I recently ran a series of Interviews Skills workshops for high school leavers aimed at helping them prepare for their first job interview or university entrance interview. Not only was it a great opportunity to share some of the secrets of interviewing from over 30 years at both sides of the desk, it was also great fun. Interviews need not be scary or fill you with dread or leave you with sleepless nights. So to help you avoid all of the above, here are our top tips for success at interviews – whatever the job might be.
What do employers want?
We all want to get the best staff we can – but what does that really mean? For most companies it means staff who are reliable, honest, dedicated, work well with others and who understand the importance of teamwork. Employees who have great communication skills, can network well with others and build connections that help them achieve results. Who take ownership & accountability, taking responsibility for their work and who are not being afraid to ask for help when they need it are all traits of great employees.
Note that none of these are specific technical skills for the job – the very skills, experience or qualifications that probably got you the interview in the first place. Contrary to what you might think, you’ll be asked a lot more questions on your soft skills that your technical skills.
Our top 3 tips for success at interviews.
There are 3 key messages we give to candidates to help them prepare for interviews;
1 – Firstly – think about the key skills that are required for the job. Not just the technical skills for the job, but the soft skills as well. The technical skills required are an important part of any interview but they are often not the main focus. Technical skills are usually areas that an employer will be able to provide further development and training on should you be successful. The soft skills or behaviours required for the job are less easy to develop and are likely to be areas you’ll be asked more questions on. These might include Communication skills, Teamwork, Problem Solving, Creativity, Organisational skills, Reliability, etc. Review the job description for the role and list out the skills required to perform well. Then rank them and come up with your top 5.
2 – Once you’ve identified the top 5 skills for the role, you then need to think of some examples where you have demonstrated these skills and craft each of these into a compelling story. Your story should follow the STAR format;
ST : What was the situation or task you were involved in or responsible for?
A : What action or actions did you take?
R : What was the result or what did you learn?
Make sure you have a STAR story for each of the top 5 skills you have listed above. If you have more than one great story for some of them, that’s great. But at least one per skill.
- You then need to practice telling your stories. Go over them again and again. Make sure you highlight the specific skill(s) you are wanting to demonstrate. Get them clear in your head so they come out in an impactful way. Practice telling them to your friends, parents, partner. Anyone who will listen! These stories show you at your best but importantly give real life evidence. How you managed a particular situation, demonstrated a specific skill (or skills) and achieved a result. Get these memorized and you will be in a great position to present yourself at your best.
Interviewers like to throw in a few killer questions. The ones that make you sit back and think. The ones that sort of take you by surprise. They’re not designed to deliberately trip you up, but they are designed to make you think. It’s often an opportunity for you to differentiate yourself from the pack and show why you are the best candidate for the role. Think about these questions in advance and what your answer would be. For example;
“What makes you the best candidate for this role?”
At the end of a long series of interviews, the selection panel has a tough job in sorting through all their data and selecting the best candidates. So help them out a bit and give a short, prepared pitch on why you are the best fit for the role. This is your elevator pitch where you get to say exactly what you want. Make it memorable.
“What’s your biggest strength?”
You’ve probably spent the whole interview talking about your strengths but this question is a great opportunity to talk about your “superpower”. What is it that differentiates you above all the other candidates.
“What’s your biggest weakness?”
This may seem like a strange question to answer, especially when you’ve probably spent the last 30 minutes or so telling the interviewer how great you are. However, by being honest about your inadequacies, you show that you’re self-aware enough to know your areas for improvement—and secure enough to be open about them. It shows that you’re interested in being hired for what you actually bring to the table, not what you pretend to bring.
In a recent research project, when asked this question, only 23 percent of candidates gave actual negative qualities: I procrastinate, I overreact to situations. The other 77 percent hid their weaknesses inside a subtle positive: I work too hard, I’m too nice, I’m too demanding when it comes to fairness, I’m too much of a perfectionist, I only won a silver medal in the Olympics! When collaborators reviewed the answers, they were 30 percent more interested in hiring the candidates who acknowledged a legitimate weakness.