CANDIDATES

INTERVIEW ADVICE

If you have read the previous sections of the Knowledge Pod in detail, here is the big pay off! Without realising it, we have already done 80% of the work to prepare you for interview. We believe the best way to prepare for an interview is to understand your motivations and prepare a CV that is tailored to what you are looking for. After that, an interview is just an extension of the sales process you are already a long way through completing.

As in other sections, we don’t want to dwell on the obvious things that you should already know, like having a firm handshake (and wiping a sweaty palm on your trouser beforehand!) and working out how to get there 15 minutes early. We want to change the way you think about interviews to improve your performance.

PREPARATION

  • Check out the interviewers: Try to find their LinkedIn profiles online (you can do this via Google if you have their name but don’t have a LinkedIn account yourself. (If you don’t we recommend you get one as soon as possible! See our managing your profile section for tips on this). See if there is any common ground in work experience or companies that you could bring up when you meet them (it does you no harm to show that you have done your research when you meet them either).
  • Anticipate what sort of interview it will be based on who is interviewing you. See notes further down for more information on different interview types.
  • Compare your CV to the job description provided: These are the two documents that both parties share. You need to be thinking about areas of similarity and be aware of differences. Think about how you would handle discussions on both, effectively spotting the questions you are going to be asked.
  • Check their website for information on the company and, most importantly, information relating to their values and competencies. You may find that everyone they meet will be tested on these core competencies.
  • Prepare for a “Competency Based Interview”: Regardless of what sort of interview you face, we believe that you should prepare for a competency based interview. The next section will cover this in more detail.

QUESTIONS YOU COULD PREPARE

This is one of the simplest things to prepare and one of the most common to get wrong. If you don’t prepare some intelligent questions beforehand, you may find yourself asking what the working hours are and how long you get for lunch (neither good questions to ask at interview!) just to fill the space.

Here is a simple way to think about the questions you should ask, especially at an early round interview:

  • Consider you have been offered the job and already started in the role. In your first week, you have had a series of meetings arranged to meet key stakeholders in the business you have joined. What questions would you ask in those meetings that will help you to understand what you would need to know and the best ways to succeed in your new job? You may find yourself speculating about the answers when thinking about these questions. These are the best questions you should ask and building your speculations into your question will show the interviewer that you have really thought about the role
  • If you have completed the motivations questionnaire in a previous section, revisit your answers to questions 1-6 and 8 and ask about whether this opportunity will provide you with one or two of the key things that are most important to you (perhaps not too many!)

COMPETENCY BASED INTERVIEW (CBI) QUESTIONS

Competency Based Interviewing is a simple idea. If you as an interviewer want to find out if someone can do a job, the best way is to gather tangible examples of their experience and behaviours that you want in the job from their previous jobs. And herein lies the problem, potentially. If you have not prepared to give examples, your mind may go blank, you could choose an example that is not relevant or you could choose the right example but not deliver it accurately. If you don’t prepare for a competency based interview there is a relatively big chance that you will leave the interview with the feeling that you didn’t get to say something that might have made the difference. There is nothing more annoying. Well here comes the good news. With the right preparation (see the last section), you can spot the majority of questions that are going to come your way and prepare examples to use. The rest is down to technique in getting your answer across. For this you may have heard of the STAR technique:

STAR TECHNIQUE

The STAR (Situation, Task, Action, and Result) technique is a standard format applied to answering questions that require examples during an interview. It provides structure and is useful in the interviewers mind, conveying tangible and meaningful answers.

  • Situation: Think about a recent challenge or situation. Ensure this section is concise, relevant and provides a useful backdrop to the situation your example started in
  • Task: What did you have to achieve? What was the problem you needed to overcome or challenge you needed to tackle? What outcome were you looking for?
  • Action: What did you do? The interviewer will be looking for information on what you did and why you did it, perhaps also including why you discounted some other alternative options. It is crucial that you talk about your personal contribution and achievements as opposed to what you accomplished as a team. Explain in a logical step by step manner how you successfully completed the task. Use this section to highlight relevant skills and areas of expertise.
  • Result: What were the outcomes of your actions relating to the original task? You should include as many results as possible, and variety. Where possible be specific i.e. use tangible / measurable results, so talk in currency, time or percentages. Also discuss what you learnt.

