Nailing that interview

I have interviewed hundreds of people during my 20 + year HR career; some have nailed it and others have been woeful, some due to nerves, others due to what I call completely ‘winging it!’ – these tips will help you to get a grip on those nerves, be prepared and able to think on your feet with an air of confidence!

I’d like to share with you a recent and very practical example of when I helped a close friend of mine prepare for a really important interview for a senior leadership position. Struggling with an unsupportive and ineffective leader, she was keen to move on, but wanted some tips so she could give it her best shot!

As we sat down on a cold Saturday afternoon in my lounge room with our cups of tea (we are both English expats!), the first thing she said to me was “I haven’t done an interview in 15 years!” Sound familiar? It’s pretty common that interviews can be few and far between so we get rusty and it could be what is holding us back from applying for that next role!

My friend let’s call her “Sharon” was already ahead of the game, she came with a folder with the job ad & position description printed along with several articles she had researched around the strategy for this organisation and other topical articles around her area of speciality. 

Planning is key! You need to know who’s who in the zoo; who are the key stakeholders, decision makers, who’s on the panel and what do they want the person who is successful in the role to deliver. You need to demonstrate during the interview you have done your research and why you want to work for them. I have read so many cover letters that don’t really convince me why the person wants to work for the organisation they are applying for. 

Big tick for planning, the next stage was to review the position description and anticipate based on the criteria for success in the role the kinds of questions she may get asked. This is where you need to draw on your experience and think of lots of examples about when you have demonstrated whatever skills or experience are required e.g. change management, influencing skills, problem solving etc. 

A useful model for answering these types of behavioural based questions is the S.T.A.R interview method where you structure your answers as follows:

  • Situation: Think of a situation similar to what the interviewer is asking you about that had a successful outcome. ...
  • Task: Describe the task you were responsible for in that situation. ...
  • Action: This is the part where you describe exactly what you did. ...
  • Result: What the outcome of the situation was and how you specifically contributed to that outcome. What did you accomplish? What did you learn? What were the results of your actions? 

It’s important to draw on your Emotional Intelligence and read the room and body language of those who are interviewing you. If they start glazing over, you’ll know your answers are too long, if they are asking lots of probing, follow up questions, add more depth to the next answer.

Of course, interviews aren’t just a one-way street; it’s all about you too finding out as much as you can about the position, it’s challenges, the people, the culture. You want to ensure there is a good technical and cultural fit. Have three to five questions prepared to ask at the end of the interview or as you go along where appropriate. 

Even if you don’t end up getting the role, you can learn so much about yourself when you reflect on an interview experience which will help you to nail the next one.

I’m delighted to advise that ‘Sharon” made it through to the next round, where she has to deliver a presentation! Next challenge…..and no doubt more tea to drink.

Author: Esther Colman is the Director of the HR Dept Eastern Suburbs Sydney who provide outsourced HR services, practical advice and people support for small to medium sized businesses. If you would like to talk to Esther about how she can help your business call 02 8052 3355. https://hrdept.com.au/franchisees/eastern-suburbs-sydney/

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