There is much information abounding on interviews and being interviewed available online on the
websites of :
but also to assure yourself that this company and this job in particular is for you. So what is it
that YOU need to know a...
intercultural issues are familiar – my mother is an international manager and I have lived,
been educated and done my stag...
candidates: this positive differentiation got him the job. He enabled them to see what could
not be shown on paper....the ...
person with what sort of experience, capabilities and qualifications could best handle
international liaison? Perhaps you ...
/ successes and disasters. Usually interviewees prepare well for the ‘strengths’ side of the
equation, but are very uncert...
interview a line like: “Well, at the Tourism Society Seminar in June, most delegates seemed to
think that people were gett...
If you were genuinely interested and you were on the short list, possibly the second candidate,
reconfirm your interest in...
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Interviews Keynote


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Interviews Keynote

  1. 1. Interviews. There is much information abounding on interviews and being interviewed available online on the websites of : • Universities who want their graduates to get jobs (Such as the University of Kent, which has a particularly good resource of this type with advice, detailed dummy interview questions by career area etc). SEE the links provide at the top level of my ‘One Off Topics’ page on Tonyversity2. British Universities are very much into this type of support because the government evaluates them in part by the numbers of their students who are gainfully employed at the appropriate level within 6 months of graduation and rates and pays them accordingly. • Recruitment agencies who clearly want to support their applicant clients and enhance their chances of being employed in the shortest possible time... so that they can get paid. Find these by simple online search, typical examples being: o Manpower o Select • Public Service Organisations, the BBC, for example have developed quite a raft of practical advice and media programmes / podcasts etc in this regard. o A story about 47% of cvs having grammar and spelling errors and poor proofing o Lying on a cv • State Departments, Ministries and their various agencies working in the field of education and employment, eg: o Northern Ireland Careers Service advice on interviews o UK JobcentrePlus However, I want to go beyond the general ‘Dos and Don’ts’ to fill you in on some realities which are not written about concerning interviews..... Understanding the Role of the Interview and preparing for it. Before you start rehearsing all the possible questions you might be asked, there are a number of things upon which you should reflect: 1. The interview is a two-way process: the employer needs to be sure that you fit his requirements and you need to be sure that the company, position, responsibilities, opportunities, remuneration and context fit your requirements. Employers tend to forget this, but labour turnover tells us that most people leave jobs within the first six months because the job was not what they thought it was: such a situation is irritating for both parties who wind up back where they were: seeking new employment and a new employee. You owe it to yourself to find out as much as you can about the organisation company as you can – not just to drop into the interview some interesting information that shows you have done your ‘homework’,
  2. 2. but also to assure yourself that this company and this job in particular is for you. So what is it that YOU need to know about the organisation and the job? Far too often younger applicants ask questions that put interviewers off (because they show only short term personal gain) or show that you haven’t made the slightest effort to read the website: o How long are the holidays? o Are there any bonuses paid with the salary? o How well is the company performing/what is its strategy? Better questions might show something about you, your hopes for the future and your commitment to the company.... these might include: o What are the career progression opportunities within the company..... where might you expect to see me in 5 years time? o Are there professional development / education and training opportunities offered within the organisation as there are always skills for a manager to hone and new techniques and approaches to learn and develop? o I am a member of the xxxxxxxxxx (Industry Professional Body), are people working here in membership themselves? o What is the strategic future within the organisation for the business unit within which this post resides? Such sorts of questions show that you are thinking and planning ahead, that you are motivated, you see yourself looking for a career (not just a job until something better turns up) and you are interested in self-development. All these things speak volumes to an employer and may help mark you down as a potentially successful candidate. All good interviewers know the two-way nature of the interview and the importance of making sure that the potential employee has all his questions about the post answered so that he gets no unwelcome shocks once he commences employment. I have seen research suggesting that the cost of losing a manager and replacing him (a quantification of all the direct and indirect costs) can be as much as €50,000. As a result, employers are increasingly aware that it is in their interests to allow candidates to ask questions at interview. Candidates who are given the opportunity to ask questions and do not take it up are often sending a negative message to their prospective employer, so make sure that you DO have questions to ask and they are ones which are important to you and send a positive message to the interviewer. 2. The employer is looking to separate and distinguish you from other candidates in order to narrow down the field of perhaps 5 to 10 to the one or two candidates upon whom he/she will then concentrate. If you are just leaving university, although you will be well qualified academically, your qualifications and the majority of your stage experiences are likely to be very similar. How, then is the employer going to single you out positively from the rest....? It has to be on the basis of other things. Have you been able to give him / her a clue as to what these things might be in your cv or covering letter? If you have, he is likely to have spotted these and to want to explore them with you. If not, you have missed an opportunity and are going to have to find a way to get this critical information into the interview, perhaps by means of ‘throwing him a line’ as part of an answer to a question: “...of course, for me the
