How to prepare for a job interview?
At The Communications Clinic, we have decades of experience in preparing people for job interviews. The best way for you to prepare is to book in for a session with us and allow us to give you the benefit of that experience.
For now though, we have put together some of our Top Tips for preparing for your next job interview.
Starting with impact:
A significant amount of interviews will start with an introductory question that allows you to give an overview of your career – the tell me about yourself question. It is a lovely question where you have total control. However, it is one that candidates struggle with, it is so open and general they often don’t know what to say.
This question can take many forms. It might be as simple as “tell me about yourself”, it might be “tell me about your experience to date” or even “just bring me through your CV”.
Regardless of how it is phrased, this is a question that gives you a golden opportunity to start the interview with impact and make a strong first impression. It’s an open goal.
Don’t let the opportunity go to waste. Have a concise, structure and practised answer that is tailored to the job you’re applying for.
The answer needs to give a clear overview of your work and educational experience to date. It must be heavy on specific achievements and outcomes. And it must be relevant to the needs of the employer.
Think of the answer as containing five key steps.
An introductory line that sums up the breadth of your experience in one sentence
If you only had one sentence to explain your career to date what would it be? Ideally, it should contain the number of years’ experience you have and the breadth of departments/sectors/roles you’ve worked in.
Your most recent/relevant role
Don’t approach the question in a chronological fashion. You have about 30 seconds to really grab the employers attention. If you start with your first role and work upwards you will waste that time detailing experience that is no longer relevant.
Start with your current role
Give the scale of the role in terms of staff reporting to you, level of responsibilities, budget controlled etc.
Then list briefly the three to four key achievements you’ve had in the position. The essential projects you’ve been involved with. The key outcomes you’ve achieved. They should be specific, concise and objective.
Your next most recent role and any subsequent relevant experience
Then detail the remainder of your experience following a condensed version of the structure above. But make sure that every line is relevant to the role you are applying for.
Then all together in one section give a bullet-pointed overview of your educational background. The course studied, the college attended and the major results and projects will suffice.
Tie it all together
You need to end the answer by telling them why you are in front of them and why your experience is relevant to the role. Give a future focus to your answer and do the thinking for them. Detail, briefly, why you feel your career achievements and educational background makes you a strong candidate for the role or promotion.
You should be able to deliver all of that in under two minutes. And you should have this answer practice, verbally, several times before the interview. You need to be able to deliver it with impact. You might not be lucky enough to be asked the question but if you are, you need to nail it.
Know your own achievements:
Irish people are modest by nature. We find it hard to sell ourselves. But in an interview, you have to. Your prospective employer needs to know you can do the job. And the best way to do this is to base your interview around concrete, objectively proven achievements. These can stem from college, work experience or your extra-curricular activities.
A good exercise when preparing for your interview is to get a blank page and force yourself to fill it with the specific, provable achievements you’ve had. Strong exam results you’ve obtained, projects you’ve successfully delivered in work, roles or responsibilities you’ve taken on outside of college requirements.
These achievements should form the basis of your interview. And should help you decide on the best examples to use for the competency section of the interview.
Prepare for the Competency-based questions:
Many interviews are now competency based. This is the key area. You have to be prepared to nail each competency question that comes up.
Competency-based interviews look at your ability to do the job detailed in the job specification. They do this by examining whether you have the key skills needed.
Simply, they contain a series of questions that ask “Do you have this skill?”. The key for competency based questions is specific examples, with positive outcomes that you can relate back to the needs of your prospective employer.
For a detailed breakdown of how to approach competency based interviews in your interview click here.
The competencies they will be asking you about in your interview will be outlined in the job specification but some of the common ones would be;
- Communication Skills
- Team working Skills
- Listening Skills
- Organisational skills
- Time Management
- Problem Solving Skills
- Decision Making Skills &
- Dealing with Conflict.
Basically, the interviewer needs to know a few things;
- Do you experience in using this skill?
- Do you have an example of using it to good effect?
- Do you know why that example went well?
- Can you implement it for us in this role?
The questions can be posed in a variety of ways during the interview. Tell us about a time you showed effective communication skills? How do you solve problems? Would you consider yourself a strong decision maker? Tell us about a time you dealt with conflict in a team?
Regardless of how the question is phrased you need to make sure the interviewer knows you have loads of experience in showing the skills, that you have a good specific and memorable example of a time you used it to good effect, that you know why it went well and that you know how and where you will utilise that skills for your future employer.
The basic structure to follow is;
Opening Overview Statement
This is a few sentences which details your extensive experience in the area
Specific Memorable Example
Examples and stories are the silver bullet in all communications, this includes interviews. They help the interviewer remember you as a candidate and they offer a proof of concept of your abilities. For each competency, you need two specific examples of times you successfully showed you have that skill set.
Structure your example so that it follows the following;
Detail the problem you faced; Detail the scale and importance of the task ahead of you, you need to ensure that it is as clear as possible how difficult the challenge ahead of you was.
Describe the actions you took; What did you do, step by step, to address the problem or challenge. Ensure that you use the word “I” as often as possible here.
Give a positive outcome: Spend time talking about the eventual outcome. Give objective evidence of your success. It’s not enough to say it went well, you need evidence.
Key Learning from the example:
The interviewer needs to know that you have learned from the example. Detail what skills you showed that worked effectively. They need to know that you know why the above example went well. And they need you to spell out exactly what the above examples proves.
