I’ve recently sat on both sides of the job interview process. Both were successful, so in the following two posts, I’ll record how I approached each of them. I am not an expert; these are just my own views recorded in the hope that they may be useful.
Before you apply
Spend some time considering what you are looking for in a job. Think about your primary motivators:
- Are you looking for career progression now, or for a step sideways which you hope will open up future opportunities?
- Is it all about the paycheck, or do you want more time at home?
- Does the raison d’être of the organization matter to you? Is what you are doing as important as whom you are doing it for?
- How much time and money are you willing to spend commuting?
- Are you willing to relocate?
Read the job description carefully. Go and do something else for a while and then read it again. Pay close attention to the essential criteria (more on that later). Ask yourself whether you:
- could do the job.
- would like to do the job.
- would get the right kind of work/life balance.
- would earn enough money.
On the last point, be realistic – both about what you need to earn and what the market is offering for the role type that you are considering. If a salary range is advertised, don’t apply if the top of that range is not going to be enough in the short term. Clearly it is different if the starting salary is lower than you would like, but the opportunities are there and you can manage. I’ve known several people (including myself) who have taken a pay cut to move to a job which ultimately proved to be the better choice in terms of career progression. A CxO at the first company I worked at told us how it was his move sideways which gave him the broad skillset he needed to take on a more senior role. Having said that, sometimes you need to change jobs to increase your salary. Also, having a higher salaried job can make you appear more valuable, however perverse that may seem.
The application process
Assuming you now wish to apply for the job, read any documentation around the process provided by the organisation. Some observations:
- This part is all about getting an interview.
- The only view of you the organisation has is what you send them.
- If you exaggerate your abilities or experience, this will be picked up in interview in most cases.
- Be honest.
- Don’t be falsely modest – the application is your chance to sell yourself.
- Be terse – this is not an English essay. People on the other side may be reading many applications. The easier it is to read yours, the better your chances.
- Is there an application form, or are they looking for a CV? Similar principals apply to both but make sure you do the right one.
- Pick out the essential criteria. A good application form will make it easy for you to demonstrate how you meet these. If the application form has space for a supporting statement, or if it is a CV application, make sure your supporting statement clearly demonstrates how you meet the essential and desirable criteria. One popular technique is to simply list the criteria as headings with a short paragraph for each one.
- Use real examples. Here is a slightly contrived one:
Candidate must be able to interact with staff at all levels of the organisation.
In my current role, I spend two hours a week on the helpdesk, fielding calls from staff experiencing issues with their wireless Internet access. I have assisted everyone from the CxO to the receptionist, and once I have prioritised the call, I aim to provide the same level of service to all. I received an award for my consistent performance in this area.
- Try to use examples that people without in-depth knowledge of the situation will be able to understand.
- Avoid jargon.
- Get someone to proofread your application.
- Applying for a job takes a long time if you do it right.
The job interview
The interview is two-way:
- The organisation is trying to determine whether you are suitable for the job both in terms of ability and organisation fit.
- You should be trying to determine whether you would like to work with these people in the environment they work in.
The first is obvious; the second may not be. You will probably be asked whether you have any questions towards the end of the interview, so you may wish to have some prepared. Was anything not covered by the job specification? For example:
- Other benefits (pension, healthcare, mobile phone, bonus, etc.)
- Holiday allowance
- Official working hours
- Actual hours worked by the team on an average week
- Overtime arrangements
- Any regular out of hours commitments
- What the culture is like
- What social activities are organised
- Flexible working arrangements
- Probation period
- Any details about the kind of work you would be doing, projects or immediate tasks
Try to anticipate the kinds of questions you may be asked. Review your application before going to the interview and have examples of how you meet the essential criteria fresh in your mind. Be clear on why you want the job. If the job requires technical skills, make sure you review any relevant study notes. If you have a qualification, try to be a close as you can to the level you were the day you passed the exam – especially if it is an essential criteria. If you don’t, somebody else will.
Some other thoughts:
- Be smart.
- Don’t speak too quickly or too slowly.
- Make eye contact when you shake hands.
- Make you grip firm, not floppy or bone-crushing.
- Plan your route to the interview carefully.
- Allow enough time to get there.
- Try to get enough sleep the night before.
- Read up on the organisation.
- You cannot over-prepare.
- Be yourself.
- Don’t interrupt the panel.
- Listen to the questions carefully.
- Ask for clarification if you are not sure.
- Check that you answered the question.
- Don’t be afraid to say “I don’t know”. Never try to fudge an answer to something you don’t know about.
- If there is a second interview, make sure your read up on anything you got wrong the first time.
If you are asked to do a presentation:
- Have multiple copies of any slideshows with you.
- Keep slides simple.
- Use prompt cards. Punch a hole in them and tie some string through it to hold them all in order.
- Time yourself – stay within any time limits you are given.
- Keep in mind the general interview points above while presenting.
- Research the topic thoroughly.
- Some humor can help, but don’t overdo it.
It has been said that it is always easier to get a job if you have one. I’m sure that is true, as you will likely be more relaxed, and the employer can see you are employable. If you are unemployed, consider volunteering. It can help raise your self-esteem, and prove to potential employers that you are reliable. It may also lead to a paid job.
Remember that you are going through this process to ascertain whether the job is right for you and you are right for the job. It is not about tricking anyone into hiring you, but showing yourself in your best light to some people you may work with one day. If you prepare well, then there is nothing to stop you doing this. If you don’t get the first job you go for, don’t worry. Learn from the experience and try again. The right job is out there for you somewhere.