Whether you’re looking for a job or a job-holder, chances are you’ll have a few interviews ahead of you! Personally, I enjoy interviews, whichever side of the desk I’m on. I get to chat about myself and my work over a cup of tea to someone who wants to know – what’s not to like?! For some reason though, people get very nervous about interviews (including the interviewer sometimes!) But as the advert says – what’s the worst that could happen? But to make sure the worst doesn’t happen, here are  some ways to make sure you make a great impact…

Firstly, interviewers – forget those cheesey old-school questions like ‘Where do you see yourself in 5 year’s time?’ or ‘What are your strengths and weaknesses?’ These sort of questions are not particularly effective as they don’t give you the information you need to decide if someone can do the job. I was once asked for my weaknesses and replied “Guys with long hair, and chocolate cake – but my development areas are…” I did get the job (probably because it was actually at a cake factory) but also made the point that talking about ‘weaknesses’ is very negative. Interviewees, if asked this, turn it into a positive by not just telling them what you’re rubbish at, but focussing on how you are dealing with that and what you’re doing to improve in those areas.

These days, one of the most common – and effective – interview techniques is the Competency Based Interview.  Any interviewer worthy of the title will know what skills, behaviours, qualities etc. someone needs in order to be able to do the job. For example, communication skills, organisational ability, leadership, customer service, basket weaving or whatever. So they ask questions designed to find out not only if someone has those skills, but also real examples of when they have demonstrated them. Questions usually start with ‘Can you tell me about a time when you…’, or ‘Give me an example of when you have…’ – not ‘What would you do if…?’ Remember – if you ask a hypothetical question, you’ll get a hypothetical answer! Just because someone says they would do something, doesn’t mean that they actually would. But past behaviour is usually the best predictor of future behaviour – so if someone says what they did do, chances are they’d do much the same again – or learn from their mistakes!

If asked a Competency Based Interview question, there is a technique to answering. Give examples structured around Circumstances – what the situation was; Behaviour  – what you did or said; and Impact – what the outcome was. Don’t ramble – stick to the facts but give some relevant detail, and you should be able to fit it into a few minutes. Keep in mind CBI = Competency Based Interview = Circumstances, Behaviour, Impact = Completely Brilliant Interview!

Another way of remembering this is STAR – Situation; Task; Action; Result. Here’s a really simple example talking about demonstrating communication skills – spot the STAR elements:

“In my role of Employee Safety Rep., I had to speak to the Safety Committee in support of an application for new equipment. I gave a 10-minute presentation outlining the reasons the equipment was needed, how it would reduce health and safety risks, and responded to questions from committee members. The request for equipment was successful and we received £5,000 funding from the Committee.”

Obviously in an interview, you’d give a lot more information around that. A decent interviewer will help you along by asking a few pertinent questions. So, if you’re interviewing someone and feel like you’re pulling teeth, or the interviewee is giving one-word answers, you need a decent interviewing technique, such as Funnelling.

Start with a general open question about the competency you’re exploring and then drill down, or funnel, with more specific questions (still open, so ‘yes’ and ‘no’ are not answers!) to get the details you need. Remember to focus on the circumstances, behaviour and impact. So questions such as:

          “Tell me about a time when you had a large workload to prioritise”

          “Give us an example of when you had to deal with a difficult customer”

          “What did you do/say?”

          “How did you do that?”

          “What happened in the end?”

          “What was the result?”

Sometimes it’s not obvious to the interviewee what it is the interviewer is looking for. Asking about a project someone worked on in a team could lead to them talking in detail about the project, when what you actually want to know about is their teamworking skills. So a good interviewer will signpost to the interviewee what to focus on – ‘I’d like to look at your teamworking skills and experience – can you tell me about project you’ve worked on with a team?’

Interviewees, if you’re asked an ambiguous question, don’t be afraid to ask for clarification – ‘Would you like me to focus on the project or how I worked with the others in the team?’ Far from making you look like a muppet, this shows great communication skills – you’ve listened to the question, are checking your understanding and being sure to give the right information. It’s also worth checking how detailed an answer they want – do they want the 5-minute synopsis or the half-hour chapter and verse? If in doubt, keep it brief – a good interviewer will ask questions to get more detail, and if they don’t, simply say ‘Is that enough detail or would you like me to expand on that a bit?’

When answering questions, be sure to keep it factual and relevant.  Be objective, descriptive and non-judgemental – you’ll be more convincing. You don’t want to come across as immodest, so just state the facts. You aren’t describing yourself – you’re stating what you can do. This also has more impact because it’s more concrete – not just your opinion of how fab you are.

Finally – don’t sell yourself short! Don’t underestimate the importance or relevance of things you have done, or overestimate the importance of what you haven’t done. Think about your life outside work – you may have skills developed through your hobbies that are relevant to the job. You can draw something positive out of most things, however trivial they seem – you can compensate for lack of experience in X by showing you have used the same skills doing Y.

For example, doing filing – may seem dull, but what skills does it show? Organisational skills, a systematic approach, attention to detail, to name a few! Think about how well you do it – focus on standards of work, such as accuracy, speed, time management etc.

The main info you need is what competencies are needed to do the job. With a bit of preparation based on how to demonstrate those – planning either questions or answers – you can go into the interview confident, sit back and enjoy the conversation!

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