A job interview is similar in many ways to a social conversation, but it requires more than just conversational skills. How well you do in a job interview will depend on how well you can elaborate on your accomplishments and qualifications in regards how they relate to your potential employers wants and needs.
This section will look at the following:
What are employers are generally looking for?
- Positive attitude
- Interest in the company and position
- Stable work history
- Clear sense of purpose
- Communication skills
- High performance standards
- Cultural fit
Interviews vary in style and length. Some can be formal and structured while others can seem random and more like a general conversation. Let the interviewer set the tone and match your style with theirs, in accordance with your individual personality.
Although there is not one way of interviewing, there are standard steps that apply to every interview process.
- Your greeting should include a firm handshake, an enthusiastic hello, and lots of eye contact followed by a verbal introduction.
- Follow the interviewers’ leads, but try to get the interviewer to describe the position and the duties to you early in the interview process. This way, you may be able to apply your background, skills and accomplishments to the position in a more focussed manner.
- Establish rapport with the interviewer. People want to hire those they feel most comfortable with.
- Make sure that your good points come across to the interviewer in a factual, sincere manner. Stress achievements (especially if they can be quantified). For example: sales performance, processes developed, savings achieved, systems installed, etc.
- Respond to questions being asked as they relate to the position, or the company’s needs. If asked about your background, be specific and only talk about those aspects that relate to the particular position in question. This tailored approach should keep your interviewers engaged at all times.
- If you get the impression that the interview is not going well and that you have already been rejected, do not let your discouragement show. Sometimes an interviewer who is genuinely interested in you may seem to discourage you as a way of testing your reaction.
- Never be negative about a past employer.
- You are not required to discuss salary at the first interview. If you wish to avoid queries relating to salary you can respond with: “Salary is not the be all and end all for me. I would look at market rates for someone with my experience.”
- Make sure you talk about why you are interested in this position and what you can offer the company.
- The closing phase is the most important part of the interview for making a lasting impression that can place you above other competitors for the same position. Remember, the candidate that shows the most enthusiasm for the job, the opportunity and the company is usually the one that gets the offer!
How to deal with nerves during a job interview
Being nervous before or during an interview can hinder your chances of getting a job. It can affect your body language, speech, confidence and also performance. In an already stressful situation it is an issue that has to be dealt with.
The good news is that by following some simple procedures and steps you can control and reduce your anxiety. Nervousness during an interview CAN be controlled.
Keep everything in perspective
- Remind yourself the worst that can happen if you fail at the interview is that you will not get the job, nothing else. Remember that there are many other jobs that you can apply for and that you have nothing to worry about.
Go to as many interviews as you can.
- The more interviews you go to the more experienced you will become and the less you will dread them.
Debrief after every interview
- After each interview sit down and write down what you feel you did wrong and what you felt you did right. Then make notes on what to do in your next interview.
Research the company
- Look at the company’s website, their products, services and industry, the more you learn about a prospective employer the more confident you will feel. Research key staff within the organisation by looking at their LinkedIn profile, especially in regards their qualifications and the career path they took.
Think happy thoughts
- Just prior to the interview think about positive and happy experiences you have had, like family outings, holidays etc. This can help relax you considerably.
Sitting down during the interview
- Assume a posture that is not uncomfortable and that allows you to breathe deeply and slowly without straining.
- During the interview take deep slow breaths to get oxygen to your brain. Also just before entering the interview room take deep breaths and hold it in for a count of five, then let it out for a count of five.
Clothes and grooming – look good…feel good
- Focus on looking good; take time to wear the right clothes and to look good. Ensure you have brushed your teeth and that your breath smells fresh. All of these little points will help make you feel more confident about yourself and your ability.
- Get there with time to spare, this will help to settle down and make you feel in control. If you arrive 3 minutes before the interview you will feel rushed and not in the right frame of mind for an interview. Aim to arrive at least 15 minutes prior to your interview commencing so you have ample time to get accustomed to and feel comfortable with your new surroundings.
Prepare for the interview
- Make sure you have plenty of time to prepare and arrive for the interview. Plan and prepare what you are going to wear the day before. Also plan your travel preparations the day before.
Everyone gets nervous
- Reassure yourself by remembering that you are not the only one who gets nervous at an interview. Virtually every other job applicant will experience those same nerves.
Go for a walk before the interview
- Get some fresh air and go for a 10 or 15 minute brisk walk before the interview starts.
- Get a good night’s sleep before the interview date. Feeling tired and irritable is the last thing you need.