  3. 3. intercultural issues are familiar – my mother is an international manager and I have lived, been educated and done my stages in 5 countries and four different languages.” Often people make the mistake in devaluing critical information by not developing it or putting it in the wrong place on a cv. An example: o A student who listed the single word ‘Basketball’ under a bland ‘Sports and Hobbies’ heading. It turned out that he had played for the National Under 21 team, had taken all his coaching exams to become fully qualified and had trained a team of 13-15 year old students to win their league two years running. That, he said, “Has nothing to do with a job, has it...” Really? Excellence? Commitment to long term training at the highest of levels? Technical ability to learn? Ability to successfully train, develop, interest, motivate and manage a medium-sized team of people that are generally regarded as ‘difficult’ to organise? If that is not evidence of ‘Management’ then I don’t know what is! Perhaps this should have been developed on his cv not under ‘Hobbies’, but under a titles like: ‘Further Training’, ‘Responsibilities’ or ‘Skills Developed’. A good interviewer would pick this up and develop it with questions like: “How could you bring this experience and your skills to bear in our organisation?” That is a predictable question one could prepare for in advance, and it could just turn out to be THE differentiator that the employer is looking for. He’d remember it: “You know – the Basketball guy...” Another spectacularly successful example of positive differentiation: one of my Masters graduates was called for interview for a post managing the development and expansion plans of a fast-growing group of wine bars in London. As part of the interview he was to give a 30- 45 minute presentation of what he saw as a strategic vision for the Group. He provided two valuable differentiators in the time between the interview invite and the interview itself that set him apart such that even before the interview the company felt that (provided his presentation was not a disaster) they would be appointing him. What on earth might these have been and why did they have such an effect........? He asked first for permission to visit some of the bars and to be able to talk to the managers thereof. Then, secondly, once he had prepared his presentation and some while before the interview, he asked if he could try out his presentation in-situ in the Company’s Boardroom to ensure his technology was compatible with theirs. No other applicants did anything like this. What positive things did this demonstrate: o Commitment: he went further than anyone else to ensure he had the best material and the best chances of presenting it successfully o Listening: before forming a firm opinion he sought to see and experience the product and to speak to those providing from whose knowledge and experience he could benefit. A good sign for any manager, because the human resource is critically expensive and is the key to service quality. o Strategic approach: he went about things logically both in the research & production and did all he could do to quality-assure his own presentation in both the production and the delivery. He did in fact get the job after which he discovered that he was the ‘last pick’ invitee to interview and almost didn’t make the shortlist.....and that ALL the other candidates were from Oxford or Cambridge universities with far greater prestige. Clearly the latter thought that qualification + reputation => job guarantee: mistake! My student beat them by wanting the job enough to be prepared to show he would work at it and go further than the other
  4. 4. candidates: this positive differentiation got him the job. He enabled them to see what could not be shown on paper....the others didn’t – simple as that. I am not saying that you have to do exactly this...but you DO have to help the interviewer discriminate positively in your favour to a far greater extent than he can do with other competitor candidates. 3. The Person Specification: the employer’s key to differentiation. If you have taken the trouble to ask for and closely scrutinise the Person Specification, you may well reflect that you are looking at the menu of things the interviewer wants to ensure he gets in the person he appoints. Ideally he wants as much as he can get. Often you will find that employers express their requirements in terms of Essential and Desirable capabilities / qualifications / experience / qualities. You will find yourself invited to interview normally only when you have shown yourself on paper to have the essentials. You are likely to find that the interview will do two things: first, double-check that meeting you in reality confirms their initial impression that you really do have all the essentials; secondly to delve into the desirables in order to see what added value you might provide to the post. You may find that this turns things on their head rather and that things you perhaps considered to be more ‘marginal’ become the things that help to positively differentiate you in the mind of the interviewer. So USE the Person Specification (PS) in your interview preparation (Employers are using it more and moiré because they realise that the cost of replacing lost staff is enormous – they want to get it ‘right first time’) : o In terms of the essentials: what particular compelling evidence do you have to confirm that you possess all they are looking for? Even if they don’t ask the specific question, try to find a way of bringing in another essential into another answer. For each essential you should have a positive argument. Sometimes no candidate have every essential, so it can also help if you know you are short in some way on some component, to show you are addressing the issue positively by taking training, joining a professional association, considering doing and MBA etc. o In terms of the desirables: audit yourself against them, make a compelling argument where you are particularly strong. For example you may not actually have worked internationally, but