Preparing for interviews

by 22 Jan 2008

Q. Although I prepare for each interview, I find that interviewers often use different questioning techniques and have different interview styles. Can you offer any advice as to how to structure responses at interview?

A. As HR professionals, we spend a lot of time asking interview questions and forget what it is like to answer them. Developing the skills to be able to talk about ‘you’ is very different to asking probing interview questions to an interviewee. Following are some of the successful strategies used by candidates to prepare and accurately convey their experience at interview.

Whether you are meeting a recruitment agency or a company, preparation is essential. If you know the company, understanding the business, its economic status and HR challenges could differentiate you from other candidates. The internet and your networks will provide excellent information on most companies.

A good technique to try is to picture yourself in the role and think about some of the issues and opportunities you would face and how to best tackle them. Take time to absorb any supporting documents and research and prepare to be flexible in answering questions.

If you are meeting with an agency for the first time and don’t yet know the company, familiarise yourself with the advertisement and/or a position description and focus on what it is asking of you. Typically, but not always, the final paragraphs of an advert indicate the selection criteria. Prepare a list of questions for the agency to determine whether this is the right opportunity for you.

In preparation for interview, develop a battery of answers that focus on the key areas of the role. For example, if it is likely that you need organisational development skills, think about what you have achieved in this field? Possessing a quiver of examples will assist you in answering more structured questions and also allow you to effectively demonstrate your experience in more informal interviews.

A good format to adopt is the CAR acronym – Context, Action, Result. Provide context to your answers, the action that you took and the results of your actions in the business (avoid using ‘we’ too often). Learning agility is also a growing competency for many employers, therefore with each example think about what you have learnt and would improve next time.

Every interview will be different and every interviewer will have a different style. If you’re represented by an agency, ask your consultant about the interviewer’s personal style, the format of the interview and what the company will be looking for from your experience.

As the interview starts, make quick observations of the environment and use your advanced interpersonal skills to read your audience and respond accordingly. Let the interviewer guide the conversation; they should try to elicit what they need to know from you. Keep answers concise, if you have a tendency to waffle you may overstate what has already been understood and waste valuable time. If the interviewer is not writing, are you really answering the question? If in doubt, ask, as this can promote a discussion which may assist you in framing a different response.

When the opportunity arises, ask questions to further understand the role and the organisation, particularly about culture, leadership and working styles as these are all critical factors in determining the right fit. A candidate once asked: “what is it like when I walk in the door?”; “what is it like when I over achieve?” and “what is it like when I under achieve?” This will offer you some excellent insight into an organisations culture and whether they have processes and practices that encourage high performance and manage low performance.

The most important advice is to prepare and be true, honest and positive in your approach. Regardless of whether you are successful in getting the job you will know that you have given it your best shot.

By Mark McOnie, The Next Step.


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