Everyone and their mum bangs on about the importance of preparing for an interview – research the company, make sure you get there on time, dress smart, re-read your application, etc., etc. Despite this emphasis on preparation employers still keep coming back time and time again with the same feedback – the candidate was unsuccessful because they hadn’t done the necessary preparation.
So what is it that we’re missing?
This is a widely overlooked aspect of the interview process. It’s all well and good preparing answers, questions, and comments for the interview but have you thought about how you’re actually going to say it?
I made this mistake at my first interview – at the end of what I had considered a bad performance the interviewer asked if I had any questions, I had prepared an array of intelligent and complex questions but all I could do was meekly bleat that I had none. In my preparation, I had entirely failed to consider how I would feel posing these complex questions, and when it came to it I was just too nervous to ask them. Unsurprisingly, I didn’t get the job but what did surprise me was the feedback from the recruitment agent. The interviewer had considered me a strong candidate until I completely failed to ask any questions at the end.
Don’t make the same mistake. Imagine sitting across from a stern interviewer who’s looking less than impressed. Do you feel comfortable with your words? Do they sound natural or overly rehearsed? Will you feel confident saying these prepared statements if the interview is going badly? How about if you’re really nervous?
And it’s not just what you say, but everything about the interview you need to consider. How will you look, will you try and look relaxed? Serious? Friendly?
Where will you put your hands? What will you say when they ask you if you want a drink? Will you take your jacket off if it’s hot?
You get the picture – it’s about envisioning the actual environment, not just the paper version of it.
A great way to practice is to rope in a friend, but failing a willing pretend interviewer try a mirror. Put your suit on, get in the right mind frame, and speak out loud. The major advantage of a real person over a mirror is that mirrors rarely provide useful feedback.
Robust understanding of the role
Another issue is a lack of real understanding of the role and the firm. OK so you’ve memorized the ‘about us’ section of the website, read the recent news articles and press releases, and even know the job description off by heart, but do you really understand? Do you understand thoroughly enough to convincingly answer in-depth questions as opposed to just reciting a pre-prepared blurb? Gaining this insight can be tough, but it’s definitely worth investing some time in. One job I interviewed for required candidates to complete a pretty hefty essay style questionnaire on the firm and the role. At the time I was a little put out by this extra burden and the extra stage of hoops I had to jump through before the interview. But after I reached the minimum of 1500 words I realized I now knew far more about this company and industry than I had ever done with any other interview. So for important interviews why not challenge yourself to create and complete your own essay on the firm and the role? Answer questions such as:
- Describe the main objectives of the firm.
- What current outside issues are affecting this firm and the climate they operate in?
- What growth strategies is the firm currently pursuing?
- Who are the major players in this industry and how do they compete?
- What are the main responsibilities associated with this role?
- What does a [insert role here] actually do?
Answer those questions thoroughly and your robust understanding will shine through at the interview.
Appreciation of your skills
You’ve probably done the standard preparation for this – relating your skills and experience to the job specs and required candidate attributes. But do you really understand why they should employ you?
In reality, why are you better than the other candidates outside in the waiting room?
To answer this forget the buzzwords, forget what you’ve been taught about transferable skills and ask yourself what are you really good at? What can you do better than most people?
As above, a great way to organize your thoughts is to write them down. Don’t write it for other people, don’t worry about sentence structure or punctuation, use it simply as an exercise to achieve a better understanding of yourself. As you’re writing down your skills, think about how you know you’re good at them, what experiences in your life have taught you that that’s where your skills lie? Again this isn’t for other people, it’s not to prepare answers for questions, it’s just for you.
If you manage to do this successfully I think you’ll instantly understand its worth – how can you expect to communicate your value to a potential employer if you don’t really understand it yourself?
The key to ‘good’ preparation for an interview is about thinking beyond the standard. It’s about gaining deeper insight into yourself, the role, and the firm. As well as making sure you can adequately communicate this to the scary person sitting across the desk from you!
Author: Rachael works at Graduate Rescue, an employability resource and social enterprise for students and graduates. They provide online interview coaching, career matching, and advice software, practice psychometric tests as well as a host of general advice for job seekers.