If you haven’t attended an interview for a little while, things have changed while you were away. It’s now the equivalent of going out on a blind date and expecting that gorgeous person from the ad, but finding a multi-headed hydra answering the door to you. As you’re lured into the room, you have no idea what will attempt to savage you. Today, you need to raise your whole game by going in equipped with a strategy and tooled up tactically.
What can bite you?
Things used to be so easy. “Tell me about yourself” was the work-horse question from the traditional ‘standard’ interview stable. This allowed everyone to settle down and, for the interviewee, things were very easy to handle in advance – imagine questions, practice answers, calm the nerves. Unfortunately, only about four in ten hires proved fully successful.
Competency-based interviews were born when employers began to match a candidate’s experience to the capabilities required for the role. “Tell me about a situation / time when you …” is a characteristic question, and thankfully recognisable in an interview.
Whereas competency based questions look back, scenario questions were then designed to get candidates to project forwards into situations they’ve not yet encountered, but might do. “What would you do in a situation where …” is typical.
It was harder for candidates to rehearse for interviews, but by no means impossible so, to up the game further, strengths-based interviews were born. Questions are often shorter, sharper and can be more random. They’re designed to gain an insight into a candidate’s genuine likes and dislikes, on the grounds that they’ll perform and deliver at their strongest if they work on things they enjoy.
Next up were values-based interviews. Employers realised that candidates who actually care at a deep level about the ethics and morals surrounding their job, and see the worth, will be far more effective.
Assessment days raise the game further. A whole range of tasks, interviews and tests are used whilst candidates are pitched head to head en masse, to identify the stand-out ones. Sub-optimal candidates are quietly bayoneted during the day and buried at the end.
Sprinkle in ‘creativity’ questions, presentations, testing, off-the-cuff summaries, profiling, round-the-table intros and the best question category of all – the literally unanswerable question – “Pink is bigger than dark blue?” – and you’ve got a monster even Baron von Frankenstein couldn’t stitch together.
The armoury of the average interviewer is now well stocked but the latest research from Robert Half UK confirms that hiring times have become longer, to the detriment of everyone. Faced with such complexity, how can you be sure of doing well on the day?
Plan a strategy, execute your tactics
It’s obvious that, to be selected for the role, you need to be the stand-out candidate. Nothing new there, but just that’s an aspiration. Strategically, you need to show that whilst every interviewee is in the frame, you deliver in spades on three separate fronts: you tick all of the boxes; you’re the one bringing more to the party by way of added value and you’re demonstrably the lowest risk. Your tactics then become the specific actions you can prepare and take.
Get hard information
Ring up and ask who’ll be present and the style of interview that will be used. Knowing will strongly increase your chances of hitting the mark on the day. If other candidates aren’t as well informed, you’re set to shine.
Use all your experience
Dig deep through your wider experience to cover any odd weakness. The fact you have an interview booked means that this isn’t yet a show-stopper, but if you’re pressed on a weakness at interview and you can plug the hole, you take away an easy cause for rejection.
… to a much deeper level. Take in the people you’ll meet, new developments, the economic climate, competitors and the prospects for the whole sector. Develop an insight into the challenges the department or organisation faces and use that to inform your preparation.
Prepare for the style of interview
Draw up and rehearse a range of questions which link into the competencies, strengths and values required for the role. Whilst those exact questions won’t arise, recognising the style of a question, knowing a technique to deal with it and being familiar with relevant areas of your own experience will enable you perform at the very highest level.
Determine your added-value
This is very hard to do, but that’s the point and therein lies the value. The deeper the insight you gain about the organisation, the more opportunity you’ll have to show something about your background, qualifications or personality that offers a valuable bonus. Remember, better meeting the listed role or person specification is not added value, look beyond.
Aim at being the no-risk candidate. In your preparation, don’t just find one example of a competency, strength or value, dredge up every example you can. Distil down for the best and, on the day, keep the backups in reserve so that you can seamlessly show depth, if probed.
Win before you arrive
Look at that hydra, smile confidently and know that you have the weapons to deal with it. You can’t control what comes at you, but you can control how you react to it. No one expects you to know everything, be everything and deliver utter perfection, (if they do, I suggest you don’t want to work for them), but if you’ve planned and prepared to the point where you can deal with the unexpected in the right way, you will get the recognition you deserve and that job offer you want.
About the author: Jon Gregory is an author, editor, blogger & trainer on all things job hunting, interview prep & career development.