Interview Preparation

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Interview Preparation

TV and newspaper reports will tell you that up to 20 people are applying for each vacancy in the UK at the moment. Don’t believe it. Many bosses will tell you that they are receiving 40 or 50 applicants for each post. That “20 people” average takes into account the two or three applying for the very obscure or highly specialised jobs. But don’t be disheartened. Indeed, if you make it through to the interview stage you can be encouraged that you have already got past a huge hurdle.

So what can expect at the interview and how can you prepare for it?

The format of an interview can vary tremendously. With smaller firms, the interview can be quite informal. Larger firms are more likely to have a structured approach – not least to help eliminate sexism and racism at the interview stage. The interview can be over in a few minutes or last all day. And you may even be just one of a dozen or so people being interviewed at the same time.

First, dispel those nightmares that you’ll be given trick questions designed purely to catch you out and make you look silly (and if they do, surely you wouldn’t want to work for such a company?!). Interviews are designed to find out if you’re the right candidate for the job so for the most part the questions will be simply helping you to ‘show off’ and tell the prospective employer why you are the best one for the job.

Write down in advance all the key points you want to get across during the interview: all those skills you have acquired that make you suitable for the post. Even those summer holiday jobs have taught you something. If you spent the summer serving in a shop then you were dealing with people, handling ‘awkward’ customers. You were operating an electronic till and other machinery, being trusted with cash and perhaps given the responsibility of looking after the shop in the boss’s absence. These are all transferable skills that your new boss wants to hear about. So when they ask about that summer job on your CV, that’s the opportunity to tell him or her about all those vital skills they would be glad to employ at their own firm. Similarly a GCSE in “Ancient History” may not seem relevant to a job in an office but what skills did you learn while studying ancient Rome? You carried out research, you asked searching questions, you presented that information in plain English, you wrote your essays to length and to deadline. Again, all skills your new boss will be glad to have on board.

You may also be expected to know something about the company you’re joining. “Why do you want to work for us?” is a popular interview question, designed to find out if you have bothered to find out about the firm. With larger firms, it’s comparatively easy in these days of Google. But what specifically do you need to know? Have they won any contracts lately or announced any expansion plans (“I note you are opening new branches and I’m keen to be part of a successful and growing company”); what is their mission statement? Boots for example says “Our purpose is to help our customers look and feel better than they ever thought possible” so at the interview say you admire how their company goal and you want to learn how to help make customers feel so valued; and if it’s a historic company you could explain you want to be part of a firm with such grand traditions.

Smaller companies may not have such detailed websites but talk to people in the town about the company – ask your family and friends. They may say they’ve heard it’s a company that can be trusted or one that is going places. And feeding that back at the interview will do your job prospects no harm at all!