As an ex-recruiter-turned-careers-adviser, interviewing people has featured heavily in my working life over the last 15+ years. Public and private sectors - I’ve worked within them both and am very aware of the very different recruitment techniques that they favour. And yet it is the same old problems that, time and time again, are holding people back from interview success. Work on the following weaknesses and you’ll be up and away:
Lack of preparation
Whether it is not knowing what to prepare, or assuming you know everything already, any astute interviewer will pick up in seconds how much time you have spent in the lead up to your interview and that WILL affect how likely they are to offer you the job. Interviews shouldn’t hold many surprises. The format is usually predictable. Use this to your favour and put time aside to think about the type of questions they are likely to ask you, and the main skills, abilities and achievements you need to get across, and how to relate these to the specific of the role. Read the job description and person spec - this will give you big clues as to what the interview will focus on. Similarly, re-read your CV or application form - what questions does it raise?
The flip side of failing to prepare can be just as dangerous, if not more so. Over rehearsing your answers can not only lead to stilted responses but, worse still, blind panic if the interview questions don’t go the way you expect them to. Resist the temptation to try and script your interview answers. Think about them, yes, bullet point the main factors you need to get across, but leave it there. You need to be able to think on your feet and over rehearsing kills this. Interviews are often similar from one company to the next but no two interviews will be the same. Therefore you can’t use your answers for one and expect it to apply exactly to another.
Not enough research
Specifically into the organisation and role. Dispelling a common myth, it is not enough to glance over the company info on their website. Anyone can recite that back, parrot fashion. Instead, research the wider industry and the organisations place within it. What makes them different? Who are their main competitors? What company developments are happening that may impact on your role? But don’t stop your research here. Social media has made it incredibly easy for us now to research our interviewers. Finding a little bit more about them and their specific professional interests can help give you the edge.
Answering the ‘wrong’ question
Interviewers are not always good at their jobs. They don’t always ask questions with clarity and this can cause obvious confusion. Interview nerves can mean that we are afraid to use silence. Rushing in and answering a question that you do not quite understand isn’t likely to end well. Asking for clarification, pausing and thinking before you start your response, is. Make sure you listen to exactly what the question is and don’t fall foul of answering the question you want to answer - and have rehearsed - instead. Subtle differences in words and phrasing can change the whole slant of what they are looking for so listen carefully.
Not understanding competencies
It is a format the some with be more comfortable with than others but most people, whatever the role, are advised to be familiar with the idea of competency interviewing. This is about proving future work behaviours through past work examples. Read up on this. Know about the STAR framework and how that can help you to form a comprehensive and easy-to-follow answer. Understand the level of detail you need to go into and how it is important that you bring out the skills you have used. Most companies will be clear about the competencies they are looking for, either through the person descriptions or through their company values, which should be evident on the careers pages of their websites.
Lack of practice
As I hear myself saying often, interviews are a learned skill. Yes, there will always be people who are more or less comfortable with the process, but time and experience benefits everyone. Knowing more about the kind of questions that are asked and what interviewers are looking for from responses will get easier as you become more experienced, particularly if you are good at asking for feedback and/or reflecting on previous interview experiences. And as you get better practiced, your answers will also become more fluid and this will help you to present yourself as a relaxed and competent future employee.
With interviews there will always be things you can’t control - the quality of the other candidates and the rapport you manage to establish (or not) with your interviewer/s are examples of these. But a significant amount of any interview will be within your control and you must start by accepting and aiming to give the best that you can. Work hard to eradicate the problems listed above and you should see your interview fortunes start to change.
Momentum Careers Advice is based in St Albans, Herts, but offers services throughout the UK and beyond via Skype. Our mock interview service costs just £50.