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The Job Interview Cheat Sheet

The Job Interview Cheat Sheet
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Your CV can get you shortlisted, but you need to be able to perform well at interview to get the job. It may be a few years since your last interview, so it’s worth starting your preparation now with this interview cheat sheet, we’ve compiled for you. You could get a call for an interview at any time. At the very least, you should be able to respond instantly to the following two questions:

Interview Cheat Sheet : Tell me about yourself

This or ‘Talk me through your career to date’ is likely to be the first question you are asked. The interviewer doesn’t want a 20-minute ramble through everything you’ve done but focused highlights taking about a minute.

  • Start with an introductory sentence to get the listener used to the tone of your voice, such as ‘As you are aware …’ or ‘Thanks for giving me the opportunity of an interview …’

  • Next provide a short summary of yourself and your achievements. This may differ depending on the particular job you are applying for.

  • Follow with a brief chronology of your previous employment, concentrating on achievements and skills gained. You should spend more time on your most recent career and your key achievements, and less on the past. Focus on what is most relevant to the key aspects of the job you are applying for.

  • Conclude with a strong statement emphasizing your abilities, and a question such as ‘Would you like me to elaborate on any part of this?’ or ‘What more would you like me to tell you?’

Stick to this part of the interview cheat sheet and you’ll do just fine.

2. Why do you want to work for us?

The next point on the interview cheat sheet is that an employer wants you to show enthusiasm and conviction for this particular job. You need to explain how well you match up. Emphasize what you can contribute, rather than how the job will benefit you. Your response will be based on what you have learned about the company, so show that you have done your research. Explain what you have found and why it interests you.

Past behaviour is a good indicator of future performance, so you will be asked questions on what you have done, but they will also want to make sure that you have considered how you match up to the requirements of the job.

Try this now!

Without the pressure of an interview, consider what you would say to the following questions:

  • Why are you considering leaving XYZ Org?

  • How did you get your position with XYZ Org?

  • What have you been doing since you left XYZ Org?

  • What are some of the things which you enjoyed doing at XYZ Org?

  • What do you see as your greatest strengths as an employee?

  • What have been your best achievements?

  • What are the qualities needed in a good manager/engineer/accountant?

  • What would be the area you feel least confident about if we offered you a job?

  • How would your colleagues answer if we asked them about your faults?

  • What do you feel you gained from your time with XYZ Org?

  • How would your last boss describe you?

  • What do you see yourself doing at ABC in five/ten/fifteen years’ time?

  • What led you to become an accountant/engineer/chemist?

  • How did you spend your vacations from school/college/university?

  • Tell me about your leisure interests.

  • Why do you want this job?

  • Why should we offer you this job?

  • Are you considering any other jobs at present?

  • What would be your reaction if we offered you the job, but at £XX,XXX p.a.? (Less than you hoped for)

You may also be asked some ‘How would you …’ type questions. For example, if you are applying for a job as a marketing director, they will want to know your strategic ideas so you must do research in advance. A really good technique to use when faced with this type of question is to imagine you are working as a consultant and to talk the interviewer through the approach you would take. In that circumstance you would ask some questions and at the interview, if you need some information to help your thinking, don’t be afraid to either ask the question or within your reply to say something like ‘of course I would want to find out the answer to a couple of questions to enable me to tailor my suggestions’.

You will find that some interviewers still ask general questions; you need to treat these as if the interviewer had asked a specific question. For example:

How much do you know about …

‘I’m very familiar; just recently …’

Or What would you do if…

‘I was faced with a similar situation last year. What happened was …’

Userful Tip

Make sure you have thought through examples to many of the possible questions you could be asked.

Competency-based interview questions

Next in the interview cheat sheet let’s consider that Interviewers may opt for a competency-based interview. We’ve looked at how to answer these questions on application forms; you take the same approach at interview. As a psychologist, I was taught these techniques years ago – they are based on the premise that past experience is a good indicator of future performance.