You should have two to three key learnings.
Relevance for the Role:
You need to prove to the interviewer that you know why they need this skill. Make them picture you in the role by spelling out why your skills are relevant.
Be ready for the negatives
They may also ask you the competency questions from a negative point of view. They can ask you to tell them about a time that you didn’t communicate well?, or that you were involved in a team that didn’t work together?.
The key for these questions is that you give an honest example but spend your time talking about what you learned from this example. And show them that you’ve applied that learning since.
So if in the first year of college you had a presentation that didn’t go to plan. Tell them about it. But then stress that the reason it didn’t go well was because you got unexpectedly nervous, and so you learned to practice and handle the nerves and went on to give several successful presentations.
Know your own pitch for the job:
This is a basic mistake that people make in interviews. They can’t easily articulate why they should be hired. They get ready for every question the employer might ask, and never consider what they want to get across.
You need to be crystal clear on your pitch. Ask yourself;
- What are the three or four central reasons that make you a strong candidate for the role?
- What are the key skills or experiences that you have that make you stand out?
- If you could ensure that the remembered three things about you, what would they be?
If you are asked in the interview Why you are right for the role? Or What can you bring? you need a well thought out answer. One that is specific to your employer’s needs, and that is backed up with specific evidence.
Anyone can answer this question by saying they are a strong communicator, they are hardworking and that they have a passion for the industry.
To stand out you need to be specific. And the way to do that is to pick three key points, structure them in a way that is easy to remember for the interviewer and follow the rule of:
Key statement; then Evidence.
Give them the opening point “I’ve well developed and proven communication skills”. And then the evidence. “I’ve proven these consistently. I’ve consistently been graded highly on college presentations, I was chosen to present at a client meeting as an intern, I have reached the semi-finals in college debating competitions and customers consistently praised my communication skills to management when I worked I retail.
Even if you’re not asked this in the interview, you still need to have the answer worked out. Because if you’re not clear on this yourself, there is no possible way you will get it across to the interviewer.
Practice out loud:
An interview is a verbal interaction. It requires verbal practice. That seems simple, but it is overlooked by the vast majority of candidates. You need to practice your key examples and answer out loud. Talk to a friend, talk to a family member, talk to yourself. Just talk. And not just at the end of your preparation. Talk out your answers from day one. It will considerably speed up the process.
Scripting your answers and learning them off makes you sound rehearsed and it’s difficult to remember. Thinking your answers through in your head is next to useless. The only effective way to prepare is to practice answering the question. Talk until you are tired of hearing your own voice. And then practice ten more times.
You will need to deliver the answers on the day, under pressure. So you need a muscle memory of saying them out loud.
Research the company:
You need to know about the company. That’s a basic requirement. You need to know beyond the About Us page on the website.
If you don’t have a detailed, three-pointed, specific answer to the questions of “What do you know about us?” and “Why do you want to work for us?” you are wasting your time.
For example, all of the key law and accountancy firms have differentiators. No firm believes they have the same values, unique selling points and benefits as others in their sector. Because they don’t.
Do actual research. Talk to individuals working for the firms and if you don’t know anyone, find someone. It’s Ireland and LinkedIn exists. It’s possible. Read their material and their e-zines. Work out what makes the firm exceptional and be able to discuss it.
And then make sure that you have that point linked to you as a candidate. It’s not enough to say you want to work for a Law firm because they are experts in company law, if you don’t then say that you have always excelled in company law and so feel it is a strong fit.
Research the sector:
Firms want candidates that have a commercial acumen. Therefore it tends to be tested in interviews. You need to be able to discuss new industry development and current affairs stories. So you must do your homework. You need to know what are the dominant news and business stories at the time of your interview.
And you need to be able to discuss each issue. It’s not a memory test, they don’t just expect you to know the facts. You need to be ready give an opinion, provide insights and see trends. Be able to discuss how topical issues may affect the industry long term.
To prepare you need to read analysis and opinion pieces in Irish and International publications in the run up to the interview. And remember that every candidate is going to be discussing the major events of the time. Try to be different. Think of different issues to discuss and find new angles on the most popular issues.
Be ready for questions
Your interview will likely end with this question and it is your last chance to have an impact. They will remember the first and last thing you said most clearly. So not being prepared for this can really affect your success.
First a few don’ts:
- Don’t ask a question that you should have known the answer to from reading promotional material, looking on the website or by googling.
- Don’t ask a question that is purely focused on you. Nothing about when you will hear back, what the salary will be, do we finish early on Fridays…
- And don’t just say “No thanks, not at this moment” when they ask.
You have a few options here:
You can ask a question that comes from a position of research. I know this about the role, could you tell me a bit more? Or I know that this development is coming down the line for the sector, how might that affect your business? This shows curiosity and genuine interest.
The other option is not to ask a question, but to tell them why you don’t have a question. This shows you’ve thought about it, but you have your research done. So “thank you, but I don’t have any other questions. I’ve researched the role thoroughly, talked to your recruiters at various events and so I feel I have a good understanding of the role. Thanks a million for your time”.
Get in Touch
The above really only scratches the surface of what you need to prepare for an interview. The Communications Clinic offers tailored one to one interview preparation sessions to help you get over the line and secure the job you want. We put you through an interview, record it, assess it and make you better.
If you call us or email us on firstname.lastname@example.org and mention you read the above article we can book you in for an Interview Preparation Session for a reduced fee.