How To Succeed At Interviews Masterclass
28 Oct 2020
Brightwater's Gordon D'Arcy and Cathal O Donnell Associate Director of Brightwater sharing industry knowledge and insider secrets to clinching that job during the interview!
We’ll cover a number of topics associated with interviews including the following:
1. Preparing for Interview
2. Virtual Interviews
3. 1st Impressions
4. How to Answer Questions
5. The Close
6. Common Interview Mistakes
Webinar Slides | How To Succeed At Interviews Masterclass
Preparing for Interview
My colleague Eimear Walsh covered in full “Preparing for Interview” in a previous Masterclass which is also available on our website so this is just a quick reminder of what to have done in advance of your interview. To use a sporting analogy, the preparation you do on game day is very different to what you do in the week running up to the game. Be prepared!
- Do your research – on the company, the role and on the interviewers themselves so you are fully prepared.
- Bring any related documentation – bring copies of your CV and/or whatever you have been asked to bring along on the day.
- Prepare sample questions that you want to ask
- Location/Time/Set-up – Make sure you know exactly where to go if the interview is in person and that you’re on time. If it’s a virtual interview, make sure the technology is up and running and you know how to use it.
The pandemic has forced the majority of interviews to be online so be prepared for a virtual interview rather than one face to face. There are a few differences you will need to consider however.
- Treat a virtual interview with the same respect: Go in with the mentality that a Zoom interview (or whatever it may be) is exactly the same as an interview in person. Virtual interviews are now the norm so be as formal as you would normally expect to be in an in-person interview.
- Practice with the Technology: This webinar is on Go Teams. Organisations use different interview tools / technology so practice with whatever format they’re going to interview you in whether it’s MS Teams, Zoom or Skype. You need to be familiar with the technology.
- Positioning of the Screen/Camera: Know where you need to be positioned! That may sound silly but it can be frustrating if someone is either too near or too far away from the screen. Do a few practice runs and see if you need to adjust your screen in advance of the interview. The interviewers do need to see your face but not so much that it takes up the whole screen.
- Phone Vs Laptop: Make sure everything is fully charged regardless of which device you’re using. Even if you’ve got your device plugged in, electricity can flick off at the most inopportune moments so make sure everything is charged well in advance of the interview. Be aware of the camera/ screen positioning on each device as well and how you’re going to manage holding a phone up for the duration of an interview. Do you need to rest it against something?
- Lighting / Surrounding Areas: At the moment, I am under a skylight which means the lighting around me will be affected by the weather. My screen will brighten but I may be a dark silhouette for the people at the other end of the screen so be aware of external lighting and if you’re positioned against or under windows. One good tip is to put a lamp behind the laptop so that you won’t be in shadow.
- Noise and Sound: Make sure you test audio. Some people have earphones or headsets attached to their laptops / PCs. There is a difference between earphones and ordinary computer speakers so check the sound beforehand. If you’re wearing earphones or a headset, be mindful of where the microphone is and whether it will affect sound. The sound of a microphone on a headset rubbing against an open collar can cause feedback so do be mindful where your microphone is positioned.
- Software Upgrades: Make sure that any upgrades are done in advance of the interview. If an upgrade that you’ve constantly postponed, automatically kicks in during your interview, you could be interrupted by your own system.
- Body Language: You don’t only talk with your mouth. Your body language speaks volumes about you. If you’re an expressive person using your hands to illustrate a point, make sure your hands aren’t taking over the full screen and block your face. Be conscious of what impression you are giving the interviewers. Don’t slouch in your chair or look over the camera.This may give the mistaken interview that you’re not really interested in the interview or you’re easily distracted. HR professionals do a lot of body language analysis during interviews so make sure you’re fully engaged.
- Eye Contact: Practice your eye contact. There may be 2 or 3 people involved in your virtual interview. Ensure you move your gaze to the person speaking but include everyone in on your answer. Speak directly to them. There is nothing worse than seeming disengaged or not maintaining eye contact.
- Forgetting the Camera: There are plenty of horrifying stories in the news lately about people on Zoom meetings forgetting the camera is on. There are also a lot of funny memes so don’t be one! Always remember the camera is there and some interviews can be recorded for the companies to review.
- Taking Notes: There is nothing wrong with taking notes or referring to them during an interview but just remember to look up at the interviewers instead of staring down at your notebook and scribbling away.
- Distractions: This is a big issue during the whole lock down and working from home. Everyone loves pets and children but not when interrupting an interview. It’s not the right time so keep the door firmly shut and have someone else to mind the children for that time. We’ve all seen the BBC interview where the journalist’s 2 children gatecrashed his interview. All very amusing but not very professional and it’s not as if anyone remembers what that journalist was talking about. If the doorbell or a phone rings during your interview, leave it!