if you have travelled extensively, studied abroad, or acted in a multi-cultural milieu at home/at university, this may be convincing enough if you can show that you have developed some international / inter-cultural capability as a result which you can now apply.. o Be prepared for some interviewers to be using an interview evaluation sheet which mirrors the essentials and desirables on the PS and the extent to which you seem to embody them. They may also have further comments to make on the form regarding personal qualities: confidence, composure under pressure, clarity of explanation..... This is becoming more commonplace in larger organisations where HRM departments are directly involved in the interviewing process But what if there is no Person Specification? Well, you can probably make up your own PS from closely reading the Job Description. For instance, if the JD notes: “post-holder responsible for liaison with international offices”, then you might ask yourself: what sort of
  5. 5. person with what sort of experience, capabilities and qualifications could best handle international liaison? Perhaps you might conclude: someone who has done an International Business Management degree or masters programme, who has worked in inter-cultural teams/environment, is a strong communicator and perhaps speaks a variety of languages.... you then have a pretty good unwritten ‘hitlist’ of employer requirements against to which to audit yourself. You might be even more impressive at interview by showing yourself to be sensitive to the company’s needs. For example, were you asked: ‘What makes you think you are suitable for the post’, you might say: ‘Well, it occurs to me that international liaison involves this......., and that the person who can do this probably has ‘x’ experience, ‘y’ qualification and ‘Z’ personal skills.... I feel I fit the bill because.............’ That shows logical thinking and much analysis. What employer could want more? 4. Rehearsal. Once you have thoroughly audited yourself against the criteria in the Person Specification, do look at interview rehearsal sites (see Tonyversity2 ‘One Off Lectures’ pages for links to such sites), which often provide dummy sets of questions typically used by interviewers for positions within certain functions eg ‘Sales Manager’. Some, like the Kent University Careers site offer suggested answers to awkward questions. Have a look! Buddy- buddy with a friend who is also seriously looking for jobs (but not directly competing with you) and give him/her the PS and ask him/her to actually interview you. Having a third person there may also help you: someone who can make notes on your performance. It is increasingly rare these days to be interviewed by just one person – especially for larger organisations with HRM departments: often it may be two or three: one from HRM plus one or two (a superior and a colleague) from the business function/department where the post is situated. Getting used to more than one person asking questions might help you considerably. On the day. I am not about to go into the general do’s and don’ts of dressing properly, being on time etc – these are either obvious, or the stuff of just about every interview help-sheet available from university careers offices, but rather to concentrate upon things that are rarely said. Provided you have done your homework on the organisation, audited yourself against the Person Specification, and done some rehearsal, you should have no fears of the interview and will perform to your best. If there happens to be someone with more experience who is more highly qualified you may well not get the job.... but at least you will know you were the best on the day that you could have been. Some personal advice on key points :- 1. Questions you don’t want to hear which appear to ask you to admit to weaknesses or problems. Often employers will ask you about your personal or career strengths and weaknesses
  6. 6. / successes and disasters. Usually interviewees prepare well for the ‘strengths’ side of the equation, but are very uncertain quite what to do with the ‘weaknesses’. You need to appreciate that employers know that everyone has limits / faults /problems.... the question they are really asking you is whether you are aware of them and what you are seeking to do with them. As long as you don’t admit to some massive disaster of a failure and bury yourself and any hope of the job, then you should be able to think in advance of something that you are seeking to improve and which you are actively addressing. If, in addition you can show that this is an issue that all managers are struggling with, so much the better. Let me give you an illustration: “OK, Mr Jolley, you’ve spoken about your strengths and successes....; now what about your biggest weakness?.......” I might reply..... “Well, all managers and students struggle with the same tension between producing volume and quality. I perhaps tend to more naturally towards quality than volume, but in recognition of the importance of volumes out output, I’ve been looking at my personal efficiency and effectiveness. I have enrolled upon time management seminars and endeavoured to adopt personal strategies to improve my volume of output. Working electronically with email and the www, I am particularly interested in recent research into email use and how to stop it crowding out productive time.” That shows that you admit to a typical ‘weakness’ that we ALL have in reconciling two opposing forces (your interviewer will share it too), that you are self-aware, that you have taken steps to do something about it and are steadily improving as a result. A good interviewee will have prepared something like this beforehand (you can see the question arising in 20 or 30% of interviews) and will see it as an opportunity to turn a negative into a positive. That, above all, is what the employer wants to see...... either of the two alternatives (providing a long list of weaknesses with no idea of how you are addressing any of them or claiming you have no weaknesses at all) is clearly unacceptable. 