Preparing for an Interview
The key to a successful interview is research and preparation. Use any spare time you may have to find out about the history, performance and structure of the organisation you are interviewing with. You will almost certainly be asked ‘why do you want to work here, and what do you know about us?’ Find out as much as you can about the company’s market, their products, how they operate, their size, and the like. Detail this information in a fact sheet on the company. It may also be helpful if possible to find out a little about the background of the interviewer and how they fit in to the company structure.
Your consultant will be able to give you some advice on best ways to conduct your research, and further information can be gained from websites, newspaper articles and libraries. Suggested sources include web sites and annual reports for public companies. The Australian Stock Exchange can also provide information or you may wish to phone the company and ask for their corporate brochure. Better still, visit and ask at reception for any information that might be useful. Take note of the vision statement, profile, or company mission, which are sometimes on display.
Your local library is also an excellent source of business magazines and directories such as Kompass or Australian Business Index. Trade publications are also available in libraries or through trade associations.
The interviewer will want to know what sort of person you are in terms of your values and attitudes, and also in terms of your skills and abilities. An audit of these characteristics before the interview will help you answer any questions and relate these to your work practices and business ethics. It will also enable you to formulate the right questions to ask about the position and workplace.
Perhaps the single most important preparatory exercise you can do is to prepare an extensive list of your achievements. Achievements include problems you have overcome, issues you have addressed, or demands you have faced, where your action has led to problem resolution, or value being added in some way to overcome the demand or issue.
Interviewers are increasingly following the ‘behavioural’ or ‘targeted selection’ approach, where you are asked for past examples of when you overcame problems, addressed issues, or met demands. It can be difficult to recall your achievements unless you have them at the forefront of your memory, therefore the process of thinking about and writing down your achievements, will enable a speedier memory access during questioning, simultaneously providing evidence of your problem solving capacity.
While workplace achievements carry more weight, you can however consider other life areas such as sport, community activity or groups, asking yourself:
Have I taken the initiative in confronting problems, opportunities or challenges?
Have I developed something?
Have I identified the need for, or created or designed a new program, procedure, service, or product?
Have I participated in any technical contributions?
Have I been involved in any administrative or procedural recommendations?
Have I resolved a panic situation?
Have I dealt with difficult people?
Have I organised something?
Preparing Answers & Questions
You cannot possibly prepare for or know what questions you will be asked, however you can prepare for almost any question, by running through listings of interview questions found in numerous books or on the Internet. Review these questions and think about how you would respond, using examples from your work or personal life.
You should also arm yourself with questions of your own, including questions formulated from your research. Write down these questions and take them to the interview. The types of questions you may consider asking are listed later in this document.
We’ve all heard of first impressions. The reality is that first impressions are crucial in determining how well you come across throughout the interview. Therefore all aspects of presentation are critical. Presentation means dress, grooming, and how you carry yourself. Walk with confidence, shake hands firmly with eye contact and a smile. Show courtesy by sitting simultaneously, not before the interviewer. Vitality, enthusiasm, manners and style, will foster the development of a positive impression.
What to Wear
You should be well groomed and wear the kind of clothes most commonly worn in the job environment you wish to enter. If you are uncertain, err on the side of caution. Better to be slightly over-dressed than vice versa. It goes without saying that your clothes and hair should be clean and neat, and that your shoes should be polished.
Types of Interviews
To adequately prepare for your interview, it is important to understand the different forms the interview may take. It is perfectly acceptable to ask the type of interview being planned, so that you can prepare mentally in advance.
Behavioural interviewing works on the premise that your past performance is the best indication of future actions. In other words if a prospective employer can determine your behaviour to past experiences and situations they will be able to predict your reaction to a similar circumstance in the future. The best preparation for a behavioural-based interview is to identify four or five examples of past behaviours that demonstrate your ability to add value and tackle difficult situations. But remember, never rehearse your answers too rigidly, always be prepared for further questioning, and be ready to expand on your answers.
Situational interviews are similar to behavioural interviews but with the emphasis on hypothetical questions rather than actual life experiences. Questions tend to be based on the quantifiable skills identified as necessary to perform the role rather than past behaviour. The best way to prepare for this type of interview is to closely study the job specification, and match your relevant skills to the main points, as questions will tend to focus on these areas.
This style of interview will appear more informal and conversational and information will be gained from discussion and debate. It will be necessary to be proactive and carry the conversation where necessary in order to demonstrate your ability to think and act promptly and appropriately. Although this style of interview may appear more casual than expected, be aware that your answers will be closely monitored in order to determine your genuine skills, personality and cultural fit.
A panel interview is likely to consist of a number of key members of an organisation sourced from several areas. Each member may have different agendas or priorities so it is important to establish rapport individually where possible, keep eye contact with all members, and be sure to answer specific technical or strategic questions accurately as there will be a breadth of expertise present. Often it is possible for your Consultant to provide you with background information on each of the panel members, and this will assist with your preparation.
Many people believe they should be a passive responder, who gives all the control to the interviewer. Some interviewers even believe this is how they should proceed, and may even say “I’ll give you a broad overview of the position, then ask you some questions, and then I’ll give you the opportunity to ask me some questions. How’s that with you?”
In reality, everyone in an interview is both interviewer and interviewee at the same time. You can help turn the interview into a more of a conversation and communicate your interest by employing active listening techniques.
Active listening refers to communication techniques that help us to follow and understand each other. Foremost is that you must listen attentively, and confirm that you are listening by using clarification.
Always seek clarification on questions you don’t understand as it conveys a powerful message in that you are trying to understand the role and expectations. The better your understanding of the position, through questioning and clarification, the better your capacity to selectively recall and respond with relevant material, including achievements, in relation to the position’s requirements. But remember - never interrupt the interviewer.
It is quite acceptable to refer to your pre-prepared question list at this time, or during the session. This will demonstrate your preparation, some systematic thinking, and orderliness, all of which imply enthusiasm, and career motivation. We recommend that you consider using some of the following questions:
- What do you see as the main challenges facing someone in this role?
- What is most pressing, and what would you like to see done in the short / medium term?
- Why has the position become vacant?
- How is performance measured?
- Will goals be clearly defined?
- How does this occur?
- How does the role fit into the structure of the department?
- How does the department fit into the organisation as a whole?
- What is the company’s culture?
- What encouragement is given to undertake further training?
- Who are your customers?
- Where is the company going?
- Expansion plans?
A politely drafted e-mail or letter to your interviewer thanking them for their time can work wonders in the decision process, however always discuss with your Consultant first as it may not be appropriate to your individual situation.
Under no circumstances telephone the interviewer directly to gain feedback, your Consultant is better trained to discuss details and will always negotiate on your behalf from a neutral perspective.