Jump-start your job search
So you've found a role that you think suits your skills and maximises your strengths; now it's time for the application process.
Like many aspects of a recruitment process, the application part can vary from simply submitting a CV, to having to input everything apart from your shoe size into an online form. There are still companies who require you to complete a paper-based application too, although the majority tend to use an online system.
You can expect any combination of the items listed, which could be completed either on paper, or online.
If there are any definite must-haves for the role, this will be filtered at this stage, there is no point hiring a non-driver for a job which requires a qualified driver. Equally, if you are required to have specialist experience or skills, then anyone failing to meet that standard will leave the process at this stage.
Your Curriculum Vitae (CV) is your opportunity to sell yourself on paper. A good CV is normally no longer than two pages, contains a snapshot of you, as well as details such as work history, experience, qualifications and key achievements
You've applied and find yourself now preparing to attend an interview...
What an interview looks and feels like varies across company and industry, which can make it tricky to prepare for. For example, you wouldn't necessarily expect to make a presentation if you are being interviewed for a role which didn't require those skills, but it's very likely to be part of the process if you're going to be pitching to customers or clients. A good company process will involve letting you know this in advance - unless the element of surprise is actually part of the process!
When you know you are through to an interview stage, and aside from the standard information such as location, interviewer details etc, you should know the following:
- What the interview will involve.
- Any competencies that you'll need to familiarise yourself with; if this is not outlined already, it's OK to ask the question, rather than feel unprepared.
It's impractical to talk in detail about every possible aspect of an interview, so I'm going to cover some of the most common elements that make up the interview experience:
The informal chat
This refers to the chit chat which occurs between being greeted and on the way to the interview room and often continues for a couple more minutes. Don't be fooled into thinking this is not considered as part of the process, an interviewer will be making judgements from the moment they meet you about whether you might fit in the organisation. This is often unintentional and unconscious, nevertheless, it happens.
So use this time well, consider some useful things to say in advance, perhaps about your journey in, what your first impressions were of the building, if anything particularly stood out or what a fantastic welcome you had from the reception desk, etc.
From the moment you step onto the premises or even before, imagine you are in the interview as you never know who you might be interacting with. I read something recently about a guy having an altercation with another guy in a car park, only to find that the same person was interviewing him minutes later. Awkward.
This can strike fear in even the most practised interviewee, and again can be presented in different ways, albeit your response will probably be the same. Competencies can be a mix of skills and behaviours so remember it's not just about what you've done, but how you've done it. Some organisations will let you know that this is the competency-based section and they will read from a script with questions asking you to provide examples. They will then make notes on your responses considering how closely they come to the required skills/behaviours.
Sometimes, the interviewer's style will be different, they will be asking you more conversationally about your experiences and asking you to elaborate. This feels less formal but is definitely still part of being assessed!
When responding to these questions the main tips are to stay on point, try to answer clearly and succinctly but with enough meaty information. It's a tough balance. You'll need to ensure that you state your example, explain how it came about, what your part in it was, include any key results or outcomes (whether it went well or not), describe what you learned and what you would continue or do differently if given the chance again.
Obviously, some of this will be dependent on what you have been asked so only you will be able to decide on the best response in the moment. Always remember to have a beginning, middle and end. Also, be prepared to give more information. It's worth giving this some thought in advance and even making a couple of notes which you can refer to if needed.
Sometimes there will be more than one person hosting the interview. This may be so that the interviewer has someone to take notes, or perhaps because more than one person will have a say in who gets hired. Although this might be unnerving to begin with, there are definitely some great advantages. If there is just one other person e.g. a note taker, then the majority of the time your focus should be with the main interviewer, but also include eye contact and brief interaction with the note taker.
So what about if there is a panel, who should you look at?!
In my experience, the best way to tackle this is the same. Respond to the person who has posed the question with heavier eye contact and include the remaining interviewers as if you are keeping them involved in the conversation. You should aim for engagement with all participants in the room even if they are not looking at you at the time.
Notes and questions
Some people wonder whether it's OK to bring in a notebook to the interview room and I always say YES, absolutely. For one thing, it can be good to have a reminder of key projects you've been involved in as sometimes your mind can go blank. It's also useful to make notes afterwards so you can follow up, if need be, with additional queries.
Finally, it's useful to have some questions prepared for the interviewer and there is nothing more embarrassing than saying 'yes I had questions but now I can't remember them', so save yourself that fear and just write them down. New questions may arise from the interview, ask those first and often question you had noted are answered during the course of your conversation.
If you're asked to do a presentation, keep it simple. Normally you'll get 10 or 20 minutes, three to five slides is plenty! Just use them to prompt your thinking and make sure you've prepared and rehearsed what you're going to say. Anticipate any potential questions or challenges and use your presentation to answer some of them.
Slides should be kept light on text and use some appropriate images or graphics. Never read from the slide word for word, it's painful to watch and undermines your own knowledge. Consider a few phrases that you might use to respond to questions. It's completely OK to say you hadn't thought about something, but that it's a valid consideration - don't try to blag it beyond your own knowledge and capabilities.
Think about how you can present yourself at your best at each stage of your job search. Remember, it's OK to ask for help. If you need to gain confidence, working with a coach can help you learn from feedback and make it count next time.
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