Situation and Task should be summed up in a sentence or two while the majority of your answer is split between action and results.

Conversationally, you could think of it as follows:

  • The issue that we faced to start with was… (Situation)
  • And we needed to improve… (Task)
  • So I… (Action)
  • And as a result… (Result)
 

For examples of different standard CBI questions, you will find a lot online following a simple Google search.

MANAGING NERVES

Getting nervous (or anxious) about an interview is totally normal. In fact, as the graph to the left shows, nerves, up to a point, actually improve your performance.

Don’t worry about being nervous – it is normal and will help you to perform and most of the time the other person would never know!

Pod Talent

This section offers some practical help to people who can sometimes feel the negative effects of anxiety in an interview.

An interview is not a normal social situation. You are meeting someone for the first time, so often both sides are unsure of exactly how to act.

Encouraging a more conversational meeting often helps both sides to settle their nerves; a little small talk right at the beginning can help. This is not always possible though, and panel interviews or multiple interviewers at once do not allow you to have a more intimate discussion with one person – so accept that you will have a limited opportunity to break the ice in those circumstances.

Our experience of interviewing people has shown us that there are two main effects of nerves in an interview situation:

  • Waffling: speaking too much and not letting the other person get back into the conversation
  • Mind-blank: your brain does not seem to be able to think of anything to say in response to a question

Tips for Wafflers

Some people get excited or nervous in interviews and the result is that they might talk too much. Often, they even know they are doing it, but literally don’t know how to stop. Here is a really simple method to stop you from talking too much:

  • If you find you have been speaking for too long, pause, and then start your next sentence with “so in answer to your question” and then wrap up your answer. Then DO NOT FEAR THE SILENCE. The occasional silence in an interview is fine, often inevitable because interviewers have a lot of things to think about when interviewing.
  • Alternatively, you may choose to invite your interviewer to respond to what you are saying by encouraging conversation. You could complete your answer by saying: “how does that compare to the issues you have experienced yourself?”

This shows the other person you have finished what you are saying, whilst encouraging a conversation (which will naturally relax you). We strongly recommend this technique as there is an additional benefit: If your answer is a little away from what the interviewer wants to hear, they will mention differences between their experience and your own – offering you the chance to respond with something more relevant.

Managing Mind-blank

Encouraging a more conversational meeting often helps both sides to settle their nerves; a little small talk right at the beginning can help. This is not always possible though, and panel interviews or multiple interviewers at once do not allow you to have a more intimate discussion with one person – so accept that you will have a limited opportunity to break the ice in those circumstances.

If you are faced with a situation when you cannot think of anything to say – DO NOT FEAR! Here are some simple tips that really do make a difference:

  • PAUSE AND TAKE A DEEP BREATH: Say something like “I am just going to think about that for a moment” so that the interviewer knows that you will not be speaking immediately – there is nothing wrong with thinking through your answer. The deep breath slows your heart rate, and can offer some immediate physical relief from nerves.
  • GET CLARIFICATION:If you still are not sure how to answer, be honest and ask for help – you will be amazed how often you receive it while it can buy you some precious time. Here are some examples:
    • “Sorry, just so that I am clear, could you repeat the question?”
    • “I am really sorry but I’m not sure I completely understand the question. What sort of thing are you looking to hear about?”
  • IT IS AS MUCH ABOUT YOUR THOUGHT PROCESS THAN YOUR ANSWER: If you can’t think of an answer, show the interviewer that you are thinking it through while you are talking. It is just as important for the interviewer to see how you think, as well as what you have done. Here is an example: “Well I have not actually faced that sort of issue in the past, but if faced with it now, I suppose I would start by…”
  • BE PREPARED: Preparation is the best solution to someone who can suffer from nerves. Make sure that you have a number of relevant examples (maybe 5 or 6) from your experience that you have practiced talking about and rely on this content if you cannot think of anything else to say.

