Dear Reader, thank you for your application. We’d like to invite you for an interview for the position.
Here is where your interview starts.
Reply promptly to this kind of message. If you can’t make the time they suggest, for a legitimate reason, call them to explain, reaffirm you are interested in the role and ask if they have any other possible times you could come. If you are not interested in the role any more, let them know quickly and politely – don’t just disappear into the ether, you never know where you might come across the same person in the future! If you want the job, and you can make the time, make sure you confirm it.
A top tip here: as soon as you know you’re going for an interview, make sure you still have access to the job description. If they have removed it from the advert or website (which can happen after deadlines have passed), in your response to confirm, you can ask for a copy in order to prepare. This will help you massively!
After you’ve confirmed, and written it in your own calendar with reminders so you don’t forget, make sure you know where you’re going and plan your travel. A few days before the interview, work out what you are going to wear, so you have time to wash clothes if necessary. Put the company’s contact number in your phone so that you can let them know if something happens en route to delay you. Take a bottle of water. Practice some questions with a friend.
Convention when you go to a job interview is to make your way there yourself, shake hands and introduce yourself to your interviewers. A good company will be proactive in asking if there are any adjustments they should make, but at the very least they will appreciate if you let them know anyway; so there should be the opportunity to ask in plenty of time about e.g. step-free access to the building, or to tell them if you’re touch-averse and find it difficult to shake hands, or are not good at eye contact. There’s a risk of a negative impression if you don’t mention any needs you have upfront, so it’s worth dropping them a quick email or call.
The first stage will be a video interview.
Oh no! You’ve never done one of these before. That’s OK – the same basic principles apply. Wear something appropriate, be on time, check your background, drink some water before you start. There’s a good roundup from Business Insider here of how to prepare for the visuals, and make sure you read all of the connection instructions they send you. It’s worth noting that it might not be a ‘live’ interview; in early interview rounds, some companies now upload questions and ask you to film yourself answering within certain time limits. We’ll be discussing this kind of recruitment in more detail in a few weeks, but for now you can find some useful tips here.
Let’s start with a basic question – what made you apply to this particular job?
Here’s where you can shine with the research you’ve done. Some interviews start by the interviewer telling you more about the job and the company, which can put you at ease, but some dive right into questions. This one shouldn’t be difficult, but does require some planning. So, why *did* you apply? Start with the organisation. What do you know about the company? What are their values, and how do they align with yours? You can generally find values statements and mission statements on their website, as well as a company history and details about the top level of management. You can use LinkedIn to look at the profiles of who’s interviewing you, if they have let you know in advance – there’s even a setting to appear anonymous so they don’t know it’s you. Then move on to the position itself. Why is it a good next step for you? Was there a particular task that appealed, or a skill you wanted to develop?
It’s common to apply to a job just because you need some money coming in. That’s a perfectly valid reason, but it won’t make them want to employ you if there are others who show genuine interest in the work, so that short spell of research is still important to get you ahead of the game.
Can you tell me about a time when you used your initiative to solve a customer problem?
“Tell me about a time” questions are sometimes known as competency questions. They test a specific soft skill or ability, such as leadership, communication or teamwork. It can feel overwhelming to be caught out with one of these questions – racking your brain in silence while three people stare at you across a table is unbearable – but luckily there’s a standard formula to answer.
The STAR technique is simple enough: describe the Situation; discuss what your Task was; talk about the Action you took; end with the Result of the situation. An example for the above question might be: “The situation was that a customer complained about shipping times and didn’t want to place any more orders. My main focus in our conversation was to keep him as a customer, and ensure he was confident that we would deliver on time next time. Instead of escalating it to my manager, I decided to talk directly to our contact at the shipping company to discuss his previous deliveries, and it turns out that they had been dealing with a backlog during those months which was now resolved. I was able to explain this to him with confidence and persuade him to make a further order. He was very happy with his next delivery and he’s still a customer of ours today.”
It does require that you plan out a few specific stories from your working history to match some potential questions. There’s a good list here of what some of them might be. You can work out which ones are likely by re-reading the job advert or job description. If you don’t have an example from paid employment, it’s perfectly fine to use an example from your education or any volunteering you might have done. And remember: they want to know about YOU. Your focus during your answer should be on specific things that you did, instead of your team or department as a whole.
What would you say your weaknesses are?
This is not an invitation to tell them you have no weaknesses, and off-the-cuff answers can seem flippant. Try to think about a real answer. You could combine two responses here; it’s important to demonstrate that you’re self-aware by talking about an attitude or personal ability that isn’t as strong as your others, but you can also show that you’ve read the job description by mentioning a point that you have slightly less experience in. For both, ensure that you discuss how you are trying to overcome it, or how you plan to in the future. An example might be that you aren’t great at delegating and therefore put too much pressure on yourself. You could be learning to overcome this by prioritising, and then asking someone else to do one or two things that are low on your list, so you can gradually work on placing trust in others.
Do you have any questions for us?
Again, not an invitation to say no! If you’re genuinely interested in the role and the company, you probably have one or two questions already. If they’ve managed to cover all the questions you were planning to ask, you could fall back on some classics: what the opportunities for progression and development might be, what a typical working day looks like, who you’d be working with. This is another chance to use that job description; if there’s a point or a task that you don’t know about, or a tool mentioned that you aren’t familiar with, here’s your opportunity to ask for more detail.
Thanks for coming to see us today, we’ll be in touch.
When the conversation comes to a natural end, remember to thank them. They might let you know when you can expect to hear back, but if they haven’t, you can ask. If you leave and realise you haven’t asked, that’s OK, because there’s still one more stage…
The next day, or later that day if it was a morning interview, drop them a line to thank them again for their time. If the contact you have is the HR department, you can ask them to pass on thanks to your interviewers (use their names), or if it was a recruiter, give them a ring to let them know how you think the interview went. Maintaining a good relationship with a recruiter is important if you don’t get this job, as they’ll be happy to keep you in mind for others.
It’s much easier said than done, but try not to be nervous. Or, at least, remember the interviewer might be nervous too! They have invited you because they like the sound of you; they want you to do well, because they need someone good in the role. Try to enjoy finding out more about the job, and don’t be afraid to let your personality show. You probably won’t know about the other candidates, so all you can do is try to persuade them that you are capable and a good person to work with.
If you don’t get the job, always ask for interview feedback. If they’re able to give it to you, think about what they say carefully and decide on what you need to do better next time.
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Katherine is a qualified careers advisor and a member of the Career Development Institute. She has just begun a PhD programme to research meta-skill development in the workplace, and is a fiction editor and publisher in her spare time. You can find her on Twitter at @katobell.