Preparing for job applications and interviews
Job interviews are a reality of looking for work, and one that can be daunting and uncomfortable.
Luckily, irrespective of the kind of interview that you are attending (one-on-one, group, in front of a panel etc.) the key to success is always preparation.
To prepare for your interview, you should:
- Make sure that you are clear on the date, time and location of the interview, as well as the name and position of the person you will be speaking to.
- Be armed with a plan on how you’ll get to the interview, making sure that you leave plenty of time for the journey.
- Learn as much as you can about the company and position. You can do this by looking at the company’s website, annual reports and news articles etc.
- Look at the job advertisement and your job application again. Knowing that you’ve been offered an interview based on your application, should help your confidence.
- Try to anticipate some of the questions you might be asked, as your answers will be better if you’ve thought about them in advance. For example:
- What is your understanding of the role?
- Why are you interested in the role?
- How does your experience match the role?
- Can you talk about examples in the past, where you have demonstrated the key skills we are looking for?
- What achievements and accomplishments are you particularly proud of?
- What do you consider to be your strengths and weaknesses?
- How do you work as part of a team?
- How do you approach problems and challenges?
- Please remember, if you are asked about a weakness, that we all have them. What the question is really asking you is, how are you going to improve in the future?
Overcoming interview nerves
The first thing to remember about interview nerves is that they are completely normal. Most people find interviews stressful and even the strongest candidates can sometimes underperform due to nerves.
To combat interview nerves, you should:
- Write down some answers to questions you think might come up and then practice saying them to a family member or friend, or just to yourself in the mirror.
- On the day, try and get up early to exercise, to release tension in your muscles and reduce stress.
- Give yourself plenty of time to get to the interview, and if you arrive very early use the time to review your application.
- Immediately before the interview, try practicing simple breathing techniques, such as focusing on breathing in and out slowly and rhythmically.
- Remind yourself that you’ve got this far on the merit of your application, and that you definitely stand a real chance at getting the job.
On interview day
It’s important that you make a great first impression at your interview. Unfortunately, the interviewer doesn’t know you personally and can only draw on the little they know about you and the interview itself. That’s why it’s a good idea to make sure you are coming across as you intend to.
For example, if you are slouching in your chair the interviewer may assume that you’re not motivated. Or, if you don’t make the effort to appear neat and tidy, the employer might think that you won’t make an effort to be well presented at work.
You can set yourself up for success on interview day, by making sure that you:
- Arrive 5-10 minutes early and know who to ask for when you get there.
- Turn your phone off, so that you won’t be interrupted.
- Maintain eye contact.
- Try not to fidget too much (although most employers understand this is just nerves).
- Appear relaxed and friendly.
Then, once the interview is underway, try to remember that:
- Interviewers will often ask you to tell them about yourself. This is your chance to stand out as an individual, so try to avoid repeating what’s in your CV and let the interviewer know, briefly, a little bit about yourself and how this role is perfect for you.
- If a question is unclear, or if you forget it midway through your answer, ask the interviewer to repeat or clarify it rather than guess.
- Your responses should be detailed. Yes and/or no answers are not appropriate in an interview. You should always try and give examples, where you can relate back to your previous experience.
- Your focus should always be on how you can be of value to this new employer, even though you may spend time discussing past experiences or jobs.
- You should avoid saying anything negative about former employers.
Before the end of the interview, most interviewers will give you a chance to ask questions.
You should have some prepared in advance. For example:
- If I am successful, what would my priorities be for the first three months?
- Can you tell me more about the team in which I would be working?
At the end of the interview, you can demonstrate your interest by asking the interviewer when a decision will be made. Remember to thank them for their time and the opportunity to interview for the role.
Different types of interviews
There are many different types of interviews, all designed to help an employer decide which candidate is best for their business, and each involving assessing the candidate’s skills, experience and how well they will fit into the company.
