Interview Preparation

There are three key areas to focus on when preparing for your interview:

 1. Researching the Company

 2. Presenting Your CV

 3. Competencies & Skills

Researching The Company

More than ever, clients will expect you to have researched the company prior to interview. To assist you, we will provide you with the relevant company websites and information/profiles of the individuals you will be meeting.  We will also endeavour to explain the interview process.  We would however suggest that you also use the major search engines to find more data, download the last annual report and find their principal competitors or the CEO’s latest statement.  This effort will prepare you for questions and help you to formulate your own.  It will also enable you to be aware of external industry issues and get a feeling for the culture of the company. 

The more you know about the job and company prior to the interview the bigger your impact.  The interviewer will be impressed with your diligence and enthusiasm, and naturally it reflects the thoroughness of your work.

Here is a suggested list of some of the information worth researching: 

  • - What is the exact nature of the company’s business?  It sounds too obvious but don’t be fooled.
  • - What are its key product portfolios and revenue streams?
  • - How many staff does it have?  What is the average age of staff, the company culture etc.?
  • - What is the company’s annual turnover and profit?
  • - Who are its main competitors?
  • - Has the company been in the press lately, are there any controversial announcements or decisions?
  • - Does the company have any major projects or changes planned?
  • - Who are the CEO, MD and other relevant directors?  Especially the person responsible for the department in which the vacancy exists.
  • - What sort of industry or business climate does this company trade in?  What are the trends and potential challenges?

To ensure you gain maximum value for this work, when possible mention that you have researched the company during interview by phrasing “when I was researching the company…”.

Make sure you have a map/job spec/your cv/note paper immediately to hand at the interview.

It is appropriate to take certificates, ID and any documentation that you may be called upon to provide if the interview goes well.

Presenting Your CV 

During the interview you must be able to précis and present your CV (and therefore your skills) to the interviewer in a concise, positive and comprehensive manner. Whilst doing this it is important to bear in mind that most interviewers will not have absorbed your skills entirely and that they are not always skilled interviewers. Accordingly the “standard interview” will involve a walk-through of your CV to date.

This is something you need to do without stumbling.

To be able to do this you must sit down in an appropriate setting and précis your CV on paper.  The objective is to deliver your career in a concise format within 3 - 5 minutes. In order to do this, you need to concentrate on the areas that are pertinent to the role and to structure the time used in such a way that the largest proportion of this is spent discussing your most recent experience or most pertinent role. Typically in a 3 minute presentation, this should take up about 1 minute.

In the time allotted you need to be able to talk through your moves, your achievements or difficulties overcome. It is always best to do this using positive vocabulary and relating your achievements to skills/areas required in the job spec. Sit down and highlight them and then work out how to relate them in particular to the role as laid out in the job spec.

Example:

After leaving college I went into my first accounts role, I was soon bored and there was nowhere to move so I got a job as an assistant accountant for a big company.

To extrapolate this to the interviewer:

Following my degree, I secured my first position in accounts and after 8 months in this role I was offered an excellent opportunity to further my accountancy experience and gain broader experience in the preparation of month end for a particularly busy Financial Controller in a major PLC.

The use of positive phrasing portrays you as a positive person and shows that you have a lot to offer.  Just think how you would feel after hearing those 2 statements!

Talk through the presentation of your CV out loud, ideally in front of a mirror or to someone you know.

This is why:

When you write something down and vocalise it you create a memory, albeit a small one. The more you say it the more you consolidate the memory pathway in your brain. When it comes to retrieval of that memory, you will be able to tap straight into that memory and repeat it. You will make fewer mistakes and clearer statements and therefore appear more confident. You will lessen the amount of “ummm” or “eeerr” stalling interruptions and the “tip of the tongue” loss of words effect that always happens when you least need it!

Retrieval of a memory via an existing pathway is much more efficient than delivery of the same information made up on the spot. In the arena of sports performance this technique, known as “visualisation”, is subject to extensive investigation. In our world “vocalisation” is an even more potent technique and to put it into basics, once your mouth has said a key phrase you will not have to think as hard to remember how to say it next time!

