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Successful Job Interviews

The interview is a two way conversation in which you have the opportunity to sell yourself. It is also an opportunity for the interviewer or the interview panel to learn about you and for you to learn about the job.

Interviews vary enormously from a 20 minute informal chat to an in depth interview of 45 minutes or more. There may be screening interview followed by a second interview. The interview may or may not be trained and experience in the art of interviewing.

Types of interviews

Informal interviews
Usually unstructured however, the interviewer often prepares points of discussion based on your background and asks questions designed to reveal more about you. The interview will proceed according to the leads that your provide in your responses. It is important for you to be proactive in this process.

One-on-one interviews
In this type of formal interview you are interviewed by one person (eg: manager, human resource manager, senior executive. These may be structured where the interviewer will have a fixed set of questions that they will ask each candidate.

Panel interviews
In this type of interview you are questioned by a number of people (2-5). The Panel will have an agreed set of questions and will generally have planned who will ask each question and in what order.

Group interviews
This is where an employer interviews a number of candidates at the same time and determines how candidates interact with others. Remember that you do not need to dominate the groups - in fact this can often be a disadvantage for you.

Behaviour-based interviews
These use past behaviour as a predictor of future performance. This approach is also referred to as 'targeted selection'. The questions aim to elicit specific examples of how you have handled things in the past. The interview may be entirely composed of behavioural questions or they may be used in conjunction with other types of questions.

Examples:

  • Can you tell us about a time when you had to gain the cooperation of a group over which you had little or no authority?
  • What did you do and how effective were you?
  • We all miss deadlines from time to time. Can you give us an example of when you missed a deadline? What were the causes and how did you deal with the situation?

Case interviews
Case interviews are most commonly used for consulting, finance and executive positions. Case interviews test your ability to analyse and solve problems often of a business nature. A typical scenario is presented and the candidate is asked to solve the problem.

Example:

A global telecommunications firm is considering entering a new market. You are to assess whether or not it makes sense. How would you approach this problem?

Telephone interviews
Smaller organisations, or organisations recruiting staff from a wide geographical base, may use an initial telephone interview as a screening device to cut down on the number of applicants for a position. Such an interview can be quite challenging because there are no visual cues to guide your responses. Clarity of speech, variation of tone in the voice, and good listening skills are therefore very important. Have a "sales pitch"-a quick summary about yourself ready to deliver over the phone if necessary. Good preparation is essential before you dial!

Interviews via Video Conferencing
Interviews via video links deprive you (and the interviewer) of the opportunity to fully read body language. Therefore you need to stay on the point but be concise, as you may not be able to tell if the interviewer is getting bored. A useful technique to overcome this problem is to ask the interviewer if they would like more detail. Dress in plain, bright colours-checks and stripes can blur. Do not watch yourself in the screen and look directly at the camera so the interviewer feels you are looking directly at him or her. Avoid sudden movements, which could cause blurring on the received picture. Work to establish rapport right from the beginning of the interview. Smile! Be certain to know and use the name of the interviewer. Use a normal volume of voice, directing your speech to the microphone. Stay seated to say goodbye at the conclusion of the interview.

Preparation for the interview

There are a number of things you can do to prepare yourself for the interview. The nine steps to interview preparation are outlined below:

