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Refining your interview techniques

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Interviews range from conversations lasting a few minutes to several formal meetings, sometimes with more than one interviewer. The interview process allows you to demonstrate that you are the right candidate for the job.

The better prepared you are, the more relaxed and comfortable you will be when the interview questions begin. The following offers a few interview tips and suggestions on ways to refine your interview technique.

Do your research

Before the interview, it is a good idea to gather information about the company that has the position vacant and try to relate your experience to the specific duties of the job opportunity available.

We suggest preparing a list of questions you want to ask about the organisation and the position.

These could include:
• Do you have a detailed job description?
• Why is the position available?
• What training and induction will be given?
• What prospects are there for personal and professional development?
• What are the company plans for the future?
• What attributes would you hope that I bring to the job?
• When can I expect to hear from you?
• What skills and attributes do successful people at your company usually have?
• What do you like best about working at the company?
• What results are expected from me?
• What specific problems are you hoping to solve during the first six months?
• What communication style do you prefer?
• What are your goals for the department?

Look the part

Dress for success! At an interview it is extremely important to look, act and dress professionally as you won’t have a second chance at making a good first impression. Ideally, a business suit should be worn. Clean shoes, clean finger nails and clean well groomed hair are important. If wearing a black or very dark suit, make sure there is no dandruff or specks of fluff on the shoulder.

We can’t overemphasise how important first impressions are. Research has shown that an interviewer has made an impression within the first eight seconds of meeting the person. The remainder of the interview is spent confirming this opinion, or turning this opinion around.

Plan ahead

Be prepared! Below are some of our job interview preparation tips:
•  Practice interviewing - Enlist a friend (better yet, a group of friends and colleagues) to ask you sample questions. Practice making eye contact.
•  Video record your practice sessions - Pay attention to body language and verbal presentation. Eliminate verbal fillers, like “uh,” and “um.” Practice using positive body language to signal confidence, even when you’re not feeling it.
•  Handle logistics early. Have your clothes, resume, and directions to the interview site ready ahead of time, to avoid any extra stress.
 

Anticipate likely questions

To get to the motivations and working style of a potential employee, employers often turn to behavioural interviewing, an interviewing style which consists of a series of probing, incisive questions. This may sound a little intimidating, however with a little preparation you can feel confident before the interview.

Behavioural interview questions are aimed at establishing various core competencies relevant to the role, such as teamwork, creativity and innovation, decision making ability, business awareness or conflict resolution. The interviewer is looking for examples of past behaviour that demonstrate these competencies.

Sample behavioural interview questions include:
• Describe a situation in which you didn’t meet your stated goal, how did you handle it?
• Tell us about a situation in which you encountered resistance from key people, how did you convince the person or people to do what you wanted?
• Describe a situation in which you took the initiative to change a process or system and make it better, how did you identify the problem? How did you go about instituting change?

Prepare interview answers

Interviewers will follow up your preliminary answers with further questions about your actions.

To prepare for these types of interview questions, the following tips might help:
• Review your research about the company and the position.
• Make a list of key attributes for your desired job.
• Write sample interview questions that are likely to uncover the attributes you identified as important.
• Create answers to the sample interview questions based on a template such as “Situation – Task – Action – Result” with specific details from your work experience. This is known as the STAR technique:
Situation - Describe a situation you were in eg. A colleague was struggling with performance.
Task - Tell them what you decided to do eg. I sat down with my colleague to discuss how I could help.
Action - Describe what you actually did eg. I gave my colleague examples of how I improved my own performance.
Result - Tell them what happened as a result of your actions eg. His/her performance improved dramatically.
• Practice answering the interview questions and follow-up questions so that you are very familiar with several detailed examples.

Perhaps surprisingly, the point most people forget to expand upon is the result of the action they took. Naturally it is better to use an anecdote with a positive outcome, but if this isn't possible explain what you learnt from the situation and how you would do it differently next time.

During the interview

To be on the safe side, bring a spare copy of your resume to the interview. We advise arriving at least ten minutes early as interviewers are unimpressed by lateness and will rarely accept excuses from prospective employees.

A firm (but not bone crunching) handshake with a big smile will do wonders when you first meet your Interviewer. Some small chit chat from the reception area to the interview room will also help. These are the vital seconds (not minutes) in making your first impression.

Body language and other forms of non-verbal communication are important elements in the way an interviewee performs. Appearing relaxed and trying to act naturally is easier said than done but good appearance is mostly a matter of assuming a position that you are comfortable with.

We suggest sitting up straight, leaning forward slightly and always maintaining good eye contact with the interviewer or panel. Looking disinterested will limit your options.

If offered a drink this can help and can be used as a prop to perhaps give you some time to answer a difficult question. By accepting a drink it does show that you are fairly confident and reasonably relaxed.

Always treat the interview as a two way discussion and answer questions honestly, directly and keep to the point. Everyone present will be focusing their attention on you, so clouding your answer with jargon or evading the issue will be more obvious than you think. If you are not certain about a particular question, do not be afraid to ask if it can be rephrased. Listen, never interrupt and answer only what is asked.

There are common questions which arise in most job interviews, and while you should be prepared, try not to rehearse answers that are too precise. We suggest a better approach is to work on broad subject areas that are likely to come up during the interview. Some of these areas include:

General background - Often the first question is a request for a summary of your background. People applying for their first job should focus on extra curricular activities, education, and qualifications. It is quite acceptable to repeat major points you have outlined in your resume or letter of application.

Qualifications - A specific question often asked is "Why do you think you are qualified for this position?" Qualifications, in this context, mean all qualifications which could make you suitable for the position including educational, employment-related and personal. In most cases, this may be the question that will win or lose you the job, so your answer needs to be clear and memorable.

Experience - Here is where your research pays off. Your answer should include details about relevant employment, community or educational experience and a discussion of the nature of the industry, the organisation and the position itself.

Reasons for applying - If you are applying for your first, or one of your first jobs, your answer should describe what you find appealing about the position, how you prepared yourself for a career in the organisation and how you believe your present job equips you for the position in question.

Career objectives - Be ready to discuss your long-term aspirations. Your best approach is one that indicates you have thought about your career in these terms and have taken some action towards realising your ambitions.

Crisis management - In some organisations, employers give candidates questions designed to test their ability in situations or crises. You should try to find out the most common type of dilemma for employees in the job you are seeking and formulate an intelligent response.

Sample interview questions

• What job would you like if you had a completely free choice?
• Why are you seeking a position with our company?
• Why do you want to be a *****
• How do you cope with pressure situations? Be ready to give an example.
• Have you come across a situation like this? How did you handle it? What was the outcome?
• What are your greatest achievements to date?
• What objectives did you set yourself at the beginning of your career or study?
• Have you achieved those objectives?
• What interests you most/least about this job?
• Describe your own personality.
• Describe a situation where you have... (as mentioned earlier, this is the style of questioning used in competency based interviewing, so have relevant examples at the ready.)
• What salary are you looking for? (Do your homework beforehand!)

Towards the end of the interview, you will usually be asked if you have any questions of your own. Be confident when asking your questions and use them to score additional points in your favour.

At the end of your interview, smile and thank the people involved for their time. While decisions and job offers are usually made some time after the interview(s), should an offer of employment be made at the conclusion of any interview you attend, ask whether the offer will be confirmed in writing. Also, it is not unreasonable to request a short period of time to consider the offer before formally accepting.
 

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