For some the thought of being interviewed is just terrifying! For others not so, but a lack of nerves can also lead to complacency and a poor, ill-prepared interview performance. The following pointers will get you to a place of confidence and with luck a successful job offer!
1. Research the Company… This is more than a quick 15 minute check the night before. Set some time to learn about the company products, services, vision, ethos and culture, financial position, recent news they have shared, competitors etc. Then with that knowledge be armed with a few questions to indicate your interest in the business going forward.
The more you can find out about the company and job up-front in the interview, the easier to sell your relevant skills and strengths, making it clear that you have something to deliver from day 1.
2. Prepare your Stockpile… Most companies will use competency based interviews and this gives you a great opportunity to prepare a stockpile of material to use. Look at the role description and highlight the key competencies. If project management is in there, expect a question about project management; a management or leadership role, expect to be grilled on your leadership.
For each of the competencies I recommend creating a story using the STAR model. Trust me, in the interview you will be asked the question in a number of different ways and you can't prepare for every eventuality. But if you have already thought through and organised your previous experiences, it will be easier to recall the right information and flex your responsesaccordingly dependent on the question you're asked.
So you are interviewing for a sales leadership role, you could prepare for a question about improving results.
Situation – Give the interviewer the background required.
e.g. “The company had been successful with this product for 3 years and we were still a market leader in most other areas in the UK. I was the Regional Director for UK South and the area of Kent was under-performing. Our employee engagement scores were also in decline.”
Task – Now explain what you needed to do, what was expected of you.
e.g. “I was required to identify the cause of the decline in revenue and whether this was related to the drop in the engagement score.”
Actions – Now explain what actions you took to solve the problem. This is the opportunity to highlight your key selling points, strengths and skills and also demonstrate how you proactively managed the situation.
e.g. “I took a democratic approach and set up 121's with all of my area managers to discuss the situation and to collate their thoughts. I have great relationships with my team so I also organised a focus group with some of the sales reps to get their input. Among other things, this highlighted a key area of concern that needed urgently addressing.
One of the area managers had recently been promoted into the role and some of his management techniques were starting to upset his team. Morale & confidence were dropping and they were not motivated. The area manager knew he was struggling but wasn't sure what he needed to do. I wanted to ensure he felt supported by me and the company. I set up regular 121 time to coach him, I also sponsored him on the company Management Development Programme and asked an area manager from another region to mentor him. We both set up a team building event where we aired the issues, focused on what needed to happen to transform them into a high performing team and established new ways of working"
Result / Reflection – And finally explain what happened as a result of your actions. I also recommend reflecting what you learnt from the situation and what you would do differently next time.
“Within 3 months we saw a significant improvement in the business results, after 6 months the employee engagement score lifted 5 points and after 12 months the area manager was a confident and competent leader who now mentored new area managers in other regions. From then on all newly promoted area managers were automatically assigned a mentor from another region and I spent much more time coaching them in the first few months to establish and deliver a clear 100 day action plan."
Go through this process for a number of competencies and scenarios and there will be no hesitation when formulating your answers on the day.
3. Don’t Forget the Basics – Out of the hundreds of interviews I have held over the years I am always surprised by how many people stumble on the basic questions e.g. ‘What would you describe as your 3 key strengths? 3 key development areas? Where do you see your career in 5-10 years’ time? In what circumstances/environment are you performing your best?’ An interviewer will be looking for you to be self-aware so make sure your answers are well thought through, practiced (out loud to yourself or a partner/friend/coach) and can be backed up with examples if needed.
4. Prepare your Body – Get a good night’s sleep the night or two before, do some gentle exercise when you wake up, get a good healthy breakfast and take it easy on the coffee. It’s important you feel as well and healthy as you can.
5. Dress the Part – Check beforehand what the dress code is. Turning up either significantly under-dressed or over-dressed will not create the right first impression or make you feel comfortable. I heard some great advice recently about dressing one notch up from the crowd. So if it is a casual dressed company, dress casual but with a killer pair of shoes, or a smart jacket for example.
6. Make a Super Introduction – You want the interviewer to warm to you, like you, even favour you when they first meet you – you have a few seconds to create the right first impression. Whether that be in the reception or in the interview room, stand up to greet your interviewer, shake their hand firmly (not in a vice-like grip but no floppy wrists either!) and deliver a clear, well-practiced introduction whilst maintaining eye contact and a smile. A good trick is to practice what you are going to say e.g. ‘Hello. I’m Emma Ryan, really great to meet you.’ (Clearly don’t call yourself Emma Ryan!) The more you practice and it is delivered genuinely and authentically, the less your introduction will be tainted by any nerves.
7. Continue to Build Rapport – It’s important you create a good relationship with your interviewer and so be genuinely interested in them. Ask questions about their experiences with the company but also look for clues about them personally and create a conversation e.g. “What do enjoy about working for this company?”, “I see you have a picture on the wall of you with David Beckham – how did you get to meet him?”
Keep your body language positive, lots of eye contact, smile, leaning forward or upright in your chair to show you are engaged and actively listening to the interviewer.
8. Follow up – Keep your communication open after the interview with a timely and brief thank you note/email e.g. ‘It was great to meet you today and thank you for the time. I really enjoyed hearing about your company and the exciting journey ahead. I look forward to discussing further with you how I could be a part of the company’s future.’ And in order to go the extra mile follow up with additional information about certain points you discussed in the interview. E.g. ‘Please find a link to the article/book/person we were discussing today’, ‘Please find attached details of the IT system you were interested in’
9. Enjoy it – People sometimes look at me strangely when I say I like being interviewed but I genuinely do for a number of reasons. I get to meet new people and find out about new companies, I get to remind myself of all the amazing experiences I have had in my career and how much I have learnt along the way. It’s the next step of my future and whether I get the job / assignment / work, or not, I usually come away with a new contact, some new insights having learnt something new about myself and others.
So, try to enjoy and see it as a positive experience and you’ll come across far more genuine and they will see the normal you, the person they will be working with and hopefully love you! And if they don’t then maybe it’s not the job or company for you anyway and there’s something even brighter out there for you.
Wishing you all the best and success in your next interview. Emma
Emma Ryan is a life, career and leadership coach. Before setting up her coaching practice she spent many years as a HR professional recruiting, developing and managing talent. As a coach, she is passionate about empowering, motivating and enabling change in people so they can be their very best.
You can also read Emma's CV tips: http://www.emma-ryan-coach.com/blog/2014/1/20/emmaryan/cvwriting