  1. Review the job and person specification
    1. Look at the Duty Statement and Selection Criteria and think about what knowledge, skills and experience you have that you could talk about at the interview.
    2. Think of specific things you've done and specific situations you've experienced that you could discuss (refer back to your answers to the Job Priority exercises).
  2. Decide if you are qualified to apply for the role
    1. Know yourself: your strengths, weaknesses, skills, goals, preferences, personal qualities, etc. and be prepared to talk about them. The more you know about yourself, the more confident you are likely to appear at the interview.
  3. Obtain some information about the role
    1. Do some further research on the University and the job you are applying for. Find out as much as you can about them either by talking with someone in the area or with those who have close contact with them, or with someone working in a similar position in another department. The more you know about the job, the more positively you'll be able to answer questions and show that you have an understanding of the needs of the position and the particular workplace.
    2. Find out details about the University such as its size, main areas of responsibility, directions, policies, who we deal with. Some of this information can be researched on the University website.
  4. Visit your prospective workplace
    1. If possible, try to arrange a visit beforehand to find out more about the position. See where you would be working if you got the job and try to meet some of the people with whom you'd be working.
  5. Think about the interview questions
    1. Consider the kinds of questions you might be asked and think about how you might answer them. Common questions include the following:
      1. What prompted you to apply for this position?
      2. What do you know about the organisation?
      3. What do you think are your major achievements to date?
      4. How does your current work experience relate to this job?
      5. What are your major strengths?
      6. In your last job, what accomplishments gave you the most satisfaction?
      7. What are your career plans?
      8. Why should we give you this job?
  6. Practise answering some of the questions, especially the ones you find difficult. You could try talking to yourself or taping yourself. Better still, practise with someone you know, e.g: a friend, colleague or partner, and get them to ask you both prepared questions that you particularly want to practise, and 'surprise' questions.
  7. Think about any questions you might want to ask the interviewer/s. Write down a few ideas if you think this will help you to remember. Common questions to ask include:
    1. What expectations does your company have of employees in first their first year? How will I be evaluated?
    2. What opportunities for training /career advancement are there within your organisation?
    3. If I am successful, when would you like me to start?
    4. Why is the position available?
    5. Do you see the company expanding in the foreseeable future?
    6. Can I contact you for feedback once the decision has been made?
  8. Use the STAR method for example based questions.
    1. Situation - a brief outline of the situation
    2. Task - what tasks needed to be achieved
    3. Action - the steps you took to complete the task
    4. Results - what outcomes were achieved?
  9. If you're feeling particularly nervous or under-confident about the interview, consider the following techniques:
    1. Try to imagine that you are at the interview, that you're feeling relaxed and confident, and that everything's going well (positive visualisation).
    2. Talk to yourself positively about the interview. Say things like 'The interview will go well', 'I know I can do this job', etc (affirmation). The more positive you are about the interview, the better you will come across.

Presentation for the interview

  • While dress codes vary in different industries, professions and workplaces, it is generally wise when attending an interview to note the following advice. Women should wear a smart skirt or trousers and blouse, or a business suit. For men, smart trousers and a shirt with a collar and tie are appropriate.
  • Dressing on the conservative side is generally advised unless you think that a more individual style of dress would be appreciated.
  • Personal grooming is very important: neat, freshly combed hair, clean fingers and nails, and clean shoes are recommended.
  • Physical appearance is a factor too - get a good rest the night before your interview so that you look and sound your best.
  • Wear something you feel comfortable in that is also professional.
  • Avoid strong perfume or aftershave and too much jewellery.

What you should take to the interview

There are several items you might like to take with you to the interview. Some of these will be useful for you to refer to; others are for the Appointment Committee to look at.

  • A copy of your written application, in case the Committee ask you for clarification on things you've stated in the application.
  • A copy of the Duty Statement and Selection Criteria for the position.
  • Any notes of questions you want to ask your prospective employers.
  • Originals of any qualifications/certificates.
  • One of two examples of things you've done which are relevant to the position, eg: a conference paper you've delivered, a report you've written, a brochure or pamphlet you've produced, a sample of a spreadsheet you've set up etc. The Appointment Committee may not have time or may not wish to look at such documents, but bringing them along shows that you are well prepared.

At the interview

Even though the interviewer/s assess you against each of the Selection Criteria, your behaviour during the interview will influence judgement.

Make a good impression

First impressions are very important. How you present in the first few minutes of the interview can have a big impact on the Appointment Committee's final decision.

  • Arrive at the interview a few minutes early. This gives you a chance to get your thoughts together before the interview starts, and also to get a feel for the place where you may be working. Arriving late is not only bad manners, but may give the impression that you are unable to organise yourself well. If for some unavoidable reason you are going to be late, contact the interviewer/s to let them know.
  • When called in for the interview, greet each person in turn, using their names if possible. Smile. If you are comfortable doing so, shake hands with each interviewer - this helps to establish contact and build rapport.
  • Wait until being offered a chair before sitting.
  • Be yourself/behave naturally. 'Put your best foot forward', without pretending to be something or someone you're not.

Challenges

Some things to be aware of that you may find distracting or disruptive during the interview include:

  • telephone calls or other people coming into the office
  • a nervous interviewer not used to interviewing
  • unclear questions - don't hesitate to seek clarification
  • being placed in a seat where you are subject to sun glare.

General protocols

There are also some general rules for behaviour at job interviews:

  • Silence is okay as long as not too long.
  • Turn off your mobile phone so it doesn't ring during the interview.
  • Speak clearly and remember the four minute rule - do not speak for any longer than four consecutive minutes or else you will lose the attention of the listener.
  • Never fabricate your achievements or skills - getting a job where you are called onto use skills you don't have will prove embarrassing. Employers value honesty in their employees, so you wont get the job if the Appointment Committee discover you have lied.
  • Never criticise your present or former employers - it looks unprofessional.
  • Don't ask about pay and conditions unless an Interviewer raises it - it may seem like you are more interested in your salary than the job itself.

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