2. Interest in Self Development. Employers know that the business environment (society, technology, economy, (natural) environment, political, regulatory and competitive) is changing all the time and that as a result the company and its products and services will likewise need to change. It follows directly that management and managers themselves will have to change. Employers therefore need managers that are interested in change and in development: personal as much as organisational. Elsewhere I have recorded at length the experience of Marriott Hotels who were seeking to fill 40 high-fly post-graduate positions. With 2000 qualified applicants and the interviewing of the top 200.... they managed to recruit only 7. Just 7 from an exceptionally well-qualified pool of resources. Why? The Recruitment Manager in HRM suggested that so few applicants seemed to have any interest in self-development that he could not see how they could possibly be interested in or capable of developing Marriott if they were not apparently interested in developing themselves. The implication is that you need to be able to demonstrate an interest in self-development. Are you perhaps thinking about an MBA? Do you want to ask questions about conference / seminar and networking opportunities to be able to keep up with the latest developments in the field..... Is there an in-house professional development scheme within the company, etc............ 3. Me Too... the ‘Halo’ Effect. People often like recruiting people like themselves. Occasionally you will see company recruiters seeking stages/employees from their old universities, for instance. So how might you show yourself to be like the interviewer(s)? You don’t know them and haven’t perhaps met them... but, for example, do you take the same professional journal do you belong to the same professional organisation? For example, if you were to go for a Tourism job in the UK, you will find that the Tourism Society is the premier industry professional organisation and that many in industry are members (particularly in the public sector). To be able to drop into the
  7. 7. interview a line like: “Well, at the Tourism Society Seminar in June, most delegates seemed to think that people were getting tired of technology in holiday search and that there could be a resurgence of the role of the good old human Travel Consultant...” Probably someone interviewing you will be impressed by your membership and your interest in keeping up to date, if he happens also to be a member, he is perhaps already thinking ‘Ah, someone like me... I could work with this person...’. What if he were to ask you: “OK, you have been a Tourism degree / masters student for x years – have you joined any of the industry professional bodies?”... ‘No’ is hardly going to be an impressive answer, is it? What does that lack of professional vision and commitment ‘say’ to a prospective employer? 4. Interviews / role-plays with other candidates. Employers sometimes want to kill two birds with one stone: see someone in action rather than in words; see people in a situation enabling them to be compared. Can you always tell what someone can DO from what they say? Hardly. Where important posts ore concerned employers often try to get to see people in action simultaneously in a problem-solving situation. They are looking for leadership, yes, but also for teamwork and analysis. However, in my view, interviewers are not always so good at evaluating what they see: is the quiet person in the corner shy, not a team player, or is he resisting the temptation to rush ahead and is puzzling through the problem before making a real quality contribution? How should he be evaluated compared to the self-appointed ‘leader’ who is taking on a role without much idea what to do with it? One contribution is loud and negative and visible; the other is quiet and potentially positive but invisible. My best tip would be to concentrate on the problem and a way of attacking it that has some logic about it that you can explain simply and justify to others rather than just dash into an unseemly competition to become a leader of you know not what heading you know not where. If an employer / interviewer cannot see that and respect it, then perhaps he isn’t worthy of you! 5. Selling yourself too low..... You may actually get asked what sort of salary you will want. What will you say? Two forces are at work: you don’t want to lose the job so you don’t want to pitch it too high.... you don’t want to pitch it too low because the employer might think you think you are not worth that much. My advice?..... You will probably know the salary range for the job from the job Advert / Job Description: (depending upon your present salary) pitch it towards the middle / top of the range and give a good justification for it (it is a leap in will have to move house, home and family, it is a fair improvement upon your current salary..etc). You can always add: “Clearly I wouldn’t like to lose the job for the sake of a few 100€, but I really do feel that I am worth the salary as I stated...” In my experience and knowledge, if the employer thinks you are the right person, but feels that to fit in with others at the same level he needs to settle a bit lower than you were liking, he is always going to come back to you to see if he can ‘beat you down a bit’ rather than go for the second best candidate. If he says: “You need to come down 2000€ on the salary you wanted”... you could always treat this as an opener to a negotiation: see if he will split the difference with you (1000)... but add “Can I have a salary review after 6 months in which I can prove my worth with a view to recovering this 1000”. You’ve interviewed well.... but you didn’t get it Do you just leave it there???? No you don't!
  8. 8. If you were genuinely interested and you were on the short list, possibly the second candidate, reconfirm your interest in a call to the interviewer / HRM dept representative / manager. You never know: their first choice candidate may let them down /get a better offer. If you are genuine interested and the company does have other posts coming up – being 'kept on file' or asking if there are any other posts for which you may be considered just could be a way of landing a job directly. Don't neglect it. It is also good practice [particularly when you feel the interview went brilliantly and you still didn't get the post] to attempt to find out quite why. It may be something you can deal with easily – perhaps even something you were not aware of at all which you can rectify in time for the next selection procedure you face – thus increasing your chances in the future. It may feel awkward to ring up and ask someone to tell you your interview weaknesses, but you may find interviewers very helpful if you show yourself interested.