INTERVIEW TYPES:

INTERNAL RECRUITMENT INTERVIEWS

Sometimes the first stage of a recruitment process will be to meet or have a telephone interview with somebody within an internal recruitment department. The structure of these interviews can depend largely on the interviewer, so we would again recommend checking their profile on LinkedIn. Here are a few things to consider:

  • The interviewer is unlikely to be an expert in your function, but may still ask some key competency based interview questions that do relate to the role. These could potentially go into quite a lot of detail. Try to strike a balance between not treating them like a supply chain / procurement dummy and using too much technical jargon.
  • Expect to be asked in depth about your motivations. We recommend you visit our relevant page to prepare for these questions.
  • Be prepared to discuss your current package and the salary you would be looking for in the role. We recommend transparency and honesty in this, it avoids potentially embarrassing situations further down the line.
  • Also expect a lot on cultural fit and the sort of things you will also expect in an HR interview.

SECOND INTERVIEW

The purpose of second interviews vary greatly from one company and opportunity to the next, so it is very difficult to provide general advice that will fit in all circumstances. Here are some good basic tips:

  • Just because your first interview went well, do not expect more of the same. Often the first interview is used to get you interested just as much as the other way. Being over confident going into a second interview is an extremely common reason for rejection in an interview process, often this is because over-confidence can come across as aloofness or disinterest in the role. In a close decision between two strong candidates, the hiring company will usually go for the one who comes across as wanting it more.
  • Try to get feedback from your first round and prepare for more in-depth questioning on areas of concern that they may have
  • Prepare to get repeats of questions from your first round – another interviewer may not have access to notes from a previous round. See below for stakeholder interviews

VERBAL AND NUMERICAL TESTING

Many organisations require all potential employees to undergo testing as a part of the application process, often with the results strongly affecting their hiring decision. The most common type of these tests is SHL. Although it is said that it should not be possible to improve your performance in such tests, we have found that, in practice, this is not entirely the case. Practice does certainly improve performance and everyone has the ability to go online and take a number of practise tests. Tactics are also involved and understanding how the scoring method works provides an advantage.

  • It is usually not enough to just answer a low number of questions accurately, the number of correct answers is usually more important than the percentage answered correctly
  • You should also never expect to find the questions to increase in difficulty as they continue, so it is worth looking ahead to see if there are any questions towards the end of the test that you would prefer to answer earlier
  • Often in numerical tests there is a long way and a quick way to get to the answer. It does not just test your ability to complete calculations but to spot patterns, so see if you can answer multiple choice questions while avoiding long calculations, for example through a process of elimination

HR INTERVIEWs

By their nature, interviews conducted by HR professionals will usually focus more on the human elements of your application and ability to do the job. Here are some things to prepare for:

  • These interviews can focus on areas such as: motivations, influencing skills, leadership, teamwork, understanding other people, ability to learn
  • Again, you should think about your motivations, because it is likely that an HR interviewer will want to see the thought you have put into your career, whilst remaining honest and open about your areas of development. They will want to see that you will commit to the business long term. Check out our section on this
  • Prepare for questions relating to your interaction with other people within your role such as:
    • Your relationship with your boss
    • Your relationship with your team (reports) or other direct team-members
    • Your relationship with other stakeholders in relevant departments
  • Be ready to share what you have learnt about your own personal development through your experiences, discussing things that you have needed to get better at or still do need to

STAKEHOLDER INTERVIEWS

You may be asked to interview with a senior stakeholder from a department outside of the team you are interviewing for. NEVER take this interview lightly, instead, consider why they are being included in the process – it is because they are involved in the decision-making process. Often, they could be your internal customer (such as an IT director for an IT Procurement Category job interview) and therefore have the power of veto. Here are some tips:

  • Make sure you ask questions, for example:
    • their current experience of the department you would be joining
    • what they think the new person should focus on to improve relationships
    • how the overall company strategy affects the requirements of your future role
  • Ensure that you provide evidence of experiencing and overcoming similar situations in your own career
  • Where you don’t have evidence, discuss how you would approach certain circumstances from a theoretical perspective