Preparation for an interview is a must-do and can be the difference between success and failure. Good preparation boosts your confidence and gives you an insight into the organisation and the executives you will be meeting.
Nothing is worse than looking back on the interview for the dream job you didn’t get, and wishing you had been more prepared. Here are some top tips to make sure you’re ahead of the game.
A ‘traditional’ interview, (sometimes called an unstructured interview) is free-flowing and more like a conversation. An interviewer won’t have a particular script but will ask questions relevant to the job and will be trying to get an overall impression of what you’re like as a person, including what your strengths and weaknesses are.
A Competency Based Interview (CBI) is scripted and is based around the idea that past performance is an excellent indicator of future performance. Increasingly used as the standard for first stage interviews, competency interviews are based around structured scenario-based questions that require specific example answers. While the initial preparation can take some time, the standardisation of competency interview questions for the same kind of role means that candidates can re-use their preparation for every interview.
SOUGHT AFTER COMPETENCIES
The list of skills and competencies that will be tested will change depending on the role you’re applying for. Often job specs will list the competencies or key words in the body of the role profile, such as ‘communication’.
Methods used to evaluate analytical competency will typically assess decision-making abilities and try to unearth innovation, analytical skills, problem solving, practical learning and attention to detail. A typical question would be “Tell me about a time when you identified a new approach to addressing a problem”.
Be prepared to be assessed on your level of social competence. Many workplaces function on project teams, so the more collaborative a candidate is, the more likely they will thrive in the company. A typical question would be: "Describe a situation where you got people to work together”.
This will involve an assessment of the level of your drive and examine your energy, motivation, result orientation, initiative and quality focus. A typical question might be: “When did you work the hardest and feel the greatest sense of achievement?”
HOW TO PREPARE
Firstly, research all the likely questions around the competencies related to the role you are applying for. In some situations the competencies are listed on the job spec, but this isn’t standard. Go through your employment and personal history to find examples that show you’ve got the relevant skills and abilities for each competency and write them down.
Answers should be structured using the STAR technique: Situation, Task, Action and Result. It’s effectively like telling a short, concise story with a beginning, middle and end. Use a sentence to describe each of the STAR sections and remember the result or outcome is the most important part. It should have a positive outcome that can either be a successful result or a practical lesson you learned for next time.
WHY IS THE STAR METHOD USEFUL?
A structured STAR answer clearly shows how you demonstrated a skill in a particular context, so the potential employer can imagine how you might operate in their workplace. Make sure answers are concise and that you talk about ‘I’ (what you did) rather than ‘we’ (what your team or department did).
ST: Situation and Task
Describe the situation that you were in and the task that you needed to accomplish. Give enough detail so that an interviewer can understand the scenario you are outlining.
Describe the actions that you took. Focus on what you did, even if you were working in a team. Be specific and present your information in a logical manner. For example:
What action or actions did you take? Why did you decide on those actions?
How did you go about putting them into action?
What you were thinking at the time? How did you feel?
Describe the results. What happened? What was the result? Remember this should relate back to the situation.
HOW ARE COMPETENCY QUESTIONS MARKED?
Demonstrates a positive approach towards a problem / Considers the wider need of the situation
Perceives challenges as problems / Attempts unsuccessfully to deal with a situation alone
EXAMPLE QUESTIONS AND RESPONSES:
Q: “Describe a situation in which you led a team.”
Outline the situation, your role and the task of the group overall. Describe any problems which arose and how they were tackled. Say what the result was and what you learned from it.
Q: “What has been your greatest achievement?”
Reciting academic or obvious work achievements are not the best answers – they won’t distinguish you from the crowd. Instead, say something that will set you apart, that speaks about your aspirations and values.
Q: “How do you cope with adversity?”
This is a clever question that opens up further conversation. Whatever you choose to talk about, employers will be looking at your coping mechanisms and how robust you are. Did you learn from it, and build on the experience for the future?
INTERVIEW HINTS & TIPS:
Think of at least one example to illustrate each of the critical capabilities/competencies relating to the role
Be specific and detailed in your response – but don’t waffle!
Talk in the past tense. Say ‘I did this’, not ‘I would do this’.
Talk about your actions and behaviour. Say ‘I did this’, not ‘we did this’.
Use recent examples where possible (the past two years), unless you have older examples that are more relevant to the role you’re applying for
Spend about 70% of your time describing the actions that you took and the behaviour that you displayed (i.e. the “A” part of the STAR)
Listen to the interviewer – make sure they have finished asking the question before you answer and make sure you answer exactly what they’re asking. Clarify the question if you need to
Take your time. It’s better to think of a good example before you start talking rather than give an ineffective answer
Take your cues from the interviewer. If they’re probing for more detail, give further information. If they’re hurrying you along, give briefer responses
Have a drink. If you get stuck for something to say when asked a difficult question, or you find your mouth is getting dry, it’s a good excuse to take a sip of water. While it doesn’t buy you a great deal of time, it does give you chance to pause and reflect on the question for a few moments before you give an answer
You can take notes into an interview if they are presented in a professional business folder. But only use them for reference rather than reading your answers from the sheet, as this undermines your credibility.
Good luck with your interview and if you have any questions please feel free to drop us a note. We'd be more than happy to share some advice.