A couple of weeks ago I interviewed applicants for a job position with the College and, along with the work I’ve been doing with our students on preparing them for success in applying for their next career job, it got me thinking about what employers expect and what job applicants think is acceptable at the job interview.
Now, there are lots of ways to prepare for that job interview and, in most cases it depends on the type of job you are applying for so today, rather than run through a very detailed interview preparation process, I just want to mention a few core elements that I think everyone should pay close attention to.
A game of give and take
Remember a job interview is a two-way interaction. As well as the obvious employer requirements, it’s an opportunity for the prospective employee to check out the organisation and to see whether they want to work for them. Both stakeholders need to make an important decision here so you owe it to yourself to spend some time on your preparation.
First off you need to do your homework and find out all you can about the organisation you’re applying to join. Nowadays this is dead set easy as everything you need to know can almost always be found online. So check out the organisation’s website and their details on LinkedIn. Now I suggest you read it all and, if you need to, make notes. Here are 8 tips that I think will work for you.
8 tips for success in your interviews
- The Basic Details
Be very sure that you know what the company does, how it is structured, how big it is and where the job you are applying for sits. So, find out who the job reports too, and who does that position report to.
- The Organisation’s Values, core beliefs and behaviours
Once you know the basic structure, size and core business of the organisation, it’s important to check that you can actually work for them. So here you need to check whether the organisation has an alignment to your own values and core beliefs. You can get a feel for what these values and behaviours are and also the culture of the organisation by reading the text on the website, not just what it says but how it’s said. You can also check its LinkedIn profile and who the principals are – so read their profiles and find out a bit more about the people behind the organisation. Of course many organisations publish their values and many now also publish their employee value proposition or EVP that summarises why a prospective employee might want to work for them. Now this is a critical step as a lack of alignment with your personal values and core beliefs can be the cause of significant work stress. Unless you have made a conscious and fully informed decision to go against your values & beliefs, for a short term gain, you can be sure that any serious misalignment will only end in grief.
- Prepare some questions of your own
Despite all your homework, you may still be unsure of the organisation and the position. Where this is the case then you need to prepare your own questions to fill in any gaps you may have. Now I could count on one hand the number of job applicants who ask insightful or thoughtful questions at interview. Most well prepared applicants know they need to ask a question or two at the end of the interview but, it’s usually around logistical things such as ‘when will I hear from you?’ As a general rule most people don’t ask really meaningful questions at interview. Yet this is your only real opportunity to find out any unanswered questions. It is also a terrific opportunity to ensure that you stick out from the crowd. If there are a number of similar applicants for a position, all much of a muchness, and someone asks a truly original question that causes the interviewers to pause and reflect before answering the question, then you’ll be the one that stands out. You will have made an extra-ordinary impression and it might just win you the job.
- Jot down some notes & bring some note paper along
If you get nervous at interviews and forget all that you mean to say then got down some notes. Now I don’t mean pages and pages of details but a few key points that will jolt your memory. Likewise bring a pen and paper and arrange it on the table in front of you so that you’re ready if you need to take notes. This can be very helpful where you get a more complex problem or situation to respond to – you can jot the main points down and refer to them to ensure you’ve addressed all parts of the question posed. Personally, I find this reassuring as an interviewer. When an applicant sets out their note paper and notes I feel like they have prepared for the interview and, that they are taking it seriously. It can also flatter or compliment the interviewer if you’ve taken the time and made the effort to jot down some key points about the company and perhaps even the interviewer!
- Think about how you will look
First impressions are so, so important and if you don’t match up then your interviewer may well switch off having already made the decision when you entered the room. So, if you’ve gone to the trouble of preparing an application that got you an interview you owe it to yourself to look the part. By now you should have a good idea of what the company is all about so you should also have a good idea of what acceptable appearance might be. As a general rule of thumb the old fashioned ‘neat and tidy’ phrase is always good advice. This means clean and non-smelly. So make sure you use deodorant and, if you’re someone who likes scent, well, keep it neutral or scentless for the interview. Keep jewellery to a minimum – it is a great distractor and you want people focusing on you and what you’ve got to say not your jewellery!
- Be upfront in any prior commitments you have
I recently had a couple of experiences with this where one applicant volunteered at the end of the interview that he had to take personal leave to see his dying mother in the UK for a month (while still on probation) while another didn’t volunteer this sort of information but then did so once he’d been short-listed. Now this isn’t a major issue but it does go to integrity and I think it’s better to be upfront with any prior commitments you may have as, if you’re the right person for the job then it won’t matter. If you don’t disclose then there is some residual negativity that hangs around with the ‘what else isn’t he telling us?. This is a personal decision to make but, for what it’s worth, I think it’s always better to be open and honest from the get go.
- Think about your current job obligations & fulfil them
Most people don’t think much about notice periods or at least what they’ll say when asked at interview and, if you don’t think this through then you can be caught short when asked ‘how soon can you start?’ Of course you’re keen to get the job and say the right thing but you need to think it through and be sure that what you’re saying is correct and respectful. You may find you have a clause in your current contract that obligates you to give 4 weeks’ notice so check it out and don’t cut it short or make any disparaging comments about the notice period and/or previous employer. Remember your prospective new employer will likewise expect the same treatment when you leave them! So it’s important that you respect your current employer and fulfil your obligations – even if it is a longer period than normal your prospective employer will respect you for it. I recently had an applicant tell me “I’m still on 6 months’ probation so I can leave them tomorrow – I don’t own them anything!” While this may be technically true and logistically attractive when you need someone to start now, she’d previously explained to me that she had broad responsibilities across a wide range of business functions and that she was the only person able to do the job! Yet, despite this, she was prepared to leave them in the lurch. No thanks.
- Bring along a list of current referees
My last tip for today is again to be prepared and have a list of your chosen referees ready to handover. You need to include their name and position as well as a brief sentence or two describing their work relationship to you and their contact details – telephone and email. Some people like to list the skill areas that various referees are best placed to provide testimonial on but I think this in unnecessary. Keep it simple and easy and make sure, once you’ve handed it over that you alert your referees to the job and the name of the person who’s likely to contact them. I am often surprised at the number of people who include their referees in their written application and I’m willing to bet that they haven’t notified them and let them know that they’ve given out their contact details. It’s again a matter of respect. Respect for the person who is providing your testimonial. So don’t hand their details over until and unless you’ve let them know. It’s up to you whether you proactively hand the list over or, if you wait to be asked for it. If you feel your referees will provide you with an advantage then hand it over. Otherwise, it’s probably better to wait. That way you will know when they contact you for them that you have done well in the interview process.
Now, there are lots of other things you need to think about when preparing for interview these are just a few of the less obvious but, just as important points that I strongly recommend you take note of. Remember too that, once you’ve done your preparation, you can always decline an interview.
Don’t waste your time if you think that there is little or no alignment in values as you won’t be happy nor satisfied in the job.