to see how you respond. Give a light response and avoid negative answers. For e.g. if asked about the journey, don’t talk about the weather or how bad the traffic was, thank them for clear directions instead.
  • Names - Address the interviewers in the way that they’ve been introduced to you. For e.g. Angela Smith is Angela, not Ms Smith, Ange or Angie.
  • Mimic - Pay attention to how the interviewer is speaking to you and match it. If your interviewer is chatty, you may be a little less formal, but show respect at all times and don’t make jokes.
  • Listen - Listen to what they’re actually asking you and make sure you answer the question. Don’t waffle on or stray away from the subject. Give them what they want to hear and if you’re unsure what they are asking then ask them to repeat the question.
  • The Power of Silence - Enjoy the silence – when you have finished answering, have the confidence to be silent and let the interviewer make a note or prepare for the next question.
  • Pause - Don’t rush to answer, take a small pause before you start to speak. It ensures the interviewer has finished speaking and shows that you are thinking about your answer. Watch out for “errrrrmmm”!
  • Don’t get too technical - Language changes between organisations, so avoid using jargon and show that you can be clear and concise in your language.
  • What’s your biggest weakness? - Don’t fear this question, make it work for you. Turn an area of weakness to your advantage by letting the interviewers know that you’re prepared to upskill, bring new skills to your role and share them with the team.

Good luck with everyone, we wish you all the best!

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