Telephone interviews may be used to decide which candidates go on a shortlist. They are also commonly used by recruitment and labour hire companies. Usually, the interviewer will call you at an appointed time and then ask you a series of questions to help them assess your suitability. The main difference between a one-to-one and a telephone interview is that you and the interviewer cannot see one another, which means that nearly all non-verbal communication is lost.
A few tips for telephone interviews
- Find a location that’s quiet with no distractions and where you won’t be interrupted.
- Have copies of your resume, cover letter and the job description at hand.
- Make sure your phone battery has plenty of charge.
- Because you can’t see the interviewer it’s more difficult to judge their reaction to your responses. You can try to check that you’re on-track by asking questions like “would you like me to go into more detail?” or “is there anything else you’d like to know about that role/event/experience?”
- The interviewer can’t see your body language either, so you need to make sure that your words and voice convey your personality and enthusiasm.
Group interviews are often used by companies who are conducting bulk recruitment drives. Often you will have to complete a range of group activities which are designed to assess your soft skills, such as teamwork and communication, as well as your ability to do the job itself. The size of the group and the activities involved varies, however if you want more information, you should ask the employer beforehand.
Don’t panic if they aren’t giving much away, just remember that all the other candidates are in the same boat.
A few tips for group interviews
- The important thing is to find a balance. You want to demonstrate that you have lots to contribute to the group, without being bossy or domineering.
- If you’re naturally quiet, make a real effort to participate in discussions and give answers.
- If you’re very talkative or tend to take the lead, try to channel this into facilitating discussion, encouraging quieter candidates to get involved, and praising others for good ideas.
- Find one or two ways to make yourself stand out from the crowd so that interviewers remember you. For example, before everyone introduces themselves at the beginning of the session, try to think of something memorable or different to say about yourself.
Panel interviews involve being interviewed by a few different people at the same time. This kind of interview is common for roles in larger companies and in government, particularly for managerial positions. Panel interviews can sometimes feel especially nerve-wracking, but just try to treat them like a normal interview.
Here are some things you should consider:
- Remember to address your response to the person who asked you the question, but try not to ignore the rest of the panel. Move your attention and make eye contact with everyone.
- It can be useful to find out who’s on the panel beforehand, especially their positions in the company, so you can anticipate the kind of information they might want.
Assessment centre interviews
Assessment centre interviews are usually undertaken with a group of other candidates. They may last from half-a-day to a few days and require you to participate in a range of tests and tasks. Usually, informal observation will also take place during social periods, such as at lunch or during dinner.
A few tips for assessment centre interviews
- If you’re taking personality assessment (psychometric) tests, try to avoid second-guessing and thinking about which is the “right” answer or response and just be as honest as possible.
- When taking ability tests, i.e. verbal or numerical reasoning, keep an eye on the time. Try not to rush, but don’t spend too long on one question.
- If you can, find out what abilities will be tested beforehand and try some practice tests (many are available online or in print) so you know what to expect. Plus, if there are any areas where you’re a little rusty, you can spend some extra time revisiting those.
- Try to focus on your own performance rather than worrying about what other candidates are doing.
One-on-one interviews are usually conducted by a manager or a human resources (HR) representative and will include a series of questions designed to help them assess your suitability for the role. As you’re one-on-one, this kind of interview provides you with a real opportunity to build rapport with the interviewer.
With one-on-one interviews, you should:
- Try to build a connection with the interviewer by finding the balance between being friendly and professional.
- Make eye contact.
- Respond to their non-verbal cues and try to match your body language to theirs, if you can do so comfortably and without being too obvious. An example of this would be to adopt a similar sitting position, or if they use their hands a lot while talking, to try and use your hands too.
Key points to remember about interviews
- Interviews are your opportunity to show that you have the skills and attributes listed on your resume, that you are genuinely interested in the role and that you will be a good fit.
- You will perform better if you’re well prepared.
- Be clear about the role, research the company, think about why your skills and experience make you perfect for the job and prepare for some common questions.
- First impressions are vital so make sure you think about your appearance and body language.
- Listen carefully and make sure you answer the questions asked, giving examples from your past which relate to your future performance with the new company.