Preparation techniques for job interview success

By Robert Half on 4 September 2020

Today’s recruitment process is vastly different from what we knew six months ago. Competition in the job market is fierce and candidates need to understand how to make themselves stand out during the application process and how to represent themselves well in a video interview.

Victoria Sprott (Talent Acquisitions Director at Robert Half) sat down with Emma Howard (HR Professional), Dr Martin Spencer (Occupational Psychologist and ex-HR Director), Claire Blissitt (Director and Executive Coach at Get Unstuck) and DeLynn Senna (Executive Director of Permanent Placements at Robert Half).

They gave advice on preparing for virtual, face-to-face or competency-based interviews, negotiating job offers, and how to get into the right headspace.

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Structure your preparatory research approach

Researching a potential employer is essential but it can often be difficult to know where to begin. DeLynn recommends taking a structured approach and researching both the company and the individuals you’ll be meeting with.  

There are three key areas to start your process:

1)    What do they do?
Find out what products and services they offer — how are they solving a problem or meeting a need? You should also aim to build a comprehensive picture of their industry by researching which sector they sit within. 

2)    Why do they exist?
What is their company purpose, and would you support it? Can you find any information on their core values which might help you determine whether or not you’ll be a good fit? You can find this information on Glassdoor, social media and often on the company website itself.

“I think of core values as the heartbeat of an organisation. It's what they believe, it's how they treat employees, and it's ultimately how they make decisions,” says DeLynn. “So, when you think about joining a new organisation and whether you're going to be a good cultural fit, all that stems from their core values.”

3)    Who are you interviewing with?
LinkedIn is a useful resource to help you connect the dots regarding your interviewer’s career history. Use this to identify relevant points from a personal perspective (where they grew up, where they went to school) and build a rapport to kick the interview off in a positive way.

Get yourself into the right frame of mind

A positive headspace is essential for interview success because it will determine your behaviour and the way you present yourself. Your headspace can be defined by two concepts: performance enhancing thoughts (PETs) and performance inhibiting thoughts (PICs).

“Very often we feel anxious and nervous and worried because we're dominated by these PICs,” says Martin. “Think about what we're thinking about and capture those thoughts. Write them down beforehand. What am I thinking about this? What am I feeling about this? Capture them, write them down and challenge them.”

Reinforce your personal brand with authenticity

Avoid the temptation to go into an interview wearing the professional front you think the interviewer wants to see. 

“As you start to relax at work, your true self will come out. I’ve had a bit of a shock before where I've hired somebody and they've been completely different,” Emma says.

Try to relax into the interview process and approach it with a strong understanding of what your values are and how the company fits with them to create a good match.

“Lots of people have skills that have gotten them through to the interview, but what actually gets you through to the next stage is that personality match. And they can only see that if you really show who you are,” she says.

Preparing for different interview styles

There are several styles of interview question, each designed to test a different aspect of your skillset, experience or fit. To help prepare for any interview style, your research needs to cover lots of areas.

Competency-based questions

In a competency-based interview, you’ll be asked to give a very specific reference to an experience in which you’ve demonstrated the skill in question. 

For this, you can use the STAR technique: situation, task, actions, and result.  Structure your answer to cover off the situation you were in, the task you were given, the actions you took, and the result you achieved.

General interview questions

Most of us are familiar with the standard interview questions, which makes it easier to prepare answers ahead of time. Remember to show enthusiasm for the role and to have a firm understanding of why you’re applying.

Career summary requests

It’s becoming common for interviewers to start the process by asking their candidates to give a brief summary of their career to date. This isn’t a question which can be answered in the spur of the moment — try to practice a short and effective answer to this before your interview so you are eloquent and relaxed on the day.

Claire says: “I would urge people to have a really clear story that they're able to tell in an engaging way of how their career has evolved. And I think the really important thing around your story is to show consistency with your achievements and your progression.”

Keeping your interviewer engaged

Maintaining engagement is all about body language and rapport. This can be achieved by seeing the interview as a conversation rather than an exercise in responding to a question and waiting for the next.

“Behave as you would in a conversation — you ask questions, you show interest, you interact with somebody,” says Martin. “Kick things off by making relevant comments when you walk in the building. Talk about your experience of how you found reception or something you've noticed about the brand.” 

Engaging your interviewer can serve to make you more memorable. Draw on the background research you did to ask insightful questions which show your genuine interest.

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