First Impressions / Introduction
As mentioned before, always equate a virtual interview with a face to face interview. First impressions are important so treat it exactly like you would an interview in person.
- Presentation: How you present yourself is crucial. Be smartly dressed (not just a WFH version from waist up, be thoroughly suited and booted). Your professional demeanour will reassure a potential employer. Working from home is no excuse not to be professionally presented.
- The Power of a Smile: Never underestimate the power of a smile. It’s very hard for someone not to smile back so it builds a positive first impression. It’s also important to note that smiling also creates endorphins which will relax you for the interview.
- Set the Atmosphere: Be friendly, relaxed as possible and professional.
- Build Rapport: This can be difficult to do during a virtual interview. In a face to face interview, you can do that easily by moving from reception of the office to the interview room, chatting about the weather or the traffic but it can be hard to do that in a virtual interview. Set the tone yourself, thank them for the opportunity for the interview. Interviewers may be intimidating but they are human.
- Confidence Vs Arrogance: This can be a fine line between the expectation that you should be there over expressing your delight at being there. You should be confident in your ability to do the job but still be clearly happy to be given the opportunity to show that you can do the job. People want to like the person they’re going to be working with and arrogance is not a characteristic that people like in their colleagues.
- Display your desire to be there: Make sure the interviewer knows you’re happy to be included in the interview process and that you want the job.
The interview can be a nerve-wracking process but can be made much easier by remembering the following points:
- Know your CV: If you don’t know it, don’t send it! Familiarise yourself with your CV before the interview. It may sound silly but not remembering dates of jobs isn’t a great impression to leave with the interviewers. They’ll question your attention to detail.
- Listen to what is being asked: This may sounds obvious but in an interview situation, some people are so eager to display their years of experience that they don’t actually answer the question but instead go off on tangents. Listen to what you’re being asked and shape your answers around it. Interviewers ask questions fora reason – they want to know the answer, not what you’ve done five years ago in a totally different scenario.
- Sell to their needs: Draw out what their need is during the conversation and create your answer that gives them that information. Don’t be afraid to ask, eg. If you give me the information, then I can tie it into examples that will show you that I can solve that problem.
- What you have, not what you don’t: Try and find out the reasons behind why they’re asking you these questions. No question has to be totally open and closed! For example, “do you have X experience?”, your answer could be “No,I don’t but I do have A, B, C experience which clearly shows I’m familiar with that type of system/product/ audience and can pick up X quite quickly”. This will show your capability and is a much stronger answer than a simple “No”.
- Have your questions prepared: The questions you want to ask are just as important as the ones the interviewer wants to ask. This is about building a relationship. You need to find out if this is a company you want to work for. Likewise, they want to find out if you’re a person they want working for or alongside them.
- Speak to all panel: there may be more than one person on an interview panel to gauge your experience, eg HR or a line manager to gauge your technical skills. No one person makes the decision on a panel so speak to everyone and make everyone feel included. This will increase your chances of them picking you.
- Try and enjoy it: This may sound silly but you do perform better that the things you like / enjoy. If you’re confident in your own ability to do the job and you’ve prepared enough for the interview so that there are no real surprise questions, then you’ll find the interview much easier.
- Use positive terminology: In your answers, use the words “enjoy”, “successful” and “help”. Interviewers do analyse the way you speak about your job. These types of words are much more powerful. Employers when interviewing usually have a “need”. By using the word, “help” then you can give the impression that you can solve that need. Get the word “enjoy” into your answers as the interviewers will note your positivity about your job and what you can bring to their company. Other good phrases to employ during an interview are things like “while I was preparing for this interview” or “while I was researching your company”. These will go a long way to show that you’re interested in the role and you’ve done plenty of hard work to prepare for this interview. You need to verbalise that. Interviewers may expect that you’ve done this hard work but there’s no harm in reminding them that the interview is important to you so you’ve done your due diligence for it.
- 10/20/30/40 model/Competency based – I’ll go into further detail on this in the next slide.
This model of answering interview questions can be very useful. There are plenty of interview techniques and methodologies. Many people use the STAR methodology – where they use the “Situation, Task, Action, Result” methodology to prepare for interview. However, I’ve felt that sometimes this way dwells far too much on the situation and task rather than the action and result. So I tend to focus on the time allocated to answer questions.
- 10% on the problem or situation
- 20% on the solution or how you came about it
- 30% on the implementation of the solution
- 40% on the result or outcome of that implementation
Interviewers may ask a question along the lines of “tell me about a difficult problem at work, what did you do about it, what solution did you come up with, did you come to that solution by yourself or with a team and what was the outcome”. This is where the time allocated to your answer is important.
- What was the problem?The interviewers want a brief overview of the problem, they are really only interested in how you solved it and what was the end result. So devote only 10% of your answer to a brief description of the problem and how it affected your company / role.
