Giving it your best shot!

November 11, 2014

1. Preparation

An interview is not something you can just wander into and ‘wow’ them with your personality, and it’s even harder when faced with a telephone interview, which removes all the impact of body language. Therefore being a well-prepped candidate will make you more confident and enable you to provide more thorough answers.

If you know how to give complete answers, you worry less and are able to ask better questions. All of this improves the odds that you will be assessed fairly, especially if the focus of the interview is on detailed discussions about your major accomplishments.

2. How do I prepare?

Researching the company and vacancy

  • Look at the web site and understand what the company do and who their competitors are.
  • Check the job description and become familiar with it and the skills required.

Look at your CV/application

  • Know exactly what is on your CV and be prepared to be asked about each role

Check interview Location

  • Print off a map
  • Take the offices/ interviewers number with you in case of any issues
  • Buy travel tickets in advance

3. The big day arrives

Arrive on time

  • Be at the interview location ten minutes before the interview
  • If you are feeling nervous arrive half an hour before so you can walk around outside and try to relax
  • Contact the employer if any problems arise

Positive body language

  • When you meet the interviewer give them a strong warm handshake
  • During the interview maintain eye contact
  • Do not fidget and sit up straight
  • Do not cross arms as this can come across defensive
  • Convey enthusiasm and interest in the job
  • Smile and look happy to be there

Concise and clear answers

  • Be prepared to talk and ‘tell the story’ using the STAR technique
  • Do not waffle on
  • Yes/No answers are not enough information to go on
  • Speak passionately about your interests
  • Demonstrate knowledge on the company and the job role
  • Be prepared with at least 3 questions to ask at the end of the interview

4. At the interview

Ask the “universal question”
Discussions about major accomplishments should dominate the interview session. Since most interviewers don’t usually do this naturally, you can take the initiative. Ask this question if you feel the interview is going nowhere:

From what I understand from the recruiter and my research, this job involves (for example) launching new products and setting up a national advertising programme. If this is correct, could you explain it more thoroughly? After that I’d like to give you some examples of projects I’ve worked on that are comparable.”

Something like this will allow you to then describe some important related university or work experience projects you have carried out.

Showing enthusiasm and energy at an interview is probably the most important factor
In this economic climate when there are perhaps fewer jobs and more graduates looking, it is possible that although looking good on paper they are not offered the role just because they don’t convey enthusiasm, excitement or a sense of urgency that a company is looking for. Make sure you leave an interview conveying a strong desire, energy and enthusiasm to work for that company. You should leave having the interviewer thinking you want the job, even if you do not. It is important to remember that a negative or apathetic attitude has a way of sticking in people’s minds and so does a positive one.

Selling your strengths and strengthening your weaknesses
No matter how suitably qualified or confident a person is, a job interview is a stressful situation. It is filled with questions that can catch you off guard, especially an inexperienced new graduate with little or no prior interview experience. Make sure you know your own strengths and weaknesses. A good idea is to write down four or five strengths and one or two weaknesses. Include a short, one-paragraph example of some accomplishment you have achieved using each strength. With the weaknesses, write up a specific situation where you have turned that weakness into a strength, or have overcome the weakness.

Write up your two most significant accomplishments
To improve your verbal pitches, prepare more detailed write-ups for your two most significant accomplishments. Each of these should be two to three paragraphs in length, no more than half a page each. One should be an individual accomplishment, and the other a team accomplishment. Make sure you include examples of your strengths in both write-ups. Most candidates get a little nervous in the opening stages of an interview, which can result in temporary forgetfulness. The write-ups will allow for better recall of this important information in these times. They’ll also be the basis of the examples in the SAFW response.

5. Your answers!

Learn the “perfect answer”. Answers should be around two minutes long, you don’t want to go on for too long as it will seem not to the point. It has been suggested that candidates use the acronym SAFW to form their interview answers:

S: make an opening Statement

A: Amplify that statement

F: provide a Few examples

W: Wrap it up

The examples part is the most important. This proves that your opening statement is valid. Using a specific example is key and the answer will be more meaningful if the candidate shows how one or two of their strengths, like team work and perseverance, were required to achieve the results described in the example.
Examples can be drawn from your university, employment, voluntary and social experiences, but ensure they are relevant and positive.

  • Give positive answers – if you have a weakness steer away from it and/or counteract it with a positive attribute
  • STAR – when given a question try to give the Situation where you encountered the activity, an example of the Activity and a positive Result of doing the activity
  • Prepare relevant questions to ask at the end – ask positive questions about the company and job e.g. training issues, career progression, the people that you would be working with, how the role would interrelate to the rest of the business

6. At the end

At the end of the interview, tell the interviewer that you are very interested in the job, and would like to know what the next steps are. If the next steps seem evasive or unclear, ask if your accomplishments seem relevant to the performance requirements of the job. Understanding a potential gap here allows you to fill it in with an example of a related example.
Thank the interviewer for his/her time at the end and when you get home follow up with an email expressing your enthusiasm for the role.