It's funny but many public sector workers spend most of daily life interviewing people or in interview situations. It might be talking to a patient, trying to find out what's wrong, interviewing a suspect or asking a victim what happened. Maybe you have a report to write for court and you need to explore with the defendant what led them to this point. Perhaps it is a child who is at risk within the home or a teenager who is struggling to fit in at school. Or maybe you are one that is being asked to explain your decision-making process within a formal setting. All these types of interviews, and more, are second nature to you and given you have developed both your interviewing and active listening skills through years of practice, on the whole, they come with ease. Why is it then, when it comes to thinking about changing careers or we have applied and have been given an interview for either an internal role or a job externally, we panic. We become filled with fear because in many cases, it could have been 10, 20, 30 years since we last attended a formal job interview.
In today's blog I'll give you some tips to put into place in preparation for the interview so that you can quieten the fear and take control for you to show up at your best during the interview.
- Personal highlights: Spend some time thinking of several different examples that you can use to demonstrate your skills and what you bring to the role and the hiring company. Rehearse these, because I can guarantee you when you are in an interview there will be times when they ask for an example and your mind goes blank, often because you have 100s if not 1000s of examples but in that moment, you can't think of one. You want to get to a stage where they come to you automatically, you don't want to have to think of one in that moment. Use the STAR Model to help you formulate and describe your examples, it allows you to be clear and concise, leaving the interviewer in no doubt.
S - Situation: Describe the challenge or situation.
T - Task: Highlight what your goals were.
A - Action: Explain what you did.
R - Result: What was the positive result, what did you learn then and going forward.
- Personal strengths: Inevitably, you will be asked the question what are your strengths and weaknesses? Focus on the strengths first, take a blank piece of A4 paper and write down every word that comes to mind that reflects a personal strength. Spend about 20 minutes doing this then leave it for a day or two, come back to it and spend another 20 minutes thinking of some more strengths. Ask other people who know you, what they would say your strengths are, add these to the list. Then from everything you have on the paper pick out at least 10 that would fit with the role and the company you are having the interview with.
- Personal weaknesses: Do the same exercise as you did for the strengths, you will have a fraction of the content. From the list you have generated, pick out 2-3 weaknesses that are irrelevant to the role you are going for. They are characteristics you are aware of, but they are a work in progress and something which you learn from.
- Prepared responses: Think about what questions you might be asked. There might be some you can't prepare for but unless you are going for a job at Google, most interviewers ask similar questions. In addition to what are your strengths/weakness, it will be questions like, why do you want this job/role? Why do you want to leave your existing job? What can you bring to this role/organisation? What motivates you? What are your future goals/aims? Where do you see yourself in 5 years’ time? Prepare responses to these types of questions.
- Research the company: You can never know too much about the company you want to work for and even if you don't use all of the knowledge in the interview, it will be clear in how you present, the questions you ask that you are serious about wanting the role. Research their aims, ambitions, vision and values, paying particular attention to where the company values align with yours. Understand how they have got where they are today from where they were in the beginning and what the future looks like for them. You want to really get to know the company.
If it's an internal role you are going for, you still need to do your research because whilst you will know the organisation, you might not know the role and everything that entails. Speaking to others who do the role, spending some time shadowing will give you insight into specific details you might not know about, give you a different perspective on what questions you might want to ask and what you can specifically bring to the role. A fresh pair of eyes into a role might see something which could improve an aspect that seasoned staff don't.
- Devise your questions: Now you have done your company research, devise several questions to ask during and at the end of the interview. Many will get answered during the process but if you think of quite a few, you should have some left be able to ask.
- Supporting Material: Gather any supporting material you might need. This could be additional copies of your CV or any references you might have already.
- Plan and check out your route: Take the time to go and check out the venue where the interview is at. The last thing you want is to get lost on the way, even if you are using a map on your phone, don't just rely on technology. Trust me, you don't want any complications that could have been avoided on the morning of the interview. If it's in an area you are unfamiliar with, also check out Google Street View on the day as a reminder of what you'll pass on route. I know it's obvious but if you are driving, set off well before your interview time; even if you are in the vicinity really early, you'll be at the location you need to be, giving you some time to relax and focus on the task ahead, as opposed to being stuck in a traffic jam because everyone has decided to come out in their car that morning.
- Practice, practice, practice: This speaks for itself. Anything that you don't do on a regular basis needs practice. You want everything to just trip off the tongue, not in a scripted way, but if you know your stuff, it will come to you without much thought and naturally. This will make you feel more relaxed and the more the real you will come through during the interview.
Putting in the preparation work helps you take control of some of the fear you might experience at the thought of an interview. Having the knowledge gives you the control, you know your stuff and you won't need to search for an answer during the interview. There'll be no long pauses where you have an out of body experience as time stands still. Your responses will be confident, concise and answer the questions fully.
In Part II, we'll focus on how to show up at your best within the interview rather than letting nerves get the better of you.