Advice from the other side of the desk – Summer Seminar 2013 Part 2

On the 21st June 2013 the Section for New Professionals (SfNP) held their annual Summer Seminar at the New Register House Dome, ScotlandsPeople Centre in Edinburgh. During the afternoon a panel of employers discussed interview techniques and application forms. The panel was formed of Donald Lickley (Sue Hill Recruitment), Pam McNicol (Stirling Archives), Richard Taylor (York Archives and Local History Service) and Arnott Wilson (University of Edinburgh). The SfNP Communications Officer Louise Williams facilitated the discussion.

This is the second in a series of 4 blog posts summarising the advice and discussions from the day.


Presentations as part of the interview

If you are asked to do a presentation, you will be told what the presentation should be about, how long it should be for and if you need to have slides. Make sure that you address the areas you are asked to address, stick to the time available and don’t worry too much about the slides. The employer wants to see you stand up and talk, not your ability to create PowerPoint slides. Don’t neglect your interview preparation by focussing solely on the presentation.

A presentation provides an employer with the opportunity to see how candidates present themselves. They are assessing your presentation skills and your organisational skills. Don’t get too matey, the presentation is still part of the interview and you need to be professional. They want to see someone who is concise and relaxed (maybe cracking a joke) with an upbeat and positive tone, who can reach out and relax everybody in the room. They don’t want to see you reading a paper or hiding behind the opinions of others. Don’t just read out what is written on your slides. Do have some notes with you to refer to if you would like, just make sure you make eye contact with your audience and don’t just read from the notes. Acknowledge that you are using notes as it shows you are prepared for the task or situation. It is helpful to provide a copy of your slides to the panel so they can refer to them afterwards, if they are seeing many candidates this can be a very helpful tool for them when reviewing your performance.

Interviewers often ask candidates to do presentations if the role will involve speaking to groups, such as a project role which will involve dissemination. By asking you to do a presentation they are sending a clear message that speaking to groups is something you will have to do. It may also be a way of assessing if the candidate has the key skills required for the job, for example if you are asked to do a presentation on how you would approach a project the employer may be looking at your planning skills.

You may also come across other types of assessment during the recruitment process, for example research tasks or role play. If asked to do a research task the employer may be seeking to find out if your approach fits with how the organisation thinks. Role play has fallen out of fashion at the moment but may be used to assess how good your customer service skills are. Competency assessment centres are also used by some employers to test certain competencies required for the job.


Tips for being successful at interview

Preparation is key.

Make sure you read the job description and understand what it is you are being interviewed for and what the employer is looking for. Research the organisation and if possible the team you are going to be working with. Look up your interviewers if you are told who they are – they will be looking you up – see what they have been doing lately, any big projects, publications, or papers.

Make sure you know where you’re going and get there on time. Dress appropriately, too smart is better than not smart enough. Smile and look confident, make eye contact, look enthusiastic – remember it is a conversation. Practice if you need to and make sure you have a firm handshake.

There will sometimes be questions you can’t answer, but look at the information you are given in the job description and person specification, identify the key elements and plan answers to questions relating to the essential requirements. Interviewers may want see how self-aware you are, asking questions about your strengths and weaknesses to assess this.

At the end of an interview you will normally be asked if you have any questions. It is a good idea to have a few questions lined up, use the preparation you have done researching the organisation and role to identify a couple. This is not the time to debate job terms and conditions.


  1. Sarah Colborne

    Thanks for sharing this invaluable advice with those who couldn’t be there!

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