Preparing for interviews is like preparing for investing in stocks. Your success, and that means your returns, is highly correlated with the time you put into researching the firm, the people within it and the role you hope to occupy.
Hello, I hope this finds you well and if you are reading this I do hope it helps you to secure your next position. I am not an HR person or personal career coach, but I have held positions within some of the worlds largest and most prestigious organisations in professional management and leadership roles. So on that basis I believe that I can offer some practical advice for those of you wishing to secure your next job.
Today we are experiencing an employment landscape like no other ever before seen. Technology has and will continue to change the landscape we operate within and you need to be prepared. So let's get started.
The old cub scouts motto holds true here, the first interview skill is still the best, be prepared for your job interview. There are many ways you can prepare for your next interview and I will touch on just a few of them here. For the most part, I am mostly referring to job interviews for positions within large organisations and companies and at the professional or senior managerial level, because that is my background, but this advice should help any candidate who wishes to prepare well for their next job interview.
With large organisations the process differs from smaller companies in part due to the fact more people and departments will be impacted by your hire, so more senior managers are likely to be involved in the hiring process. You should probably expect four or five interviews, however the interview process may require you to take several in one day.
Some interviews, at the senior level will take place outside the conventional office space. Typically you might be invited to a restaurant, where you'll be expected to demonstrate broader social capabilities. Remember also, it is not unusual to have up to four or even five interviews in a single day. So be prepared.
Clearly it goes without saying that the basics of dressing the part is essential to help you come over well in your interview. This is true both in person or over video on a computer call. If it is over a video be aware of the background screen or real environment, this will give the interviewer as much of a first impression as the clothes you wear. Certificates on the wall in the background, for example, might look better than that old ACDC poster! But I'm sure you get the picture.
I won't tell you what you should wear, you'll already know that, and it will depend on the place and culture to some degree. Just to say, make sure you're comfortable in how you present yourself. Do prepare for the weather. Try to dress to match your personal style, but I find airing to the conservative is a safer bet.
Be professional and respectful when you go for interviews, remember you might not know the person or culture of the person or persons interviewing you. We live in an age of diversity. It matters. So the larger the organisation, the more diverse the workforce is likely to be. That includes hiring managers. So dress appropriately, be yourself and always behave in a professional manner.
You'll probably need at least two good, or presentable suits or interview outfits. Remember if you are called to several interviews, you don't want to show up in the exact same outfit each time. So learn to accessorise and groom yourself well.
One of the most important aspects of leadership is personal preferred style. We all have a unique mix of qualities which determine our personal and professional style.
There are many academic studies on the subject and books which you can and should read, however broadly speaking there are four main styles.
Your style will determine how you perceive the world and how others perceive you. As 25% of people are likely to be similar in style to you, that leaves 75% of people who are likely to be different. Here is were you risk a clash, and so you must be aware of your style, aware of the styles of those around you, and be willing and able to flex.
Style flexing is not about copying, you'll want to remain largely yourself, but be aware and skilled in the simple techniques which will help you, such as mirroring and matching, and reading body language properly. Again, many books exist on these topics and are well worth a read.
You must be able to flex your style , and so this should tell you something. Some of the managers interviewing you will not know the technicalities of the role you are being interviewed for, and will ask you general as opposed to specific questions, they will want to assess your style, and the comfort with which you carry yourself and adapt or flex to the style of others.
Qualifications and credentials are not always the same thing. Depending on the role you are seeking, you will want to emphasize these in different ways. Expect to be asked why you think you have the skills and character to do the job. You should have the basic or core qualifications for the role you are applying to as it is unlikely you would have reached the interview stage without them, but just make sure you do, and if not, have a reason why your current credentials are sufficient to over compensate for any you may lack.
In some cases employers ask for qualifications they desire, this does not mean they would not hire the right candidate should they happen to find them. Qualifications are just a part of the requirements for any role.
As your career progresses, your accomplishments and achievements will matter far more than your qualifications.
Be prepared to demonstrate how your experience and skills make up for any shortfall in qualifications.
Remember, we are all continuously learning. many courses, classes, and personal research, can be far more relevant to the role you are applying to than your formal qualifications. So do mention these during your interview when it is appropriate and valuable to do so.
I would like to mention a somewhat advanced tip which should be useful for senior appointments in particular, but would also be helpful for any serious interview at a managerial level.
All accountants are only too aware of the hidden value to be found within published company financial reports.
