Your CV has secured you an interview, so your prospective employer has decided that, on paper, you possess the basic skills and experience to do the job. At this stage, it is important to know that they want you to be the candidate they hire - they are busy and can stop interviewing people if you are the right candidate. Therefore, they are in a positive frame of mind when meeting you – willing you on to interview well.
So, it's over to you. In my many years of recruitment, I have come to learn that very few candidates prepare for their interview correctly. Candidates will normally prepare for an interview by researching the company and reading the job spec. Every candidate does this. If that’s all you are doing, then you are doing the minimum level of preparation. Your research into the company should go way beyond the company's own website - you should be looking at Google News, the FT.com, Wikipedia and any industry sites or blogs.
And yet still, that isn't preparing for what this meeting is....
This is a problem-solving meeting. The client has a problem - a vacancy that they would like to fill. You are presenting yourself as the solution to that problem. When shifting the context of the meeting a little, you will understand that the solution to their problem is not what you know about 'x' company.
The solution is your ‘story’ - your experience, your aspiration, your ideas, your knowledge, your work ethic, your ability to take a load of work and pressure off their hands, your understanding of what it takes to do this specific role well, and your personality fitting in with their culture.
In short - the meeting is about you, so your preparation should be focused on yourself in the context of this specific role and company.
So with that in mind, here are the five things you need to prepare to ensure that you get your story straight ahead of any interview...
1) Why are you looking for a new role?
All interviewers will naturally be looking for dirt or negatives. Don't get on with your boss? Been passed over for promotion? Can't do your job properly and facing the sack? Just desperate to get out and willing to take anything?
It is natural to presume that an interviewee thinks negatively of his or her current or previous employer, so it is your job to understand that and address it with positivity.
Be positive and emphasise the career-focused reasons for wanting to leave. It is important to emphasise the positives that have come from your time there and your ambitious reasons for wanting to move on.
This question may not come directly, but it will come out somehow and your reasons for wanting a new job will be assessed by any competent interviewer, so there's no excuse for not preparing a professional response.
2) Why are you interested in this role?
You must think this through ahead of any interview. You must know why you are there or you may come across as flaky. If, as often happens, you are asked this question directly and you haven't got a good response, it doesn't matter how well you can do the job or how much research you have done, you look unfocused and, in some cases, desperate.
Your answer should focus on aspects of the role that will advance your career or, at worst, that you thoroughly enjoy (e.g. if you are out of work). Nobody wants to hire someone that is just looking for any new job - if you can offer three or four good reasons, it looks like you have made a decision against a set of criteria.
3) Why are you interested in this company?
This is your chance to demonstrate your understanding of the company, their specific capabilities and what you believe you could do for and learn from them. The job itself can be the primary motivator, but the size of the organisation and the position in the marketplace should be commented on - there are reasons for joining small, big, market leader/challenger companies - so your answers should be tailored.
Importantly, this is your chance to tell them how great they are. Flattery is a great interview tactic.
4) Objectives for the Future
The perception is that somebody looking to get from A to B will work harder than someone happy to stay at A. The misconception is that B has to be a defined job title. Of course, this does depend on where you are in your career (typically, the more junior you are, the more vague you have to be about where you want to end up).
There are some definite 'no-nos' here - don't talk about moving to other companies or changing jobs in less than 2 yrs. (2-3 yrs. would be around the right time to specify a change or increase in responsibility).
The balance here is demonstrating a suitable level of ambition with the commitment they will need from you. You should also point out that you understand opportunities will only present themselves to you if you work hard, deliver, and work well with your colleagues.
5) Strengths and Weaknesses
Let's get another thing out of the way – DON’T answer that you are a 'Perfectionist', that you don't like to delegate or that you take too much on board. Any established interviewer will have heard that 1000 times and will know that you have chosen to dodge the question by answering something inferior interview advice blogs have been advising for 20 years - they will then assume you to be lazy with a lack of self-awareness (they should do, but actually they won't, they will stump you by asking for more weaknesses and sour the whole interview).
For some reason, people always think this is a chance to point out some sort of character trait or personality defect. I'm not sure anyone even asks this question any more, but if you don't know what your strengths and weaknesses for this specific role are ahead of the interview, then what hope is there.
FOR THIS SPECIFIC ROLE - And that there is the key!
Although people panic and agonise over how to prepare the 'Strengths and Weaknesses' question, the preparation is easy if you have a clear understanding of the role, the context for the vacancy and the company - understanding that they have already assessed from your CV that you have the right level of education and experience for the role.
Picture yourself starting in the role tomorrow. What can you do straight away? What can't you do straight away? Your strengths will be your directly transferable skills and your weaknesses will be your gaps in knowledge and understanding (new products, clients, industry, systems, colleagues, location).
Typically your strengths will be the specifics of the role that you know well complimented by essential, but often forgotten, personality traits such as 'hard-work', 'attention to detail', and 'organisation' (these three attributes are the basics you need to get your work done to a high standard on time, which is what any future boss wants).
Your weaknesses are likely to be something that they already know are missing from your CV, but they see potential in you regardless. You have then dodged the question in a professional, role-focused manner, by recognising what are your real weaknesses without telling them anything new. And you haven't made anyone feel awkward by telling them you're a perfectionist.
AND THAT'S IT!
It really takes you only an hour to turn yourself into a highly viable candidate. Yes, someone else may come along with the exact experience they are looking for, but your ability to present yourself to the best of your capabilities will give them a dilemma at the very least - you may show yourself to have the best potential and you will almost certainly have come across as the most relaxed and focused interviewee.
It's all about the mind-set. If you view it as a problem-solving meeting, you will know what is relevant and what isn't.
If you are looking for a new role or to recruit someone, get in touch with Redland Search now - firstname.lastname@example.org