Monday 23 September 2019

Fail to prepare? Then prepare to fail as an interviewee or an interviewer

Stock image
Stock image

Gina London

Much has been made recently about a certain job interview during which a certain interviewer asked a certain interviewee a certain inappropriate question.

If you're not sure what I'm talking about, don't worry about it. Instead, no matter if you may be giving or receiving the questions, why don't we all take a moment for an effective interview refresher course?

I'm writing to you this week from New York, where I'm moderating a two-day UNICEF event at the United Nations.

I just returned to my hotel room after spending four hours running through the planned programme with my client.

Together, we examined our information about the various speakers and their presentation themes, refined the questions I may be asking, and collectively clarified goals for the event's outcome.

This is part of an active preparation for any communications event. The strategies are the same that you would apply to an interview.

1 Research the business

Lord almighty, this one is so obvious, but I'm constantly shocked by how few people make time to do it properly.

If you're the candidate, I don't mean take two seconds to ask Google Maps for directions to the company where your interview is or to just research which side the visitors parking lot is located. I mean really do some digging.

Obviously, you should have knowledge about the industry sector you are seeking to work in. So, get more focused. Look up the prospective organisation's website and don't stop at the home page. Go deeper. Explore their "About" page. What's their history? You might be surprised what you discover.

For instance, an executive at Cook Medical in Limerick was once interested in having me work with him and his team but he said he might have difficulty getting approval for an outside consultant who didn't have a specific background in medical devices.

Before putting together my proposal, I researched the firm and learned it is a private company headquartered in Bloomington, Indiana.

Bloomington happens to also be the headquarters for Indiana University. My alma mater. I played up my Indiana roots as part of my proposal and got the job.

2 Research the people

Next, get personal. Read about the company's officers. Who's their managing director? Who's the head of the department you may be working in? If you're being interviewed by someone in HR, look up the folks in that department too.

Then cross reference them on LinkedIn or Twitter. Take notes. What do they like? Do you share interests with someone? That can make for professional rapport building during an interview.

On the other side of the desk, you need to research too. If you will be conducting the interview and you have the candidate's CV, don't just read it five minutes before they arrive. Go online well beforehand and investigate their social profile.

You have a responsibility to be prepared as much as the candidate. After all, as the representative of the employer, you are acting as a brand ambassador.

How you behave during the interview is a critical, and potentially legally liable, reflection of the organisation.

3 List questions and answers

If you're the candidate, take 30 minutes and write out expected questions and your positive responses. Try to incorporate real-life examples of how you added value in a previous job or how you overcame a conflict or managed a team or whatever.

If you're stuck for ideas, you can go online and find a myriad of expert interview Q&As. Select the ones that seem right for you and the company you are aiming for. Don't be caught off-guard and stumble through an answer.

Likewise, if you're the interviewer, you should write down the specific questions that are most relevant for the job your organisation is attempting to fill.

These will help you organise your thoughts and add structure to the meeting. It's not fair to a candidate who spent hours in preparation to sit across from an aimless interviewer who clearly hasn't prepared.

Your candidate should feel safe and guided through a process with you at the helm.

4 Practice speaking aloud

Once you've written your questions (and answers if you're the candidate), practice hearing yourself speak them aloud. It's not enough to read silently to yourself. It helps your muscle memory and eliminates fillers like "ahem" and "you-know" when you actually sit up, look forward and deliver with feeling.

If, at any point, you as a candidate are asked a question you feel is inappropriate or makes you feel uncomfortable, my first recommendation is to answer their question with a question which gives your interviewer an opportunity to correct the situation.

"I'm sorry, could you clarify that please?" is a first-round response if you feel the interviewer made an innocent mistake asking about age, religion, marital status or any number of inappropriate or possibly illegal questions.

"That's not an issue as to how I'd perform this job" is another response you can use to handle an off-limits inquiry. Obviously, if the interviewer is completely out of line, you can always politely end the interview and leave. You wouldn't want to work there anyway.

But if you do want the job, I strongly urge you to prepare, prepare, prepare.

How was your last interview? A dream or a nightmare? Write to Gina in care of SundayBusiness@independent.ie

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