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Monday, 16 October 2006

Preparation, Preparation, Preparation

Written by Miles Cooper

Miles Cooper insists that the key to a successful job interview is careful preparation…

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Confucius is quoted as saying that ‘success depends upon previous preparation, and without such preparation there is sure to be failure.’ You could do worse than adopt this motto in advance of a job interview.

Begin your preparations by taking stock of your skills, experience, strengths and weaknesses. This might seem obvious - after all, you know what you’re good at, where you’ve been, what you’ve done, right? But in order to effectively sell yourself at interview it’s important to have all the key facts, all your key attributes to the fore in your mind, primed and ready to be unleashed at the appropriate point.

Your mission is to convince the interviewer that not only are you the right person for the job, but that you will add value to the role and make a significant contribution to the organisation. Try thinking about this from the recruiter’s perspective - what do you think their idea is of the perfect candidate for the role in question? And how can you best present your skills and experience in order to convince them that you are the ‘square peg’ for their ‘square hole’?

Skills and Experience
Your CV is a good place to start. How do your skills, as stated on your CV, relate to the post that you are applying for? Clearly in an interview situation you will have the opportunity to develop and expand upon the skills detailed in your CV. Also, at interview, aspects and details of the role will come to light that were not mentioned in the job description or brief. This is where preparation is key. If you have taken an ‘audit’ of your skills in advance of the interview and identified how they could be applied to the role, you will be better placed to handle any ‘curve balls’ that are thrown at you. In order to demonstrate that you are the right person for the job you will need to convince the interviewer that you have the core skills to make a success of it.

Clearly some aspects of your experience will relate more directly to the job at hand than others - it is crucial that you identify these in advance. During an interview you will often be asked to cite examples of how you handled certain situations or problems - do not be afraid of this, instead regard it as an opportunity to showcase your experience and your suitability for the role. Anecdotal evidence can be very powerful in an interview situation so make the most of the opportunity and regale them with a tale of your finest hour!

Strengths and Weaknesses
Another common interview topic and one that good preparation can help you handle successfully, is the vexed question of strengths and weaknesses. As far as strengths are concerned, the best approach is to make a list, but don’t restrict yourself to simple one-word entries - expand on each strength and think about how each of them cold relate to the job you are applying for and then prioritise them in terms of relevance. It goes without saying that this will come in handy during the interview.

In terms of weaknesses a list is not required! The best bet is to select one or two weaknesses, but make sure they relate to skills or attributes that are not essential for the role in question or better still use an example of a lesson you have learned or a negative that you have turned into a positive.

Organisation
The other area of preparation you need to consider regards the organisation itself. Who is this company you are looking to work for? What do you know about them? What should you know about them? The last thing you want is to perform brilliantly at interview, demonstrate that you are the right person for the job but to fall down on a simple question about the organisation itself.

The following info could be gathered from a visit to the organisation’s website or simply by phoning their press office and asking for a brochure, an annual report or recent press releases:
- A brief history - when were they founded etc
- What exactly do they do? This may seem obvious but it’s best to be sure
- What are the main products and services offered?
- How many staff do they employ?
- What is the company culture?
- What is the annual turnover and profit?
- Who are their main competitors?
- Have they been in the press recently? If so, what for?
- What major plans or developments do they have in the pipeline?
- Who are principal directors and other senior managers? Especially the person responsible for the department where you want to work!
- What is the climate like in the sector in which the organisation operates? Is there any new legislation due?

Appearance
Your research on the organisation’s culture could give you some indication of the dress code they employ, but if not, it’s best to err on the side of caution and over-dress rather than under-dress - ‘office smart’ is what is required. If you are not accustomed to dressing in ‘office smart’ it makes sense to get used to the clothes you intend to wear at interview a few times in advance. Try wearing them for a period of hours, not just a quick try-on. The reason for this? You must be comfortable at interview - the last thing you want is to be wearing something in which you feel restricted, uncomfortable, unnatural. A bit of personal grooming doesn’t go amiss. There’s no need to go nuts with this, but a haircut, a polish of the nails and some dental floss are good ideas. Jewellery should be kept to a minimum.

Obvious?
There are other areas of pre-interview preparation that may seem obvious, but it never ceases to amaze me just how many people don’t seem to bother with them and consequently find themselves getting caught out. For instance, you should always ring up the organisation and confirm the time, date and venue for the interview. Plan your route and make sure you know how long it will take you to get there at that time of day. You should also ask who will be interviewing you and what format the interview will follow, e.g. will it involve a psychometric test, a panel interview or a presentation?

Attitude
It’s all very well to be confident when sitting at your PC tapping out lists of strengths and skills or reciting to your grandmother examples of your skills and experience in handling tricky situations, but when you get into the interview room everything can change…but it doesn’t have to. Confidence in an interview comes from the knowledge that you have the necessary skills, experience and ability to make a success of the position at hand, that you are there on merit, that you will handle any question that the interview fires at you. In other words, confidence comes from being well prepared.

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