- What was the solution? Again here, only dedicate about 20% of your answer to this part. They want to know how involved / creative you were in coming up with the solution or how you worked as a team.
- How did the implementation go? You can be very detailed if it was a complex HR issue or if it was in IT or manufacturing. Otherwise, be relatively succinct here – describe the implementation, how many departments were involved, what the time-frame was and how you rolled it out. This will show your communication skills as well as your analysis skills and commercial acumen.
- What was the result or the outcome? This is where you devote most of the time to answering. The interviewers want to know statistics of your success. This is where you can give the quantifiable positive answers – we found that it increased production / reduced costs / increased profits etc. You will need to practice several scenarios – do make sure they are actually real-life experiences though. Also remember that you can sometimes say that the solution wasn’t initially great and that the outcome led you to tweak different aspects of it. This shows that you’re able to analyse results, adjust your thinking and focus on new solutions.
Timing is everything in an interview. You don’t want to be halfway through your answer and be cut off by an interviewer who is conscious of time. So practice this methodology with all your answers and these types of questions will be a lot less daunting.
Competency Based Questions
This is a common way of interviewing. It’s all about situational scenarios that will give them an insight into how you deal with issues relevant to the role that is available. The types of questions can come under the following broad category headings:
- Organisational Awareness: The interviewers want to find out if you understand your company or just your role within the company. They will question you on your existing role as well as the role for which you are interviewing.
- Strategic Thinking: This is usually around the technical aspects of your role. They want to find out how you look at your own performance and what steps you’re taking to improve your own performance and that of your team.
- Innovation: Employers love hiring and working with innovative people. They will ask you about innovation you’ve shown in your career so far and what you have done to improve company performance. Have an answer ready about something you’re proud of that has demonstrated real results.
- Communication: Be prepared to talk about scenarios where you demonstrated excellent communication skills, where you were able to articulate why something needed to be done or where you were able to interact with colleagues during a possible confrontation.
- Leadership: Interviewers want to find out what your motivational style is and how that will fit in with their company, especially if it’s a leadership role or could potentially lead to a leadership role.
- Team Work: again, this is an obvious one as you will need to be able to work well with a team. Have answers prepared about working as part of a team. What do you do that helps your team become successful. Are you a leader – are you passionate and productive about your work?
- Time Management: Everyone is extremely busy so deadline management is essential in every role. Give examples of meeting deadlines and also talk about the reasons for missing deadlines, the consequences of that and your reaction to those deadlines.
Closing the interview with a lasting positive impression is crucial in an interview situation. Companies will more than likely be interviewing between 2 and 4 people for the role of similar experience and backgrounds to you. This is the time to put your best foot forward and really convince them that not only are you the best person for that role but that you really want the role as well.
Make sure you’ve covered off all the questions you wanted to cover and ask them if they have any outstanding questions for you. If you want the role, remind them of it. A simple “I genuinely am interested in this position so what is the next step?” “Genuinely” is a powerful word, it shows passion and honesty so use it where appropriate. Leave the interviewers with a really positive impression of you.
Common Interview Mistakes
As recruiters, we get a lot of feedback both from job seekers and from our clients, the employers so we’ve seen them all. There are a number of common mistakes but they can be avoided.
Don’t oversell: Listen carefully and don’t tell them about your full career in the first five minutes or exaggerate your answers.
Unnecessary information: Focus on the positives and answer only the question that you have been asked. Eg. If you’re asked about your educational background, there’s no need to delve into individual grades in each college year, a simple “I have a Honours degree in Biology from X university” will suffice. Do let them know your availability to start if they ask but don’t volunteer that you’ve got holidays booked unless they offer you the job.
Going on tangents: Be careful to stick to the question asked and don’t ramble on during the conversation. Going off on tangents can be easy so you need to be focused.
Sell what they need: You need to have read the job specification carefully and understand their requirements for the person taking over this role. You need to understand what this company needs and be that person during the interview.
Punctuality: Don’t be late to the virtual interview. Being late or delayed doesn’t demonstrate excellent planning or time management skills so ensure you are on time.
Quick questions: Where do you see yourself in 3 years’ time? Bring it back to the here and now. “Right now, I’m focused on this role and then I can focus on the next number of years developing my career and role with this company”. Questions such as “Where do you see your career going?” are designed to see if you’re interested in the role and company rather than just yourself.
Success: A typical interview question is “What does success mean to you?” They want to find your motivation. Success is very different to each person. There is power in that question so make sure your answer is just as powerful. What do you feel success is? Is it climbing the corporate ladder? Is it doing your job extremely well? Think about your answer carefully.
If you take all or even some of this advice on interview success, then you’ll be prepared for any type of interviews going forward.
There were plenty of Q&A in this webinar about different situations but if you do have any further questions, need career advice, help in preparing your cv or just a chat about what options are available to you now and in the future don't hesitate to contact us on [email protected] or 01 662 1000.