How to prepare and ace an interview

It is when you receive the email inviting you to an interview when the nerves creep in. It is a mixture of excitement and anticipation, then it dawns on you … ‘I had better prep for this.’

An interview shouldn’t be daunting. It is an opportunity. The Wonder Blog has created The Wonder Guide to Acing an Interview to give you career enhancing top tips from what to wear to how answer some of those difficult questions.

Do your research

So why do you want to work for the company you are interviewing for? What are their values? What social responsibility initiatives the organisation are working on? Get on their website and find out. Another useful tool is Glassdoor where you find out what employees say about the organisation!

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Operation outfit

Pulling from What to wear for an interview : When choosing an interview outfit, you don’t want to look over dressed or under dressed, so finding the right balance is key.

Depending on the industry you are in as well as the role you are applying for, will shape what you wear to the interview. It tends to be a little easier when interviewing for a corporate role in a corporate company say Finance Manager at HSBC Bank. You will want to

  • keep it simple
  • black, navy, plum, grey, beige
  • knee length
  • clean shoes
  • classic make up

TV Characters to build looks from – Donna Paulsen (Suits), Rachal Zane (Suits), Emily Rhodes (Designator Survivor), Hayes Morrison (Conviction).

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When entering into more creative organisations and roles like marketing, branding and fashion, e.g. Social Media Analyst at Harvey Nichols – It is worth taking a look at any google images (what are the staff wearing), check out their Instagram page and are their any photos from any company events?

It is also OK to ask the recruiter about the dress code. A polite question like ‘Is there a specific dress code at organisation X?’

Arrival

Be 15 minutes early, be polite to security/reception and make sure you when you are seated you are looking up smiling.

The journey from the reception desk to the interview room will involve small chit chat – you will certainly get asked – ‘how was your commute here?’ Reply positively even if it was a shocker!

You also could be asked ‘Where does your boss think you are today?’ – Don’t reply with anything that makes you sneaky! e.g. “I called in sick heehee…” best to play it cool with a breezy response “I am working from home today, I will be back online as soon as I get in.” or “I am using some leave today so I was able to get here with no pressure on rushing back to the office.”

Acing the Answers

Mostly, interviewees will be asked to introduce themselves and run through their CVs. Don’t get caught out with this one and start stumbling over your words, rehearse what you want you say. It is best to split it into sections: what you are doing now, what you have previously done and anything extra that you do (don’t make something up, if you don’t do anything extra, then keep the answer work focused) An example:

“I am currently the Service Delivery Manager at Company X, where I head up the services for finance. My responsibilities include leading a team, approving changes, building relationships with the business and managing our third parties. I have previously worked at Company Y where I had the opportunity to work in an agile environment where I designed and implemented the Service Management process by working with teams across the IT landscape and then lead workshop to promote the process. I also volunteer every other Saturday at the retirement home where I do puzzles and read with the residents.”

Other basic/standard intro questions will be around your strengths, areas to improve and how you prioritise your work.

The more challenging questions tend to require more thinking power and not having an answer to the question can often leave you with a blank expression with a poor answer.

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When planning your answers using the STAR method is a really useful tool.

STAR is an acronym for four key concepts. Each concept is a step you can utilise to answer a behavioural interview question. By employing all four steps, you can provide a comprehensive answer. The concepts in the acronym comprise the following:

Situation: Describe the context within which you performed a job or faced a challenge at work. For example, perhaps you were working on a group project, or you had a conflict with a coworker. This situation can be drawn from a work experience, a volunteer position, or any other relevant event. Be as specific as possible.

Task: Next, describe your responsibility in that situation. Perhaps you had to help your group complete a project within a tight deadline, resolve a conflict with a coworker, or hit a sales target. 

Action: You then describe how you completed the task or endeavoured to meet the challenge. Focus on what you did, rather than what your team, boss, or coworker did. (Tip: Instead of saying, “We did xyx,” say “I did xyz.”)

Result: Finally, explain the outcomes or results generated by the action taken. It may be helpful to emphasise what you accomplished, or what you learned.  

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Although STAR is a useful tool for approaching interview questions, it is also about knowing where and when to apply the method. Questions that begin with ‘Tell me about a time when’ or ‘Can you give me an example of a time when’ is a great opportunity to get the STAR examples out.

Questions like, what would you do in your first three months in this role can be answered more directly. Such as: “In the first three months I would want to get to know my colleagues, map out my key stakeholders and start building relationships. In my previous role, I organised 121’s with key business stakeholders as an introduction as well as a way to find out there expectations, I found this really useful as this helped formed my overall objectives for the probation period.”

Common complex questions

The truth is there are hundreds of interview questions that are out there however it is crucial to not be intimidated by the variety. Nearly all of them can be categorised into themes: standard intro, competency, ambition and technical (these are the job specific ones).

Competency – the ability to do something successfully or efficiently.

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Influencing questions – this could be: How did you get someone to agree with your way of thinking? or Tell me about a time when you had a disagreement? Let’s face it we have all been there when we have needed to influence someone to either do something or even agree to our way of thinking. Whether that be when your manager is saying no to an approval or you are having a disagreement about an approach to take, how did you influence that person to agree with you. Using the STAR approach, the answer could be shaped like this:

S: With the workload ever growing, as a team strategy we decided it was time to recruit for a junior member of staff to join the team to help with some valuable reporting and admin which was getting missed. Luckily the manager could see the need and approved for us to recruit!

