At time of writing, the UK’s Office of National Statistics (ONS) reports unemployment is just over 4% and job vacancies have hit a record 1,298,400. So if you’re currently looking for a new job, the chances are in your favour. But that doesn’t mean you don’t need to do your homework.
So here’s an updated post from the vault to help you know what you’re talking about, what they’re looking for – and convincingly show you’ve got what they need.
You may have other motives for job-hunting: personal reasons or relocation, for example. Whilst I can’t wave a magic wand over the job market, I can offer some tips to help you prepare for interviews.
Reflect on your previous interviews
Most of us have an interview horror story somewhere in our past – and some triumphs too. Get pen and paper (preferable to a keyboard: fewer distractions and we tend to make better connections when writing) and reflect on your previous interviews. Consider what worked well (and what didn’t) and what lessons you learned from the experience. Reflect too if you’ve been the potential employer interviewing candidates; valuable pointers can be retrieved by thinking about what impressed you.
Do your homework
Yes, it’s obvious. You’ve probably checked out the potential employer’s website and seen what vacancies they currently have, as well as who’s who. When was the organisation founded and how is it funded? What are they known for and proud of? And yes, you’ve been all over social media (starting with your own profile, obvs), seeing who you know who knows someone who… Other sources you may want to check include:
- The London Stock Exchange – if they’re listed, how’s the stock price going?
- Glassdoor to find out what they’re like to work for (according to employees present and previous; the latter may have a different view)
- News articles and interviews with key personnel
- Companies House – if they’re registered, how long ago and who the current directors are
- Their website – obviously. Who’s who and what are they proud of?
- Professional bodies – they may be members of a sector body, in which case you’ll be able to get a look at current issues, the wider sector and other possible employers
- LinkedIn – do you have any contacts who know the employer? What does their LI page tell you about them?
What are they looking for and have you got it? Scrutinise the job spec and note how you measure up. It’s a good idea to prepare answers to competency questions; they tend to ask you to ‘give an example of when you’ve [desired competency goes here]…’, ‘tell us about a time when you did XYZ and how you went about it’ and ‘how do you go about doing ABC?’ These questions are designed to elicit evidence of skills, knowledge and behaviour applied to the work. If you’ve ever been on the receiving end of competency questions, you’ll recall the process can be psychologically taxing. However, if you’re prepared this will be your chance to shine.
Pay close attention to the capabilities you need to demonstrate and prepare your answers using a simple framework such as STAR – Situation, Task, Action and Result.
You can use examples from your experience to date, or even in a personal capacity, for example volunteering or managing a domestic budget. Whatever the situation, keep it succinct. Go for the examples closest to what the role requires. Craft one or two sentences. Example: you’re asked to ‘tell us about a time when you delegated a task to a colleague and helped them develop’. A Situation response could be: “When more people joined our team we needed to manage workload differently.”
Very briefly set out the task you were assigned. Example: “I was tasked with delegating the weekly report to one of the new team members.”
Describe what you did – stage by stage and the steps you took at each. Of the four elements of STAR, Action is the part of your response that will enable your interviewer to dig deep for detail and therefore it’s the most important section. Example Action answer could be: “I gathered examples of previous weekly updates and arranged a meeting to brief the new person. I explained how these reports fit in to the team’s work, why they matter and when they’re needed. I did a brief demo, encouraged my colleague to make notes and ask questions before they created a draft for us to review. As she became more proficient, I could back off, give her greater autonomy and provide feedback as and when needed.” If this sounds long and detailed, it is – if you’re prepared – and your interviewer will be making copious notes (a good sign).
Here you need to have your evidence at the ready – what were the benefits of your actions? This is the second most important part of your responses. Figures, numbers, percentages are useful here, as are feedback and testimonials. Say what you learned from the situation and how that’s helped since (and can help in the role you’re applying for). Example Result response could be: “My colleague can now do the weekly report with very little supervision from me, which frees me up to take on more client-facing work and deliver more billable time.”
Finally on preparation: rehearse your responses to the questions you think will be asked, based on the job description – out loud, not muttering under your breath. Do this with a friend and/or record yourself giving your answer on your smartphone.
As soon as you leave the interview, make detailed notes right away. Get everything out of your head and onto paper: what questions were asked, how your responses were received, what surprised you (nicely or not), what went well and what didn’t go so well. You may find that some questions pop into your head; make careful note of them and decide how you can find out answers.
If you are able to do so, send a Thank You message to your interviewer (or the intermediary who arranged the interview). Say what you valued in the interview and ask any questions you may have, such as when you can expect to hear from the interviewer about next steps.
Good luck! If you are successful, remember to thank those who helped you – and maybe help someone who’s still job-hunting.
You may find this post useful: ‘Play to your strengths to promote your personal brand’
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