Interview Preparation Part 1 – Use the job description
Michelle Hiseman, Career Counsellor at CV Writers, advises on the importance of reading the job description before interview.
Research, prepare and practice
Good preparation for an interview will significantly increase your chances of success. As soon as you decide to apply for a job, remember to download the advert and candidate pack onto your computer because the web link could be taken down at any time. Alongside thorough research into the organisation and role, the job description/person specification is the most important source of information because it outlines the knowledge, skills and personal attributes which are important to the role. It will be used by the recruiter to draft their questions and set the interview strategy.
Read the introductory information
Avoid skipping past the section introducing the role and the organisation. It often contains useful information about the culture, where the role fits within the organisation and corporate values. A role in the public sector will require a different approach to one based in a private firm, as would working for a large international organisation versus a small local company. Your interview answers will need to be tailored to the specific role, culture and organisation you are applying for.
Anticipate question topics
In the section listing the main duties, analyse each element and ask yourself ‘How do I do this?’ and ‘Which competencies/skills do I use?’ Answers could include communication, delegation, attention to detail, negotiation or managing conflict.
Consider the following from two jobs recently advertised:
Ability to prepare accounts and manage client portfolios.
Work with colleagues across the business to investigate and resolve queries.
You will need more than a thorough knowledge of accounting procedures to undertake these tasks. Both require communication, the ability to build relations, gain trust, resolve issues, good attention to detail and work with minimal supervision. However, the first is more client focused and the second is more centred on internal relationships, working across functions at all levels. Therefore, the interview questions testing communication skills may be quite different:
Tell me about a time when you had to use your communication skills to resolve a difficult issue with a client.
Describe a time when you disagreed with a senior level colleague. How did you resolve the issue?
The Person Specification will highlight the personal qualities which are most important to the role, such as:
The ability to work both independently and as a team.
Capable of working to tight deadlines.
Brainstorm how these can be translated into questions, for example:
Describe a time when you worked in a team.
Do you prefer working independently or as part of a team?
Tell me about a time when you have failed to meet a deadline.
How do you organise your work to ensure you meet your deadlines?
Also, note the areas where you might not match the criteria - ignore these at your peril. Be prepared to deal with gaps in your CV, skill set and experience and consider how you will present these ‘weak’ areas in a positive way.
Competency based questions require specific examples, not generic or theoretical answers, however, short examples can also be useful to illustrate your point for other types of questions. One example scenario can be used for more than one question topic - a large project you worked on could include examples of technical skills, working as team and ability to work to tight deadlines. Try to avoid referring to one scenario more than three times. Where possible prepare a couple of examples for the most importance competencies required for the role.
Know the Vision, Mission and Values
Good candidate packs will have these stated and most organisations have them on their website, although not always easy to find. Use your search engine to key in the organisation name plus the word ‘values’ and you should connect directly to the elusive information. It is not unusual for recruiters to ask questions based around their values which can include integrity, collaboration, social responsibility and customer focus. For example:
Have you faced an ethical dilemma at work, if so, tell me about it and how you handled the situation? This question explores your integrity.
What would you do if you had to work with someone you did not get along with? Probes your ability to collaborate.
Always have the vision, mission and values in the back of your mind when preparing examples and ensure you demonstrate how your values match those of the organisation, across a range of answers. Before proceeding with the application, ask yourself ‘Do these values match my own?’ If the answer is no, consider applying for another role. A mismatch between values can lead to problems with your wellbeing and performance in the future.
This article is written by Michelle Hiseman, Career Counsellor at CV Writers.
CV Writers are the official CV partner to ACCA Careers.