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How to prepare for the perfect interview

Henry Nicholas shows you the things to keep in mind to deliver a perfect interview

Whether you are a graduate hoping to land for your first job, or an experienced Director interviewing for a board level role, preparation is very important. There’s a broad spectrum of interview styles, which will vary from company to company, and interviewer to interviewer.

No matter how formal or informal, this post should give you a good basis for interview prep’. If you know all of this stuff already then sorry if we’re teaching you to suck eggs!

The ‘obvious’ stuff

Know where you’re going, get there early and arrive in the right mindset for the interview!

This sounds obvious but you’d be surprised how many people get lost on the way to their interviews, arrive late, and arrive flustered because of it. You should aim to get there with plenty of time to feel relaxed, and maybe even flick through your preparation notes before meeting the interviewer.

Don’t always rely on your smartphone. Take a printed map with directions. You can usually trust Google Maps to guide you to your destination, but if your phone runs out of battery or you have no signal then a good old fashion print out could save you.

Aim to get there 15 minutes early. There is such a thing as too early though; you don’t want to risk making the interviewer feel under pressure to see you before they are ready. If you are too early then go for a stroll around the block to relieve some nerves or grab a coffee.

Sometimes things are beyond your control and you just have to accept you’re going to be late. It’s not the end of the world, as long as you’ve brought along the phone numbers of the company you’re meeting and/or your recruiter so that you can let them know you’re running late, or ask for directions. Don’t rely on 3G to allow you to access your emails, have them in your phonebook.

If you find yourself waiting in reception for the interviewer to arrive then check out the reading material. More often than not you can pick up some additional insight from the books and magazines on display.

Don’t forget to switch your phone off before you go in!

Dress appropriately

These days suited and booted isn’t always the correct dress code, particularly if you are interviewing for an agency-side role or hoping to join a funky tech start-up.

Smarter is often safer, but if a recruiter has arranged your interview then check with them first. You can also get a feel for the company dress code by looking at their LinkedIn profiles or checking out their ‘people’ page online.

If not suited and booted, you should always show that you’ve made an effort. The smarter end of smart-casual is usually the safe middle ground. Never ever wear mucky trainers or scruffy jeans!

Show that you’ve done your homework

If you rock up and try to wing it, you’ll almost certainly be pipped by somebody who bothered to do some proper research. This includes looking at their Social Media channels, where you'll usually find the most up-to-date news and insights. It's fairly common for an interviewer to ask candidates whether they've looked at the company's social channels. It's best not to get caught out, especially if you're interviewing for a marketing role.

Employers prefer to hire people who have identified their organisation as a good fit, and in order to convince the interviewer of this, you need to show you have a decent understanding of what they do, who they are and what makes them different from their competitors.

Study the company website, in particular, the ‘people’ page, any available case studies, and to get a feel for the brand values and company culture. We’re finding that employers are placing increasing amounts of importance on matching candidates to brand values and company culture, both for agency-side and in-house job opportunities. Be ready to explain how your own behaviour and values align with theirs.

Know who’s interviewing you. Not just because you need to know who to ask for when you get there, but because knowing a bit about their past might help you draw similarities during the interview process. It’ll also help build rapport. Their LinkedIn public profile will usually help you with this.

Match relevant experience to their specific requirements (competency questions)

When people talk about competency questions, it often means a very structured set of questions beginning with giving an example of a time when you had to… However, there’s usually an opportunity to give competency answers without necessarily being asked a competency question.

We go into more detail on competency questions in our next post, but it’s essentially a case of answering a specific question (usually relating to a competency outlined in the job description) by talking through a piece of experience from start to finish. The key is to outline the situation or task, followed by the actions or approach that you took in order to solve the problem or complete the task and finish by talking about the outcome or results.

Whether you are asked an obvious competency question or its part of a conversational interview, offering up a specific and relevant example from your previous experience can be a lot more powerful than a simple yes, I’ve done some of that before.

The job description is probably the best resource to help you prepare in advance. Look at each competency outlined in the spec and think of a relevant example for each. Remember to be clear about what you did and what your team did.  

Know how to answer the salary question

Salary doesn’t always come up at interview, particularly a first stage interview, but it’s handy to be prepared to avoid any awkwardness.

An interview is not the time or place to get into a salary negotiation. Earn yourself a job offer, and then tie down salary once you’re in a strong position. One benefit to using a recruiter is that we can manage this for you, leaving you to focus on selling yourself.

It’s generally considered bad etiquette to bring up salary during an interview, but sometimes the interviewer will ask. If they do then you should be ready to answer. Feel free to give a figure if you are pressed to do so, but try to avoid making it sound as though money is your main motivation. When giving a figure, its good practice to also emphasise that the role, career progression, brand values, and company culture are also important factors in your decision-making process.

It’s generally ok to be vague on money if you feel uncomfortable being asked. You can usually get away with referencing the salary bracket on the job advert or mentioning your current/most recent salary. It’s important to avoid selling yourself short or pricing yourself out.

Turn your weaknesses into positives

Tell me what your weaknesses are is a fairly common interview question. It can sometimes catch people out so be ready for it.

Nobody is perfect, so always provide a weakness when asked. If you can, try to avoid highlighting any weaknesses that may be detrimental to the role, and if you do have a gap in your experience then make sure you follow up by explaining that you have learnt a similar skill in a previous role and that it’s a skill you are excited about developing. If you do tick all of the boxes then be prepared to give softer skills or minor character trait as a weakness. Again, pick something minor that’s easily turned into a positive and isn’t going to scupper your chances of employment.

You can always turn a negative into a positive.

Sell yourself

It may sound obvious, but it can be easy to have a wonderful chat with an interviewer, without actually selling yourself. Try to avoid this common mistake.

There’s a fine line to tread, but if you find you are not being asked direct questions about your experience, you should be forthcoming with information and examples relating to the topics you are discussing with the interviewer. 

It’s good to talk about the things you enjoy about your current or previous roles. Interviewers like positive people who love doing the stuff that they may employ you to do, so it’s a pretty important point to make.

Go above and beyond. You can take work examples, a portfolio, cupcakes (gauge your audience first though!) or whatever you think is appropriate that will separate you from other candidates.

Ask engaging questions

Asking engaging questions, at the right time is very important. Chances are you’ll be asked whether you have any questions at the end of the interview, so make sure you have something intelligent up your sleeve.

Never ask about salary or the working hours. Do ask questions about the work, progression, the company culture, challenges you may face in the role, and anything else that shows you’ve given it some proper thought and are genuinely interested in joining the company. Digging around and uncovering this info may even give you an opportunity to reconfirm your interest in the role, or to talk about experiences you didn’t realise were relevant.

Be positive at all times

Never criticise current or past employers, even if you had a terrible experience.

We get a lot of different feedback from interviewers and its surprising how many people have a great interview up until the point where they speak negatively about previous roles, usually in response to being asked why they left a previous role.

Eye contact, good posture, a smile, and a sense of enthusiasm go a long way.

Leave the interview on a high

Smile and thank the interviewer, telling them you enjoyed meeting them and that you are excited about the role. If you feel it’s appropriate, a quick email to reinforce your interest can sometimes help too.

Best of luck! :)

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