Our second blog post from the Summer Seminar recruitment panel focusses on how to survive the job interview.
What preparation can you do before your interview? It is always worth rereading not only the job advert but also your own application before the interview to remind yourself of what you have said. Telephoning a prospective employer up for an informal chat about the role can help to gain insight into the role and what they will be looking for from you as a candidate, which could help your preparation. You should have a look at the employer’s website and social media presence, as this shows good research skills and you may be able to learn a lot through documents such as service plans and employee structures. For most local government posts your interview answers will be scored against the person specification criteria, with higher scores depending on the level and quality of evidence that you provide, so it is worth having some stock answers about the key criteria given in the specification.
Another important tip related to the tour of the archive that you may be offered by your potential employer. This is in fact part of the recruitment process, as the person giving the tour is likely to give feedback about you to the interview panel. This means that it is important to be polite, greet other staff members you may meet, and be proactive. Asking lots of questions as you are shown round demonstrates your interest and also allows you to learn as much as possible from the tour guide, which may help you when you go into the interview.
What are some common interview questions? They can be varied, as there is no set format, so you should try to prepare for the worst. An example could be being asked to give a 3 minute resume of a chosen topic, which would test not only your knowledge but also your communication skills. For most jobs involving some public service aspect you are likely to be asked about experience of dealing with a difficult customer, so you should definitely have an answer prepared on that subject. Interviewers are not looking for perfect answers, but answering questions in detail helps you to score highly. Certain words and phrases can be useful and answering questions by suggesting you have knowledge or experience in a particular area for example ‘I look forward to developing the outreach programme…’
What are the benefits of being concise versus explaining things in a bit more detail? Timing can be difficult to judge, so you will need to try to pick up on the body language of the interview panel. You may want to decide if there is one area where you are particularly strong and spend a little bit more time on the question related to that subject. For other questions, you should remember STAR (Situation, Task, Action, Result) as a way of giving evidence of your experience.
How can you practice for interviews? You can ask friends and colleagues from within the industry if they are willing to help you with mock interviews, but there is no reason you can’t give example questions to friends and family members as a trial. If you are registered with a recruitment agency they will often offer interview preparation, so you should take advantage of this opportunity. It is worth trying to come up with a list of stock questions, and consider how you would answer them. It could be argued that it is also worth applying for jobs that may hold less interest, as there will be less pressure if you do get to an interview and they can allow you to develop your skills. Of course there are other areas where you can gain experience of answering questions, perhaps by agreeing to take part in surveys. Interviews can sometimes include presentations. What advice can the panel give about managing these? The most important tip was to stick to the specified time limit. If you decide to do a Powerpoint presentation then don’t include too many slides, and ensure that you bring lots of backups. You shouldn’t make any presumptions about what technology will be available in the interview, so you should keep the presentation simple, e.g. avoiding including links to the internet. Less is more in terms of presentations, don’t make things difficult for yourself. Pictures can be good, but the panel should be interested in what you are saying, not trying to read a lot of text on a slide. You need to ensure that you have done your research on the subject given, and that you have practiced what you will say. It’s important that you are talking to your audience, not just reading your notes. A small amount of humour can also be helpful, as it will help everyone to feel relaxed.
What are good questions to ask the interview panel? You should try to think of 3-5 questions in advance, though some queries may come up during the interview. You could come up with a question based on the research you did prior to the interview, as this will show the research you have done. You could also ask about carer development and how they see the role developing. One good tip was asking the panel what they like about their job, or if you felt particularly confident you could ask when you will be starting in the role!
What other tips did the panel have for surviving job interviews? You need to try to be confident, showing enthusiasm for the role you are applying for. First impressions are also very important. Walk in tall, have a good handshake and make eye contact with all of the members of the panel. However there is no harm in admitting that you are afraid, as the interview panel will understand and this will allow them to make allowances if you are nervous. It is also fine to take a minute to think before answering a question. If there is an area you are worried about as a weakness, take a moment to think if you can demonstrate the required skills elsewhere. Also, not all of the useful skills for the role may be listed in the job description, so try to take a moment at the end to sum up why you are perfect for the role. Studies have shown that the panel will remember most the last things you say, so make them count.
It’s worth remembering that the interview is also to help you decide if the job is right for you. It’s absolutely fine if the interview helps you realise that the role probably isn’t for you and you should be honest and tell the panel as it saves everyone time.