You need to have a strategy to answer this type of question. You don’t want to give vague answers. Use a structure to give clearer, more focused responses, such as the STAR approach.

Here’s an example of a response that uses this method to address an employer’s question.

Describe the Situation you were in:

‘I didn’t handle the transition to university well and failed my first-year exams.’

This has to set the context and lead to the interviewer being interested in what you have to say.

What Task you were asked to accomplish:

'I knew that if I wanted to succeed, I had to develop better study habits and manage my time better.’

The Actions you took and why:

'I created a calendar and marked the due dates for all of my assignments and tests. Then I set aside certain hours each day for studying, allowing more for exam times.’

The Results of your actions:

‘My essays were in on time, and I took notes regularly to make things easier for exams. Because I was separating study time from social time, I would work hard and then relax, which has helped my time management.’

Interview preparation

Let's get to the hard stuff in the Interview cheat sheet. Start practising. You could use an interview coach, or you can role play with a friend who can ask you the questions. Don’t just sit there and answer questions; try to experience the whole interview. Wear the clothes you would wear to an interview, knock on the door and wait to be asked to sit down.

Tell your friend that you want them to give you feedback on what you did well and how you can improve. Ask them to comment on your body language and tone; it’s not just what you say but how you say it. You can also practise in front of a mirror, to see how your smile etc. comes across.

You can work through these questions alone, but always say your answers out loud, don’t rely on what you hear in your head. (We always sound better in our head!) If you record your answers, you will be able to review how they sound, and you will notice the number of times you say ‘you know’ etc.

It can help to consider your answers from the perspective of the person who will be interviewing you. Think about what information they will want to hear. Think too of first impressions – judgements will be made of you from the moment they see you, so you need them to be as positive as possible.

As an interviewer, I expect my candidates to be well prepared. They will be ready with examples for most of the questions I ask and will ask me intelligent questions which demonstrate they have thought about the role and how they would be successful if they were offered the job.

Get yourself ready

Trust no draft is the sacred rule of the Interview Cheat Sheet. So re-read your CV and cover letter or application, plus the job ad and any supporting information, and be 100 percent certain you can back up every claim with a specific and detailed answer.

Think about any areas where you know you are weaker. What can you say to compensate for any perceived weakness? But also, you may have something extra that you can offer – experience of a particular situation such as dealing with exports to China, when you’ve read they’ve got their first order into this emerging market. This may be beneficial to your role so be sure to be ready to let them know.

By keeping up to date on news about the organization, you can be ready with some extra evidence to support your application. Most people fail to do this. Your preparation should go beyond what other candidates will do. Of course you will have looked at the company website, but be sure to have a view on its competitors and industry developments, and know what is happening right now through a news search in the business press and from comments on public sites.

You will gain a competitive edge if you can demonstrate your knowledge of the industry you are applying to, not just knowledge of the role you have applied for.

Mental preparation

Just like a sportsperson, you must prepare mentally. Imagine every element of the interview and possible problems that you may be asked to address, and prepare a reply. This should include the emotional, feeling element. This will make it much easier for you to be effective on the day.

The personality of the interviewer

Extroverts enjoy interviewing but can talk too much and may not be well prepared. You need to be clear about what you want to say, and as your interviewer takes a breath be ready to talk some more and provide an example. Whilst the more they talk the happier they are likely to be with a client, you do want to provide good evidence for them to refer to.

Introverts are less outgoing, more hesitant and take extensive notes so probably provide a lot less eye contact. You may find they don’t follow up on all questions so be ready to provide more detail. Don’t be put off by the lack of eye contact and don’t expect them to smile.

Neurotic people tend to worry so can be wary and judgemental. They may be intimidated by those they consider more driven and intelligent than themselves. It may be hard to spot this with an interviewer, but if you think you are being interviewed by someone who is at a lower level than you, you may want to create a strong rapport at the start of the interview.