This helps you to get it right. Also, whilst delivering information that you are familiar with, you will be more able to maintain eye contact and control non-verbal signals, improving the efficiency with which you deliver the message to the interviewer.

Eye contact and body language are important in helping to win the “emotional sale” and the ability to concentrate on presentation rather than content will help you to manage these. Although most of us are not aware of non-verbal indicators, interviewers will pick up on these when behaviours do not “feel right”. They are a subliminal message and if you have to think hard on formulating a response you may inadvertently be sending out the wrong signals to the interviewer, this will often distract from what you are saying.

Eye patterns are related to the area of the side of the brain used for thought and as such you will generally look to the right for the future, left when talking about the past, and down when you are talking about emotions.  It is also hard to look someone in the eye whilst trying to generate example!  Through having pre-formed a series of answers and examples, you will reduce these reflexes. To your interviewer this will make you seem more alert, quicker and more focused. It will also help keep them “involved” by being able to present more normal “conversational” body language. 

Competencies & Skills

Before you even begin the job hunting process, it is important to spend time assessing your skills, experience, strengths, limitations and personal preferences.  Although you may already have an idea of these, it is still necessary to sit down and do a self-audit so that you can go into an interview knowing exactly how to sell yourself.

Firstly, your primary aims are to convince the interviewer that: 

  • - You are able to do the job competently.
  • - You can bring benefits to the company.
  • - You are the best candidate. 

The key skill is to draw on your experiences and strengths and deliver them in a form that relates them to the position. 

Further on in this document you will find lists of the skills and competency definitions frequently required of management level individuals or aspiring career minded people. Look at these, write out your key skills on paper and relate then to the job requirement. Then relate them to your experience and provide at least one example of where you demonstrated that skill. 

Example:

Job Role: Audit

Requirement: Attention to detail

Competency: Problem Solving

Example: Finding a VAT inconsistency that led back to incorrect allocation of product codes on warehouse booking in system. The outcome was re-allocation of stock to appropriate product codes, recovery of written stock loss and adjustment in stock accounting procedures. This assisted the warehouse manager through to stock ordering and replenishment… 

To extrapolate this to the interviewer: 

“…so in delivering back to bottom line a perceived stock loss. I enhanced the financial standing of the company by £250,000 and assisted in the development of systems and processes to help eliminate future errors.” 

In this case the interviewer’s buying requirement was the ability to identify mistakes and deliver accurate company information. The need was satisfied by this example. At the same time the example is used to show your abilities, not only to be accurate but also other key areas including “interpersonal skills”, “organisational skills”, “planning” and “initiative”. 

Skills

Begin by looking at your background and map out a profile of your key attributes and write them down. Don’t write an essay but select the key areas that reflect you, bullet point it or make a flow chart. The skills list below will help you. 

Once you have done this, run through the list and assess your ability at each, score them and think of examples and write them down. 

  • - I am very competent
  • - I am competent, but could improve
  • - I could do the task adequately
  • - My skills are under-developed for the task 

Know your 5 key skill attributes and identify the 2 or 3 main ones where development is needed. Turn these into adjectives that you can use to describe yourself. 

  1. 1. Maintain operations to meet quality standards
  2. 2. Implement and evaluate changes to services and products
  3. 3. Make recommendations for budgeting and expenditure
  4. 4. Monitor and control the use of resources
  5. 5. Define future personnel requirements
  6. 6. Contribute to the assessment and selection of candidates
  7. 7. Develop teams through planning and organisation
  8. 8. Review and improve development of subordinates
  9. 9. Develop oneself within the job role
  10. 10. Set and update team objectives
  11. 11. Plan activities to ensure objectives are met
  12. 12. Allocate work and evaluate individual performance, providing constructive feedback
  13. 13. Establish and maintain the trust of your subordinates
  14. 14. Establish and maintain the trust of your immediate manager
  15. 15. Identify and minimise interpersonal conflict
  16. 16. Counselling subordinates
  17. 17. Obtain and evaluate information for decision making
  18. 18. Record and store information
  19. 19. Lead group meetings and discussions to solve problems and make decisions
  20. 20. Advise and inform others 

This exercise will show you which areas of your skill set to emphasize in the course of the interview and which weaker areas will require some diplomacy. Careful presentation will help land that job! 

