How to Engineer an Interview

Interview, the dreaded word that no one likes; sitting in a meeting room, coffee shop, and at times perched on the end of someone’s desk, describing your skills and experience whilst every word you say is being judged and analysed. An hour later, you’ve finished and now you wait for the phone to ring, feeling you’ve done well but in reality none the wiser as to how you’ve done.

Whilst the recruitment world is moving on from the hard-to-answer question “what’s your greatest weakness?” to incorporate new intimidating techniques that are designed to measure every angle of your very being, here are 5 steps to engineering a successful interview.

Be prepared – use company “stalking” to your advantage

In a world where everything you need to know is a couple of clicks away, knowing about your next potential employer ahead of your interview is expected, and being prepared is seen as common courtesy. Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and the company’s website are goldmines for information that will help you feel confident and prepared.

Using these tools is not about cramming facts and figures into your brain but getting key pieces of information that can be used to your advantage. Mitch Fortner suggests heading over to the companies Facebook page to get a feel for the culture and overall vibe of the company. You may find some photos of employees in the office and can decide to dress extra professional or don business casual for the interview. You may find they have casual beers after work on a Wednesday and enter a 5-a-side football team into a local league. If socialising and football are two of your out of work passions, then that’s perfect to bring up in the interview.

Twitter is an excellent resource for seeing what dialogue the company and its employees have. What are they talking about? Have they announced a new tool or contract win? Are they tweeting about a upcoming event or product launch? These are all potential conversation starters for you to use and ask questions about.

Damia’s MD, Chris Bardoe, suggests using LinkedIn to find out who you’ll be meeting, whether it’s a HR representative or hiring manager. The questions you’ll be asked, the answers you give and the conversations you have will all differ, depending on who you are being interviewed by. When being interviewed by senior executives they will likely be focused on the ‘big picture’ rather than every minute responsibility you’ll have in the role, whereas if being interviewed by your direct line manager, they will want you to demonstrate exactly why you are the best person for the job and how you can solve their problems. Sometimes you will meet potential co-workers who will be interested in how you getting the job will make their lives easier; they may be struggling with a piece of software or design that you can relate to, so do share your experience and explain how you could help.

First impressions count – get ready for small talk

Most candidates believe the interview starts when you’ve sat down and the first question is presented, this is not true. In fact, the moment you step into the venue you are being assessed. You’ll sign in at reception, be seated in the waiting area, then meet a member of the team who will take you through to the interview area and offer you a drink and comment on the weather. First impressions count and before the interview has formally started, you have met several new people and had plenty of opportunity to make great first impressions. They will be asked for their feedback, so be prepared!

If you don’t feel comfortable in unfamiliar situations, there are several books and videos online that can give you tips on how to smile, say hello and shake someone’s hand the correct way. I suggest reading How to Work a Room, by Susan RoeAne and Great Connections: Small Talk and Networking for Business People, by Anne Baber and Lynn Wayman. Both books are loaded with ideas on establishing rapport and maintaining conversations with people you’ve just met. Remember though, you don’t want to over do it, you are there for business, so should not waste the interviewers time. Let them take the lead and be prepared to engage in small talk.

Be a STAR – keep your responses short and positive

One of the biggest mistakes candidates make when interviewing is talking too much during the interview. When asked a competency based question such as, ‘give me an example of a time when xyz happened?’, you need to answer using the STAR method.

Situation – start by setting the scene, this will give the interviewer the context and background to the situation. An example may be ‘give me an example of a time when you had to work to a tight deadline?’ Your reply would need to include the details of the project, who you were working with and when and where it happened.

Task – next you need to outline your specific role within the situation. You need the interviewer to know what you were tasked with rather than what the rest of the team did. Start this with ‘I had to…’ rather than ‘we’.

Action – this is the most important part of the STAR answer because it highlights how you approached the situation. When talking through what happened remember to use ‘I had to…’ and ‘I did…’ and include plenty of detail without using acronyms and internal language from your current place of work. What you are trying to convey is how you assessed the problem and then decided upon the most appropriate response to the situation.

Result – the last part of to you answer should be a positive one and ideally one that can be quantified e.g. ‘I managed to get the amendments to the designs completed and signed off within an hour which …’, ‘there was an increase of 15%’, or ‘saving the team 5 hours’.

The interviewer will want to know what you learnt and if there was anything that you would do differently the next time you’re faced with that situation. The interviewer is also assessing from your answers how you can help solve their problem, so always be mindful of this in your replies.

Turn the interview into a 2 way conversation – ask questions

Interviewing is more than just supplying artful answers to the interviewers questions, you need to be just as prepared as them for when the tables turn. Towards the end of the interview you will be asked if you have any questions, the interviewer is not trying to be polite but gauge whether you are informed, interested and engaged. Not having any questions is a red flag. Try to relate any questions back to STAR answers you’ve given earlier in the interview as this will help demonstrate the value you can add.

Firstly, you should look to qualify anything about the position that hasn’t already been covered in the job spec or interview. You want these questions to be well-thought out and meaningful to the role so think carefully before the interview what you would like to know and don’t ask questions you already know the answer to. Examples could be: ‘if successful what will my first week look like?’, ‘what are the biggest challenges someone in the position faces?’, and ‘what are the expectations of this position over the first 3, 6, and 12 months?’

Next you want to ask questions that allow you to highlight strengths and accomplishments you weren’t able to cover in the interview. ‘What types of skills is the team missing that you’re looking to fill with a new hire?’ and ‘Is there anything that concerns you about my background being a fit for this role?’.

Finding out any red flags is important, but is hard to do tactfully, asking questions such as ‘Can you tell me about the team I’ll be working with?’ and ‘Where have successful employees previously in this position progressed to?’ will let you know more about the culture of the company and career progression for the role. Also ask about the future to give you an understanding of where the company is going. Asking ‘What can you tell me about your new products or plans for growth?’ will give you an idea of what your role could entail in the future.

Close the interview strongly – maintain control

Lastly, you need to wrap up by asking about the next steps in the interview process and if there is anything else you can provide that would be helpful for the interviewer, which, will bring the interview to a natural close.

Finally, always close the interview by thanking the interviewer for their time and letting them know you will be available to speak should they have any further questions.

By Ben Wiltshire

Tuesday 25th April 2017