The best example I could point to, is possibly the work of activist investor David Einhorn. He published some of his research on you tube and it demonstrates quite spectacularly how he identified both opportunities and risks within the companies he had researched.
Reading the financial reports of the company you are planning or hoping to work for is an absolute must for any serious appointment, from trainee manager right up to the C-suite level.
Company Financial Reports usually contain a review of the business and a review of the current strategy being employed by the leadership team and an appraisal of the performance against plan.
You will immediately place yourself in the top of the preferred candidate list if you have read and can mention matters which will impact the company and its strategy.
Many recruiters are hiring to meet targets, so job specs are made up to support the head count requirements. However in reality, many roles are not so clearly define as the job spec might suggest. You must be able to grasp the problem the position is aiming to tackle and present yourself as a solution to the hiring managers problem.
First of the hiring managers problem might extend only as far as screening candidates for next interview, so you must see past the veneer, and get yourself selected for the next interview.
Your job is often to make the hiring manager look good, you must make them want to put you forward, so give them a reason to do this.
You will need to judge how much time and whether or not to talk about the issues facing the company at a macro level versus job specific matters but understanding the bigger picture and the value of your role within it is important.
Plan for the time allocated and try to empathise with your interviewer, what type of personality is she or he? If you can assess this you can tailor your questions. Make a list of imperatives, things you want to mention and be sure to cover these before the interview ends.
If the format is of question and answer, be sure to answer in a way which includes practical examples of how you have met the challenge before, this tends to be a competency based interview style and lets you demonstrate your experience by applying it to the problem being set or posed.
More difficult are the informal style of interview, these tend not to ask simple questions in a straight forward style. They may lack structure of any kind, and you should be prepared to lead the interviewer in the conversation. They might not know what questions to ask you. Especially if they are not experts in your particular field. So be willing to ask questions in a consultative manner.
Discern the likely issues and problems that you might be faced with should your application be a success. Once you have identified the issues or possible problems correctly then you are in a position to talk to them, from the perspective of your personal experience.
This shows initiative and helps your interviewer out.
Interviews are a little like dating, you must be a good listener, but you must be able to ask probing questions, that allow the interview to talk about their problems. It is not uncommon for the interviewer to do most of the talking.
Again this might come back to style, try to judge if they like to talk or to listen more. Aim for a balance that pleases the interviewer. Don't waffle, but being too succinct could give the impression you have little to say.
Interviews are not the time to be bashful. You must expect to blow your own trumpet a little more than usual. It won't come across as bragging, or at least you should make it come across as helpful. They should leave the meeting believing that they have discovered a gem, a talented person who is capable and motivated to solver their organisations problem.
A word of warning though. It is not unheard of at the more senior levels for unscrupulous employers to take advantage of the considerable research on a company that you have undertaken. Remember you are not there as a paid consultant so don't allow yourself to be exploited for FREE Consultancy. Competency based interviews should pose questions that seek to examine how you would approach a problem, not seek a particular solution. So limit your advice or solution to the approach you might take should you get offered the position. But hold off on supplying a full solution, or making the solution look so simple that the employer might reconsider their need for you. You might just talk yourself out of a lucrative role.
The duration of an interview might well be from 20 minutes to two or three hours. Try to find out in advance how long the meeting is schedule for, and if others are scheduled to follow you. If you have built good rapport with the interviewer, you are likely to be engaged in a conversation that both sides are enjoying and the tendency might be to prolong the dialogue. But it is best to know when to cut it short and trigger a close. It is always best to close after you sense the interviewer has a positive impression of you and it is respectful too.
End the meeting with a smile and firm handshake, but not a bone crusher! Thank your interviewer for his or her time and be sure to find out the next steps or when you are likely to hear back.
For some senior positions the recruitment process is often dragged out and it can take weeks or even months. You have a right to know if the process is likely to be protracted, make sure your interviewer is aware of your time line and how long you are prepared to wait before you might take another offer. It is unreasonable for an employer to expect you to prepare for many interviews over several weeks at a personal financial expense. You should decide on just how much time and expense you are willing to invest in any one prospective position.
Finally, remember money and financial rewards are not the only reason for attending interviews. A job interview is like a date, you are assessing each other. You must assess whether you are the right fit, this includes money and rewards of course, but being right for each other matters more, as does whether you will enjoy working at the organisation. If you are honest with yourself you'll always get the best outcome.
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