Remember that until you’re actually at the interview it may be difficult to identify exactly what the role entails, so continue to listen and then adapt the skill set descriptions to the job. 

This can also help you devise a list of training needs or developmental requirements for yourself. 

Strengths & Competencies 

The following is a list of important areas of strengths, or competencies, commonly looked at during interview. They are not in any order and you will not be strong in all areas so be realistic in your assessment. 

  1. 1. Leadership by example
  2. 2. Self-confidence
  3. 3. Commitment
  4. 4. Determination
  5. 5. Enthusiasm
  6. 6. Stamina
  7. 7. Strength of will
  8. 8. Competitiveness
  9. 9. Good judgement
  10. 10. Confidence with decision making
  11. 11. Willingness to take responsibility
  12. 12. Ability and confidence to take risks
  13. 13. Quick-thinking
  14. 14. Initiative
  15. 15. Creativity
  16. 16. Organisational ability
  17. 17. Flexibility
  18. 18. Commercial understanding
  19. 19. Striking a balance between details and the bigger picture
  20. 20. Sensitivity to people

As in the skills exercise, rate each quality according to the following criteria:

  • - Always
  • - Usually
  • - Sometimes
  • - Never 

Having given each of these a rating put them in order of strength (i.e. those marked as ‘always’ at the top of the list followed by 'usually' and so on). Make a separate list ordered according to how relevant you think these same competencies are to the new role. 

Now compare the lists to your CV and experience and the role. 

Highlight the strengths that appear high on both the lists and prepare your presentation of them.  It is also essential that you pay at least as much attention to those areas which appear low on your strengths list but high on the ‘required’ list for the new role.  Do not be afraid to address these areas but treat them as areas where you recognise your need for additional exposure and development. 

Personal Development 

There is no perfect employer or employee but you have to be comfortable that you can exist with each others shortcomings.  Always expect a good interviewer to discuss your areas of need, limitation or inexperience.  When this happens you should be confident to show that you want to improve yourself.  A positive approach to ongoing development can often best be shown if you relate back to a previous job and show how you overcame such a challenge at that time. 

Ask yourself:

  • - In which areas can I really improve?
  • - What were the tasks and situations I had the most difficulty with?
  • - In which instances did my colleagues react negatively towards me?
  • - Were there any reasons for hindering my progress and promotion?
  • - Why am I leaving my present job? 

Use the following attributes as a guideline for answering the questions above. 

  1. 1. Leadership
  2. 2. Competitiveness
  3. 3. Good judgement
  4. 4. Confidence with decision-making
  5. 5. Willingness to take responsibility
  6. 6. Quick thinking
  7. 7. Initiative
  8. 8. Creativity
  9. 9. Organisational ability
  10. 10. Flexibility
  11. 11. Striking a balance between details and the bigger picture
  12. 12. Sensitivity to people

You can deal with your limitations in 2 main ways in terms of the interview.  

You can identify the most critical of the weakness or limitations and explain how you will actively strive to improve on them but this could be time consuming and impractical. It is easier to name limitations that are likely to be of little concern to the interviewer, or ones that you can realistically offer tangible explanations for. 

Achievements

Personality types often influence delivery of achievements. Some people are confident to look upon many experiences as achievements and call upon them in interview. Others are less confident about this and without preparation will fail to find examples to talk about. 

Achievements need to demonstrate your good qualities and show that you have the ability to succeed, they needn’t be grandiose or even specifically related to your job. Did you run a marathon? Did you win some business in the face of an aggressive competitor? Be affirmative but if it is a complex business issue, try to just give a taster and then ask the interviewer if they want more detail! 

Don’t be too modest, prepare your examples, this is your sales pitch!