- Avoid energy drinks or coffee before an interview
- These are stimulants and if you are nervous they may make your condition worse.
Have a calming ritual
Many people have a certain procedure or ritual that they follow which relaxes them and helps them cope with interviews. This could be anything from going for a short walk, taking a shower, having a light meal to wearing a certain pair of socks. These may sound odd but they do work for many people by physiologically making them feel more comfortable.
Questions to ask in an Interview
Questions you might ask at a job interview:
- Why has the position become available?
- How would you describe the culture of the company?
- What induction/training programme is there?
- What kinds of people have previously been successful in the company?
- What plans has the company for future development?
- Which are the company’s bestselling products or services?
- Can you describe a typical day for someone in this position?
- How will my leadership responsibilities and performance be measured? And by whom? How often?
- Is there a formal process for advancement within the organization?
- What are the traits and skills of people who are the most successful within the organisation?
Questions you may be asked in a job interview:
- Tell me about your current job?
- How did you get the role?
- Why do you enjoy the role?
- Why did you pick this career?
- Tell me what are your five main job responsibilities?
- How would you describe yourself?
- What influenced you to choose this career?
- What specific goals have you established for your career?
- Give me an example of one of your best accomplishments at work?
- Do you have the personal characteristics necessary for success in your chosen career?
- How would you describe yourself in terms of your ability to work as a member of a team?
- What motivates you?
- Can you describe your long-range goals and objectives?
- What do you expect to be doing in five years?
- How would you evaluate your ability to deal with conflict?
- Have you ever had a difficulty with a supervisor? How did you resolve the conflict?
- Tell me about a major problem you recently handled. Were you successful in resolving it?
- Would you say that you can easily deal with high-pressure situations?
- What quality or attribute do you feel will most contribute to your career success?
- What personal weakness has caused you the greatest difficulty in your job?
- If you could change or improve anything in your work place, what would it be?
- What do you enjoy doing outside of work in your free time?
- What plans do you have for continued study?
- Describe the characteristics of a successful manager.
- Tell me what you know about our company.
Competency Based Interviews
Competency-based interviewing, also known as behavioural interviewing, requires you to draw on past experience and describe specific examples of incidents that demonstrate your competence in a particular area. The most effective way of answering these questions is to use the “STAR” technique:
Situation — briefly describe the background to the situation
Task — specifically describe your responsibility
Action — describe what you did
Result — describe the outcome of your actions.
Here is an excellent answer to a competency-based question that is testing teamwork as a competence:
Question: “Team work is very important in our organisation. What evidence do you have to prove that you are a good team player?”
Answer: “I have a number of examples I could share with you. In one instance, when I was working as a business analyst at ABC Company, the sales team was pulling together a bid for a large piece of work and the analyst that normally helps them out with their IT information was on leave. I offered to help them and worked late every night for two weeks to ensure they had all the information they needed. They took on my suggestions regarding technology. As it turned out we won the bid and I was promoted as a result.”
You may be required to provide between one and three real-life examples to validate one particular competence.
Be prepared with answers and supporting examples to standard HR questions such as:
- What are your career aspirations?
- Why do you want to work for our company?
- What interests you about our product/service?
- Of your previous jobs, which did you enjoy the most and why?
- How have you managed conflict in the past?
- Describe what you have done in your career that shows your initiative.
- What are your weaknesses? Your strengths?
- What does teamwork mean to you?
- What style of management gets the best results from you?
- What have been your major achievements to date?
Remember that you are being interviewed because the interviewer wants to hire somebody — not because he/she wants to trip you up or embarrass you. He/she will be searching out your strong and weak points, evaluating you on your qualifications, skills and intellectual qualities and he/she will probably delve deeper to determine your attitudes, aptitudes, stability, motivation and maturity.
Questions to ask in a competency based interview
Here are examples of probing questions you might ask:
- What would a normal day in this role look like?
- Why is the position available?
- How would you describe your organisational culture?
- What induction and training programs does the organisation offer?
- What sort of people have done well in this team/organisation?
- How is the company positioned against its competitors?
- What is your vision for the future? What are the plans, if any, for growth or expansion?
- What are the three things that would make someone an outstanding success in this role?
- How well do you think I match the requirements of the role?
- What is the next step in the process?
Questions you may be asked in a competency based interview
Persuasiveness: Reason effectively to convince the other party. Achieve goals and alter views by demonstrating shared benefits.
- Showing a cooperative attitude by convincing people that the decision is necessary (rather than imposing the decision).
