Applying for a job can often seem like a thankless, time-consuming, and never-ending task. But when the email or phone call arrives inviting you to an interview, often giving just a few days’ notice, everything changes. It is at this point that you must swing into action, switching from application to interview mode. Your job-hunting campaign up to that point will have resulted in multiple applications, each requiring slightly different versions of your CV, cover letter, or personal statement. When crafting your application for this particular job, you will no doubt have researched the company, the role, and probably more, but now that the interview has materialised, you may well not remember any of that, never mind where your application was saved amongst the growing pile of documents stored in the ‘cloud’.
The key is to follow these steps to ensure your preparation is thorough, and time is properly allocated to each task. If you prepare well, then you will arrive at the interview with confidence, knowing what makes you a strong candidate so that you can explain convincingly why you want the role.
Step 1: Locate all the relevant documents and be certain these were the final versions you submitted, especially your CV. Ensure that you read the interview invitation and ask for clarification if anything is unclear.
Step 2: Read the job description carefully, extracting the key points under these headings:
Skills (Competencies): These cover attributes such as communication, problem-solving, team player, commercial acumen, and organisational skills.
Strengths: For example, resilience, an ability to work under pressure, and being adaptable.
Experience: Experience might include leading a team, working in a particular industry or sector, managing budgets, running specific projects, or working in a customer service environment.
Knowledge: Knowledge relates to your qualifications for the role which can be around academic achievement, professional qualifications, or industry/role specific.
This list will help you to think not only about how you meet each of the core criteria, but how you can demonstrate each through stories and examples.
Step 3: Carefully read your CV. You must know this document inside out, so that you can substantiate any claim you made about your skills (and strengths), knowledge, and experience, but more importantly, be able to identify where and when you demonstrated each; do not get caught out making a claim which you then can’t either remember or evidence. Listing out short stories in support of claims about your suitability is important. If you are asked by the interview panel to talk them through your CV, they are really asking that you explain the extracts which are relevant to the role, so take a highlighter pen and be specific in marking them out.
Step 4: Set out your short personal sales pitch. It is important to highlight the traits they are looking for, as set out in the job specification. To do this, think about your findings in Step 2 and Step 3 and then craft your 2–3-minute sales or ‘elevator’ pitch. The questions, “Why should we employ you?” and “Why do you wish to join our company?” need to be met with concise, compelling answers, which cover everything they are looking for. You must also know what this organisation is about, think about their values, and why this role caught your eye.
Step 5: Consider possible questions and set out your key stories and examples. The interview will consist of some, or all, of the following types of questions: Competency, Strength, Values-based or Situational. Sometimes the interview invitation may provide a clue to the interview format, or typically, and particularly in the case of public sector roles, the job description will include information about the interview. Prepare STAR examples for each of the key skills using stories from your own experience so that you can encompass not only the skills (or competencies) but the experience for the role within your answers. Very strong examples may also incorporate areas of relevant knowledge.
Step 6: Practise, Practise, and Practise. You must now practise your answers, learn your elevator pitch and the STAR examples. Practise using your examples to answer slightly different questions so that you can be agile in your answers and not simply regurgitate what you have written down. Think about the skills and strengths and how you can set yourself apart from the other interviewees, namely, what makes you special. Make your communication interesting and convincing – be enthusiastic! And finally, given the current situation where the majority of interviews are conducted online, make sure you have a strong internet connection, your device sound and visual quality are good, and that you position yourself in a well-lit room, preferably with a clear, neutral wall behind you. Remember that proper prior preparation prevents poor performance!