T: I was in charge of recruiting for the junior position. I found a candidate who interviewed really well, she was hungry for a new challenge however she didn’t have any relevant industry experience and since leaving college has been working for her parents business. She performed so well, I wanted to offer the role right there and then. My next steps was to talk it through my manager before sending out the offers.

A: I wanted to recruit this candidate, but my manager had some hesitations, which were understandable especially around previous experience both within the role and industry. I persuaded my manager that it was a good idea to recruit this member but highlighting the factors to why she would be a good fit: eager to learn, excellent work ethic, trainable (no bad working habits), excellent extracurricular work with volunteering and actually able to articulate herself much better then other candidates with a lot more experience. I finished with – would you like me to arrange a 121 with her so you have an opportunity to see the spark?

R: As a result, my manager trusted my decision and she is now been with the organisation for 6 months and starts her industry qualification in the new year!

(This is a real life example someone gave me recently).

You don’t always have to go over the top with influencing questions. This answer shows that the candidate fairly understood the concerns and was able to back up with facts and evidence (offering him to interview her himself). When faced with giving an example of influencing others it is important to show how you approached the situation, built relationships and wasn’t too aggressive in getting the result you wanted.

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Challenging the status quo – When have you implemented change? Have you ever questioned a process? This is a slight wild card question and not everyone will ask this directly but somewhere it will be hidden inside a question.

Think about times when you have changed a process or was involved in doing something differently? How did you approach it?

Do you challenge the status quo?: https://www.themuse.com/advice/do-you-challenge-the-status-quo

Mistakes are made – Tell me about a time when you made a mistake?This question isn’t there to catch you out, it is there to show that you are human. What was the mistake you made, how did you resolve it and what did you learn?

An example could be: “I once approved a change to a system where I didn’t have all the information to hand. This needed to happen overnight as a priority and I was being pressured to approve. Allowing this to happen caused an outage which meant the next day there was an impact on other systems. I owned up to my mistake and ran with a major incident through to resolution and within in a few hours we were in a stable state. On all future changes I make sure I am fully aware of the impact, ask more questions and ensure I have requests and approval in writing. So this mistake will not happen again.

Delivering on a project or to your word. Have some examples of when you have delivered. Was it a project? What were the challenges? Was it a new process? what did that mean for the business?

Dealing with difficult people is a given. And you are most likely to asked this question, it could also be asked in way when you have disagreed with a manager. Think back to a time when someone has really cheesed you off, what did you do? What would you do differently next time? How did you resolve the conflict? Have you had times when you have disagreed with colleague or a manager?

Ambition – Career drivers.

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It is a little ‘old fashioned’ to now ask the questions around peoples 5 year plans. We live in a generation when jobs are not for life and also as people grow their ambitions and appetite change too. But be prepared to answer a question! The interviewer might not come out with it directly, but they may ask something like – Why have you applied for this role?

Read the spec ready for the Job Specific questions. Pick out key phrases and word and incorporate them into your answers. Using the company lingo can help the interviewer place you in the organisation.

Tips:

  1. Remmber it is also ok to ask the interviewer to rephrase the question
  2. Prepare more than one example for each section
  3. Don’t be afriad to give a non work example.
  4. For thinking time, repeat the questions – ‘Ok, an example of when I…’

Questions to prepare for:

  1. Examples of working collaboratively/working in a team.
  2. What motivates you and why
  3. Times when you have made an unpopular decision
  4. Dealing with change
  5. Working to deadlines.
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What to ask?

At the end of each interview the hiring manager will always ask: ‘So, do you have any questions for us?’

As a hiring manager myself it frustrates me when the candidate politely smiles and says ‘urm… no, not really.’ Cue tumbleweed from my side of the table.

This is your opportunity to find out the truth about the role, the organisation and whether working from home is something that is encouraged not frowned upon – errr… hello agile working?

Asking questions shows you are interested and can often make you standout from the other candidates who are not as prepared.

I have grouped the questions into 4: Role, Team/Manager, Culture and Next steps:

The role

  • What are the long term objectives for this role?
  • Tell me about the biggest challenges this role is currently facing?
  • What would you like me to achieve in the first 3 months in this role?
  • How does the team react to failure?

The Team/Manager

  • Who will I be reporting too?
  • What are the top two traits you need this candidate to have to fit within the team?
  • How would you characterise the teams working style?
  • How would you characterise the teams communication style?

The Culture

  • What social activities does the organisation get involved in?
  • Tell me about the personal development planning for individual employees?
  • What Learning and Development courses are available?
  • What is different about working here compared to other organisation you have worked at?
  • Has the organisation embraced agile working? How often do teams work from home and/or other locations?

The Interview

  • What the next steps?
  • Is there anything else I can provide you? Such as further examples of my work?

If you really are clutching at straws, because you have covered all of the above, instead of the ‘Urm… no, not really’ please say something like this:

‘Thank you very much for seeing me today, we have covered the questions I was going to ask and just to confirm the next steps will be receiving a call from your HR manager. (Pause for the interviewer to confirm). I have really enjoyed our meeting today and if there is anything else I can provide, please let me know.’


Have you had an interview recently? What did you get asked? Or do you have any interview hints and tips to share?

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