Stable people are warm, empathic and likeable. They understand that interviews can be stressful and stay calm and focused. Not much extra you need to do with someone like this, who is likely to bring out the best in you.

Remember this!

The intelligent interviewer will ask discriminating questions, and those who are less bright will want to demonstrate their intelligence through asking clever questions.As you prepare, you need to:

  • Re-read the job ad and review your CV and career history to be ready to answer questions and go into more detail on any topic.

  • Find out the name(s) and position(s) of the interviewer(s); research the organization and the person/people who will be interviewing, as well as current and future business issues.

  • Practise interview questions and prepare questions to ask (it’s fine to have the questions you will ask written down).

  • Be ready with a concise statement to explain why your previous employment ended or why you want to leave.

  • Check the interview location so you know where it is and where you can park if you will be arriving by car.

  • Plan what to wear, make sure your clothes are clean and you feel comfortable wearing them.

  • Check for any breaking news that might impact on the company.

Think yourself to success at interview

As part of your preparation for interview, you will be practising interview questions, sorting out your interview clothes – but how much time do you spend on developing a positive attitude?

Does your inner talk say things like:

‘I probably won’t get this, other people will be more qualified than me, I hate group discussions, find it hard to make an impact …’?

These thoughts are likely to raise your anxiety level. You may find it better if you tell yourself:

  • ‘This is going to be a really interesting interview’

  • ‘I’m looking forward to talking about my experience’

  • ‘I want to learn more about the company’

  • ‘I will be fine regardless of whether I get the job or not’

This will help you be calmer and enable you to focus on your strengths.

It can be easy for negative thoughts to come into your head during the interview –

‘I’m too old/too young for the job’, ‘I rambled through that answer’, ‘What if I don’t get the job?’ – but this distracts you from doing your best, so as these thoughts come into your head, blow them away!

Take deep breaths and stay calm.

Remember this!

Don’t get too excited about a forthcoming interview. Don’t start dreaming that you already have the job and stop your job search. Keep looking as hard as ever until you get the contract. When you get an interview, always have another one lined up, including a fact-finding interview – it will stop you coming across as desperate.

Plan in advance to make a great first impression

We create an impression, either consciously or not. We change our expression to what is seen as appropriate for a particular situation. For example, the door-to-door sales person puts on a friendly expression as they walk up a path. We too should start smiling and look positive as we approach the building, not wait till we meet our interviewer. We can manage our impressions through the clothes we wear, the newspaper we read, and the pen we use. To provide a positive impression at interview we can dress similarly to the people who work in the organization we want to join, and to reinforce an image, carry a copy of a magazine – the Economist perhaps?

Think about the briefcase or bag you take and any pen and pad you may need to use: are these of good quality? Is this likely to be important? I once interviewed someone for a senior role and he brought along documents in a carrier bag – he was certainly making a statement!

Over to you – questions to ask at the end of the interview

At the end of the interview, you will be asked if you have any questions. So many of the people I interview mumble about everything having been covered. It makes for a weak ending. The best candidates open their briefcase, pull out a pad with a few questions listed and choose three or four to ask, such as:

  • Since the job was advertised, have your requirements been amended?

  • Why are you going outside of the company?

  • Who would I be replacing? Why is that person leaving?

  • What would you see as my priorities in this job?

  • If I were to be offered the job, what preparation could I do?

  • I am very interested in this job and believe I can do it well; do you have any concerns about me as a candidate?

Your research will have identified why you will be a great candidate. Prepare a question you could ask at interview which would allow you to use a particular achievement as an illustration. You can do this for all of your strengths – this will mean you not only have great examples ready to use in answer to every question, but you can also ask questions of your own that reinforce your strengths.

An example might be: ‘Is there a need to simplify processes? I’m asking because when I was in my last job I introduced processing mapping, which resulted in savings of time and increased effectiveness.’

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