Most of us have to attend interviews of some sort of to secure work. These may be a formal affair or a seemingly casual coffee/drink somewhere. Whichever is likely to be the case for you, we have some tips about how do prepare in order to present yourself at your best in any situation.
- Do your homework
If you want to work for an organisation, find out about it. Read what they publish, watch or listen to their productions and check if there is anything being discussed in the press about them. In many interviews you will be asked for your opinion about what they do so familiarising yourself with recent developments, their ethos and objectives (usually detailed on their website) will put you in a good position to answer this.
- Identify likely questions (including ones you’re nervous about and work out some good answers
Often the biggest worry about interviews is that a specific question will be asked that you don’t have an answer for. For example, a common concern is explaining a career break. So, instead of worrying, brainstorm appropriate answers beforehand. Ask friends and colleagues for ideas if you need to. It’s amazing how these questions lose their power when you spend a bit of time planning responses to them.
- Get some practise
The musicians and actors amongst us would never dream of rocking up to a performance without attending a single rehearsal. Yet many of us think we can walk in to interviews cold and persuade someone why they should choose us over every other person interested in doing this work. It may work, but it’s a risky strategy that can often leave us tongue tied in practice.
So, practise talking about yourself and your experience. Ask someone to interview you and get them to give you feedback about how you come across, what went well and what could be improved. This can also be a good way to discover whether you have any unconscious habits such as rocking or pen clicking that you might want to eradicate. Colleagues who know your career history are good to do this with, as they will be able to tell you if you are underselling yourself.
- Record yourself
If you can’t find someone to do practise interviews with, and even if you do, it can be really valuable to record yourself so you can gauge for yourself how you appear. Many of us have a record function on our smart phones or can borrow one. Just choose an interview question and record your answer and see if you can convince yourself. You can experiment with speaking faster or slower, louder or more quietly. You will also be able to see if you need to improve the language that you use, or if you undersell yourself by using dismissive statements like, “I’m quite good at…” or “I’m reasonably good at…” when in fact you are an expert in your field.
- Turn up on time
Sounds a bit obvious but checking the time beforehand and making sure you allow time for holdups is very important. It is also worth having a contact name and number in case you do get held up, so you can give them a call and explain that you have been unavoidably delayed.
In the same vein, it is important to make sure you are dressed appropriately. If the standard dress is business suits, that’s what you should wear. If the standard dress is casual and you turn up in a suit, they will possibly, even at an unconscious level, think you are not going to fit in. So find out what the dress code is likely to be. If you get it wrong, make sure you dazzle them by what you say so they forget about what you’re wearing.
- Have a plan B
If you put all your eggs in one basket and elevate any single opportunity into the one that will define your future, you run the risk of putting so much pressure on yourself to be successful that you may be unable to relax and give your best.
Having alternative options such as other work you have applied for, or people you can contact, means less will ride on that particular interview and you can approach it without the desperation that comes from convincing yourself that the rest of your life depends on a positive outcome.
- Remember that you are interviewing them too
Interviews are a two way process. They are also your opportunity to meet the people you will be working with, check out their attitudes, culture and values and decide whether or not you want to work with them.
- Prepare some questions
It is good to go with some questions to ask, but if they have answered them all during the interview process, or if your questions are no longer relevant because what you have learned during the discussion, then feel free to say just that.
- Ask for feedback
If you are unsuccessful, ask for feedback. If it is not available, review the interview yourself. Honestly assess what went well as well as what you could have done differently. It doesn’t give you a balanced view if you only focus on what went wrong. Reminding yourself of what you did well allows you to remember and to do those things again at the next interview. Make notes of what you learned from the process, list any steps you need to take, then forget about it. It doesn’t help to beat yourself up about something you can’t change. Onwards and upwards!
- Networking opportunity
The worst outcome you should aim for is that the meeting is a useful networking opportunity. Just because you don’t get the work doesn’t take away from the fact that you have just had a useful discussion with someone who you could work with in future. If nothing else, an interview can be a great opportunity to introduce yourself to someone new and make a positive impression.