- Get an idea of colleagues’ counter-arguments and resistance in advance – act on this in anticipation.
- Relate the benefits of ideas or recommendations to the needs and interests of individuals and clients.
- Present compelling arguments to support positions.
- As a member of a staff department how have you gone about persuading line managers in the past? Give an example.
- What is the best suggestion you ever made that was accepted by your boss or colleagues? How did you present it?
- What is the best suggestion you ever made that was rejected by your boss or colleagues? Why was it rejected?
- In a discussion most people are usually convinced that their ideas are right. How successful are you in getting others to accept your point of view? Can you give an example?
- What do you think is the best way of ‘selling’ an unpopular idea? How do you go usually go about this? Example?
Team-Work: Be active in realizing shared goals – even when you do not get a direct benefit.
- Dealing well with different viewpoints as part of a (multidisciplinary) team.
- Work co-operatively with equals or other team members to set responsibilities.
- Share information, ideas and suggestions to accomplish mutual goals.
- Support team decisions even if not in total agreement.
- Can you recall a situation when you completely disagreed with the way your team was working? What did you do then?
- Have you ever been a member of a team that broke up because it was impossible to work with one another? What was your position?
- Do you work together with colleagues at the moment? How do you deal with conflicts / disagreements / misunderstandings in this group?
Planning/Action: Deploy human and other resources to meet targets and standards. Do it on time.
- Plan work so that it gets done on time.
- Formulate work objectives clearly including a timetable and priorities.
- Getting thing done by focusing on the implementation.
- Anticipate and act to compensate for potential risks and problems.
- Have you ever had to re-adjust a timetable due to unforeseen circumstances? How did you go about it? Examples, please.
- What are your department’s long and short term plans? Have they been put into writing?
- What were your work objectives last year? Were they achieved?
- Can you give an example of how your department arrives at operational plans to adjust to new situations?
- How did you plan your time at work over the past week?
- Describe a normal working day or week for me. How do you plan your daily activities?
Leadership: Set challenges within own parameters. Then coach and motivate staff to realize these.
Welcome and delegate responsibility. Be forceful when appropriate.
- Practice and stimulate open and two way communication including frank and honest feedback to co-workers.
- Show interest and give support and coaching when necessary.
- Involve subordinates in issues of company and department policy.
- Develop ideas to improve departmental operations and take the appropriate actions to implement change and ensure group acceptance.
- Have you ever had a subordinate who did not perform as well as you thought he/she should? What did you do about it?
- Have you ever had to arbitrate between two staff members who were unable to work together? How did you get them to cooperate?
- How often do you hold meetings with your staff? Why not more/less often? How did you prepare for the last meeting?
- Have you ever involved your staff in issues of company policy? How did you go about this?
- Have you ever led a work group or project team whose members were not lower-placed than yourself in the organizational hierarchy? How did you manage this?
- Has it ever happened that targets were not met while you were in charge or had final responsibility? What did you do then?
Problem Analysis: Identify problems; recognise significant information; gather and coordinate relevant data; diagnose possible causes.
- Take well planned steps to gather and organize data for diagnostic purposes.
- Distinguish the grade of problems and indicate major issues.
- Foresee problems and judge their relevance.
- Ask for questions and ensure they are answered.
- Describe a significant problem that you were confronted with during the past year? What steps did you take to assemble and organize data? What do you consider to be the cause of the problem?
- Unforeseen problems sometimes arise. Have you ever been surprised by an unexpected problem?
- Have you ever been confronted with a situation which turned out to be very different (and perhaps more complicated) than you had at first judged?
- Sometimes a problem seems to have been solved when in fact only part of a far more extensive, underlying problem has been dealt with. Have you ever experienced a situation like this?
- Can you describe a problem that you were unable to solve?
Achievement Orientation: Set and meet the highest standards. Be discontented with average performance.
- Set high standards and seek continuous improvements.
- Input more than the required effort to realize predetermined targets.
- Formulate realistic and challenging tasks for yourself and the team members.
- Maintain quality and urgency towards desired results.
- When have you aimed for perfection? Concrete examples please.
- What do you demand of yourself in your work? Do you demand the same things of your staff?
- If you have recently had to evaluate a staff member or colleague on job performance, what for you was the difference between a good worker and a poor one?
- Can you remember ever demanding of others too much or too little?
- Have you ever worked in a team? What did you expect of the other team members?
- When have you been satisfied with your work? Can you give an example of a situation in which you were unable to meet your own standards? What did you do about it?