Our Business Unit Manager for our People Department Kirstie Langan is used to interviews, after all, they are a key part of her role within Apollo. Given the current climate, she has chosen to share some of her top tips for interviews that she has learned over the years.
As someone who has been involved in technical recruitment for longer than I care to remember, one thing I’m frequently asked about is interviewing and how to give yourself the best chance of success. Here are a few of my top tips to prepare for success;
- Be early… but not too early! Many years ago, I recall turning up to an interview 30 minutes early, thinking I was being very professional and demonstrating my enthusiasm for the job. The interviewer rolled his eyes when the receptionist told him I had arrived – I was confused and disappointed by this reaction but I now realise, as someone who interviews regularly, being too early can be nearly as frustrating as being too late when you’re running a tight interviewing schedule! Also – I always recommend taking a drive to the location a day or two before the interview. Discovering on the way to an interview that an office isn’t where you thought it was or a new one-way system has been put in place can be VERY unsettling
- Think about things you’ve done really well (in and out of work) and write down a few examples.Perhaps completing a tricky project ahead of schedule, for example, effectively handling a performance management issue. In your interview, particularly if it is competency-based, you will need to think of examples of times you’ve demonstrated certain behaviours. By having a ‘suite’ of your own personal success stories fresh in your mind, you will find that you are better prepared for these questions
- Get specific! If you are asked about a previous job, explain specifically what YOUR role was and wherever possible use volumes and values to describe your performance. For example, ‘I was in a team of 5 people and annually we were responsible for executing 70 projects with project values ranging from £45k to £800k. I had 2 direct reports and I personally focussed on projects for nuclear clients’. It can be really hard work for an interviewer to seek out the details they require so it’s very refreshing when a candidate can clearly paint a picture
- Remember that nobody has done everything! In your interview, you may be asked if you have done something previously, which is new to you. Ahead of the interview, think of some examples of when you have quickly picked up a new skill and the process you used to get up to speed. So instead of just responding ‘no’ to this question, you can say ‘I haven’t done this previously, but in my last role I was required to do X which was brand new to me and this is how I ensured I was competent and effective swiftly’.
- Buy yourself time. Feeling under pressure when you’re struggling to find an answer is no fun. This sounds strange, but ensure you have a drink of water to hand, taking a sip of your drink can give you a few valuable seconds to consider your response fully. Also, a simple ‘that’s a really interesting question’ while you think, is a great way to give yourself some breathing space
- If you’re nervous, that is ok. Many of the best hires I’ve ever made have been of people who were clearly nervous during my interview with them. If the role you are going for requires you to be very cool under pressure (think sales, crisis management, complaint handling etc) – then being extremely nervous during an interview MAY be detrimental to your chances, but for most jobs, it won’t be. If you are feeling nervous, just be honest saying something like ‘I need to tell you, I’m really nervous because this opportunity means a lot to me’ can actually improve your chances of success as it shows openness and humility as well as enthusiasm for the role
- Weaknesses are important! Often people ask about your strengths and weaknesses in the interview. Whilst you do not want to talk about a weakness that could lose you the job, you need to show you are self-aware and recognise your areas for development. Ahead of the interview, think of the things you’re best at and the things that need work. For the things that need work, what are you doing about it? You want to honestly declare your development needs but also show that you are committed to improvement. Perhaps something like, ‘I used to find that I was working 60hrs a week and was really burning myself out – I realised that I needed to manage my time better so started using a new system to ensure my direct reports had more autonomy as well as time blocking for all my reporting tasks. This meant that I cut back to 40hrs and actually became more effective and produced better results as I regained balance in my life’
- And finally… be yourself – in any interview, the key is to give an accurate, professional and positive picture of yourself. It sounds like SUCH a cliché but I’m a firm believer that if you do this and the job really is the perfect job for you, then you’ll get it. If you don’t get the job, then you’re better off waiting for something even more wonderful that will appear further down the line. This December, many many people find themselves under intense pressure to get back to work and that is a dreadfully stressful position to be in – I know this from first-hand experience during the last oil downturn when I found myself, right before Christmas, being made redundant. We had a toddler and another baby on the way, I was the main breadwinner, and my husband was at risk of redundancy. I was suffering a complicated pregnancy and it felt like the walls were crashing down around me. But…. I had love around me, support from friends and family who cared about me and was lucky to have parents who offered for myself and my young family to come and live with them if it came to it. It gave me perspective and reminded me that whilst my problems were big and real, they were (in time) going to come right. The market would improve, and my family would have somewhere to sleep. All did come right, after a very bumpy year or so, and looking back, all the people who said ‘it will be ok in the end’ – though frustrating at the time, were absolutely right!