You perform better in interviews and assessment centres if you’ve prepared beforehand.
Sounds beyond obvious, right?
Thing is, often candidates don’t know what or how they should be preparing. After all you don’t know what you’re going to be asked – so how can you prepare your answers?
And while hiring managers want to see candidates performing at their best, they’re often reluctant to share the information candidates really need in order to do so. They don’t want to give away too much in case that distorts the results.
So here’s my advice to candidates on how to prepare for interviews and assessments. And next time, I’ll share my advice to hiring managers on how to help candidates perform at their best so you get the evidence you need to make the right hiring decision for your business.
1. Research the company you’ve applied to
Well, duh! Yes it’s almost too obvious to mention but many people don’t bother – or run out of time to do it properly.
Make sure you give yourself enough time to find out all you can about the company you’ve applied to. Look at their website to find out more about:
- Services and products – to get an understanding of what it is they do
- Client case studies – there may be examples you can refer to in your interview answers
- Key clients – who are they working with? Do you have any experience of these clients/or types of clients
- The person you’ll be interviewed by – it’s always nice to put a face to a name before you meet someone. Check out their ‘our team’ webpage or LinkedIn profiles
- Who we are – to get a feel for the values, the culture, the mission and the vision of the company. This will tell you a lot about what they might ask you about – they’ll want to understand whether you’re going to be the right ‘fit’ not just in terms of behaviours and skills but attitude and values.
2. Examine the information you have about the job
Pull together any information you have about the role itself. This might be from the advert, the job description, the person specification, any follow-up details you’ve had from the company.
Identify what the essential criteria are and make sure you have evidence against all of these.
Then go through the information with a fine toothcomb. Look at each sentence in turn and try to work out what behaviour or attribute they’re looking for and come up with an example of when you’ve demonstrated that behaviour.
It can sometimes be a case of reading between the lines. For example: ‘We’re looking for a go-getter up for talking to our customers’ translates as ‘someone who takes the initiative and is happy to pick up the telephone and speak to people they haven’t talked to before.’ So come up with an example of when you’ve done that – particularly if it was to a difficult customer.
Of course they’ll be looking for more than one behaviour/attribute. So work your way through the information to identify everything they’re looking for. It’s helpful to create a table with behaviours in one column and your examples in the other.
If there’s a blank area where you can’t think of an example, don’t invent an answer. Consider whether it’s covered by something else, perhaps outside work. Could you expand other examples to cover this behaviour? Have you done any learning in that area, shadowed someone? If you can’t give a concrete example, think how you might show potential in that area.
Then use the STAR method to prepare your examples so that you provide all the details an interviewer will be looking for.
It’s important to prepare these examples beforehand. Don’t rely on just coming up with them in the interview. Because nerves will likely get the better of you and your mind might go blank. If you’ve done some preparation already you’re more likely to remember. You can always take some brief notes in with you as a prompt.
3. Preparing for an assessment centre
As well as an interview, you might also be asked to do an exercise or even a full-blown assessment centre. These are harder to prepare for as they are about how you perform on the day. However, if you know what behaviour and attributes they are looking for, you’ll have a good idea of what they are looking for from the exercises.
The same exercises can measure different behaviours. That’s why it’s important to work out what they are looking for in advance so you can respond in the best way.
Let’s say for instance, you’re asked to take part in a group discussion. If you think team working is a key quality for the organisation, do things in the discussion like ask open questions, invite other candidates into the conversation, build on others’ ideas and be careful not to dominate.
But, if you know they are looking for leadership as a key quality, then it would be appropriate to take the lead, be the time-keeper, take charge of the flipchart, encourage others to contribute and chair the meeting.
Or, if you know the key quality they are looking for is problem-solving, then you should ask everyone to share the information and ideas they have, and encourage everyone to be creative, explore ideas and find a solution collaboratively.
Also remember, whatever you’ll be asked to do, you will be under some kind of time pressure. The recruiter is checking your ability to cope under pressure. Pay close attention to any instructions you’re given and the time you’ve got to prepare or to deliver. Keep on time.
4. Never give up
If things aren’t going well – you messed up an interview answer or your presentation went badly – try not to let that affect the rest of your assessment.
Remember, everything is generally measured at least twice so you can redeem yourself. Assessors aren’t trying to deliberately trip you up. After all, they don’t want you to fail – they’re trying to find the right person for the job. Prove to them that that’s you! Keep going.
If you went really wrong, acknowledge that, e.g. ‘Sorry, that didn’t really answer your question. Do you want me to provide another example or shall we move on?’ It demonstrates self-awareness and an openness to learning.
If you want recruiters to see you as the right person for the job, don’t rely on your charm, wit and firm handshake. Prepare, prepare and prepare some more. You’ll feel more confident and you’ll provide recruiters with the evidence they need to make the right decision. Something I’ll return to in my next blog.
Want to learn more about preparing for interviews? You can access my Interview Skills for Job Applicants online course from the Virtual Training Centre here.