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Smart preparation for interviews

Posted on from The Career Gym

Tips for focusing on what's really important when you are preparing for that crucial interview.

How do you prep for interviews?

Many of the candidates I coach in preparation for their interviews have so much potential, but they have ‘floundered’ in their own preparation, not knowing where to start. Reviewing your whole career and looking at what is appropriate for a new role is a vast subject, so it’s no surprise some people get lost. 

Most people at this stage of the process should have a full job description (JD). This document is worth its weight in gold. This is where you need to start. You need to make sure that you have examples that demonstrate that you match as many of the skills and competencies articulated in the JD as you can. Read through the JD and think through your experience and see what matches.

Once you have thought about the examples, write them down. Write them in a structure following the CAR model.

Context: One sentence to explain the reason you were involved in this scenario.

Action: What actions did YOU take to address and resolve the issue?

Result: What was the outcome and benefit of your actions? This model will give you structure that will pay huge dividends in the interview.

Classic questions

Once written, consolidate the examples into nice succinct stories that clearly articulate the CAR examples. Then practice them verbally. This is critical for you to get used to the flow and structure of the examples.

As well as the potential competency questions for which you have just prepared, you may also get some classic questions.

  • Please take me through your CV/career: This is a classic opening request and you need to be ready for it. Skim through the early years and spend most of the 3 or 4 minutes highlighting your recent experience that makes you relevant for the job. Bring them fully up to date by finishing on why you are now looking for this new role
  • What are your strengths?: Make sure you know them and can give examples
  • What are your weaknesses?: Prepare by choosing a skill that’s not relevant for the new role and explain how you have learnt how to do it, so that it is now something the employer doesn’t have to worry about
  • What would you like to be doing in 5 years’ time?: Ambition can be about further contribution and learning in your role and doesn’t have to be about hierarchical climbing
  • Why do you want to work for us?: Do your research and see where the company is moving to, so that you can discuss reasons that are relevant for their future success
  • What is your greatest achievement?: Answer with pride in the CAR format.

Prepare for the obvious

You can never cover off every possible question, so prepare for the obvious and if done properly you will be able to answer at least 80% of the questions. That should give you huge confidence. Always expect a few questions that you have not prepared for and when they come, don’t panic, just use your brain to try and answer them logically, concisely and with relevance- remember CAR!.

Of course you have to do the logistics preparation around time and location etc, so do that and if possible do ask your contact what type of interview it is likely to be and how many people will be on the panel etc. This knowledge will give you confidence that you know what to expect and there will be few surprises.

Finally people get hung upon what questions the candidate should ask at the end. If you are genuinely interested in the role and the company you will have some very natural questions to ask to satisfy your inquisitiveness. Go with these, or respond to things raised in the interview. Keep the questions few, original and punchy.

Tips to focus your preparation

So in summary your preparation should focus on the priorities:

  1. Know your own background and break it down into relevant examples
  2. Use the CAR model to structure your examples
  3. Consider the classic questions and how you would answer them
  4. Run through the logistics so that you are comfortable on the day
  5. Think about what you really want to ask the company

The bottom line is that you must practice your answers out loud. Use a friend or career coach to help you fine tune these, ensuring you will go to the interview having prepared the right things smartly and effectively. It is mainly this which will win you the job.

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