One of the great things about moving back into a management role, as I did recently, is that I get to interview people for jobs. It’s not that I’m cruel and enjoy frightening people or that I have an inner Simon Cowell who must be satisfied. It’s not even that I’m nosy and just like to find out what people have to say about the kind of work we might do together, although I have to admit this is a big part of the attraction.
No, the real value is in reminding myself that interviews are easy. I’d better explain that as, no doubt, there are many readers ready to disagree with me right now. I’ve just started as a student again and I’m studying philosophy; trying to think and express myself more clearly. So I’d better try to apply my learning. What I mean is, the underlying principle of the way to approach an interview is very simple. It’s all about preparation.
Do you understand the job? Do you want to do it? Do you know what the employer wants and can you satisfy that need? If you are claiming yes to all these, have you got some straightforward, persuasive evidence to offer? If so, easy. All you have to do is make sure you can talk logically and clearly at the interview about what you understand and how your skills, experience and character match the vacancy. If you can do this you will be a serious contender.
Anyone who has been on an interview panel will tell you that this is what they are hoping for when they meet the candidates. They will also tell you that they don’t see it as much as they want or expect and are often puzzled by why they don’t. Being on the other side of the table to the candidate can be a puzzling and sometimes distressing experience.
Interviewers see candidates who wrote excellent applications go to pieces and fail to talk about obvious strengths (often ones they were very articulate about on the written application). They’ll see obviously strong contenders throw it all away in unhappy and sometimes even embarrassing ways.
All of this is unnecessary pain, for both parties. Last week, we had two vacancies and eight candidates. There were two who stood out and they were offered the positions.
The others – well, without a doubt all of them could have given the successful candidates a much better run for their money if they had thought and prepared more.
Both successful candidates made logical and thoughtful cases for themselves, showed they understood our needs, used lots of examples and kept their cool under pressure, mainly because they had obviously prepared so hard to do just this.
The real reason why interviews are lodged in our brains alongside dentist appointments and final year exams as sources of pain is the incorrect assumption that an interview is a much more mysterious process than it actually is.
Human nature, in such situations, often leads us to being defensive and waffly, giving nothing away but not moving forward either, trying to defend our dignity when we’ve been caught out, unready and with not enough to offer. And behind this, often, is an inaccurate self-image, one that undervalues our skills and experience. All this can be got past with lots of preparation and thought – competence breeds confidence.
So, top tips for interviews?
- Learn your written application. It got you an interview and the interview will focus in very similar areas.
- Know what the job requires and how you match it. The employer has already told you this clearly by this stage, probably several times.
- Gather hard, factual, verifiable evidence to support your case.
- Memorise everything in 2 and 3 so you can talk about them without thinking too hard.
- Do a dry run with a friend or a careers adviser to help with performance nerves and find weak spots in your case.
If you do this, your confidence will grow, you’ll be offered more jobs, I promise. And you will, eventually, wonder why you worry so much about the dreaded moment when the panel starts firing questions at you.
Written by Donald Lush (Former Careers Consultant at Birkbeck, University of London)