Make a great job of that interview

Natalie Lancer from Lancer Coaching explains how to prepare for an interview.

Getting an interview is a massive compliment – the organisation has decided that they like what you have to offer on the basis of your application form and that you match their requirements. There are many different types of interview – maybe you will have to give a presentation about a topic, or perhaps it is a panel interview where different people ask you questions.

With a little thought, you can think what questions are likely to come up. Go back to the job description and person specification and write a question for each item. For example, an item from the job description might be “Contribute to collaborative decision making with colleagues”. A reasonable question to expect, therefore, is “How have you contributed to collaborative decision making in the past and how would contribute to this process in the future?”. Jot down a few bullet points for each question. It might be helpful for you to structure your answer according to the acronym ‘SPAR’ – Situation, Position, Action and Result. This involves starting by describing the context, what was the situation and challenge. Secondly, what was your position and what did you do personally to effect change? Thirdly, what action was taken and how did you come to that decision. Finally, what was the result – was it a success? Were there setbacks?

After you have written your own questions based on the job description and person specification, it is time to consider some more general questions, such as “Why do you want to work here?” and “Can you tell us about current developments in this sector?”. This requires some research – start by looking at the organisation’s website. What is their mission statement? What do they think they have to offer? Make sure you read some current information about your sector, such as trade journals, newspapers, information from professional bodies if relevant (see their websites) and up-to-date books. Ask your local book shop for recommendations. You need to demonstrate that you are fully aware about the organisation and the sector.

You may be asked a question along the lines of “What do you have to offer us?” or “What are your strengths and weaknesses”. To prepare for this, it may be helpful to consult a friend about your aptitudes and motivations. Be sure to prepare a clear answer – write some bullet points. When detailing weaknesses make sure you explain how you overcome them.

It is very helpful to have a practice or mock interview. This can be with someone in the field (use your network to find someone) or a careers professional. Not only will you be able to rehearse your answers but you will get some feedback about how you come across and if there are gaps in your knowledge that you can plug.

Plan what your are going to wear. Dress formally, even if you think the interviewer will not. It never hurts to be overdressed – it shows you have made an effort and that you are professional – but you will look silly if you are underdressed. Plan your journey and make time for the inevitable delayed trains. If possible, visit the site of your interview in advance if you are not familiar with the area.

Before the interview itself, go through your application form again. Go over your examples of prior work and make sure you can talk about them. Arrive early – you will look efficient and it gives you time to have a coffee or go to the loo without panicking. Turn off your mobile – don’t leave it on silent. Smile when you walk in, shake hands and wait to be told to sit down. Maintain eye contact.

When answering questions in the interview give yourself time to think. Do not answer with the first thing that pops into your head. Wait two seconds, consider your answer, and briefly think about why they have asked you that question – what are they really getting at? What are they trying to test? Make sure you frame your answer in a way that attends to their underlying reasons. Ask for clarification if you do not understand the question.

Also, think about your body language. Don’t cross your arms as it looks defensive. Instead sit with your arms open or on your lap and lean forwards to show interest. When you speak it is a good idea to gesticulate with your hands as it adds expression – but don’t overdo it. Don’t bite your nails or fiddle with your hair. Often we exhibit certain mannerisms when we are thinking. It may be worth getting someone to video you when you talk to see if you have some unconscious mannerisms that are unflattering.  We speak much more quickly than we realise – so slow down! Do not speak in a monotone –moderate your voice by using highs and lows.

They may say “Is there anything you want to ask us?”. Do ask about something interesting that came up in the interview, but do not ask something that you could easily look up on their website. Don’t bring up salary until you get an offer!

Finally, remember that you are also evaluating them and the job. Having spent some time with the interviewers, are you sure you would like to work there? Are the organisation’s ethics in line with yours? Were you treated well? Were employees you came into contact with happy? Do you like the environment of the office?

A few hours after the interview, write down your impressions, the questions asked and your answers. Do you wish you had answered anything differently? Jot down your amended answers. These will be useful for you when you have another interview.

If you do get the job – well done. Consider if you actually want it! If you do not get the job, remember you cannot control the employer’s decision. You do not know who else was interviewed, and how well they fitted the job description and organisation. There can be many reasons why you did not get the job that have little to do with you. The experience was valuable and a stepping stone to your winning interview.


Natalie is available for one-to-one practice interview sessions and can help with all aspects of the job application process.  For more information, contact Natalie Lancer at natalie@natalielancer.com or on 07747 612 513.  www.natalielancer.com


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