The more you know, the less you'll panic. That's the conclusion of Gary James, who has spoken to job seekers at every stage of the interview process over his 18 year career with Michael Page. "It may seem an obvious thing to say, but it amazes me the number of people who go to visit a company knowing nothing, or next to nothing, about it."
"Of course," says Gary, "if you have secured the interview through Michael Page, your consultant will have given you some preliminary information about the company, the interview format, and probably the person interviewing you. But the more preparation you do, the more confidence you'll have, so you'd be foolish not to do as much of your own research as you possibly can."
Starting the preparation
So where to start? Company websites, is the short answer. It's very rare for a company not to have a website these days, and it's incredible what you can find on some of them. In addition to corporate history and press releases, many organizations have stacks of downloadable reports and reviews. Increasingly, you can even find video presentations, which make research easy and fun. In fact, if this kind of information is available on your prospective employer's website, you may seriously compromise the impression you make if you don't use it.
If the company that's interviewing you doesn't have a press centre on its website, it's simple enough to search for relevant articles yourself. All national newspapers are available online these days, with archives that reach back over years. Just enter the company's name in the search box. You can do this directly in a web search engine too (google.co.za, altavista.com).
Finally, you can get some incredibly useful information by phoning the company. Investor relations departments will always send you the latest report, and secretaries can be astonishingly forthcoming about their bosses' 'little foibles' - even to complete strangers. One enterprising city whiz kid even opened negotiations with a prospective employer - a stockbroker - by claiming to be a prospective multi-million dollar investor. He was able to make a spookily accurate (but modest) diagnosis of the company's new business problems in the interview and got the job on the spot.
Thinking about the questions you may be asked
As mentioned, your Michael Page consultant will advise you on the format your interview will take (some helpful information on various types of interviews is available in the Candidate Advice section on this website). But you should also devote some time to thinking about all the possible questions you might be asked. It sounds like a daunting task, but look at it this way: the only questions you'll be asked that don't relate to your prospective company will relate to you. Which means you'll just be putting time into thinking about yourself!
This is the point at which to return to your resume, since the information here will form the basis of any interview. Study your resume and think about the questions which could arise from it. Say, for example, you've mentioned on your resume that you led a team in a previous job. Imagine being asked about the easiest and most difficult aspects of that task (easiest/hardest questions are useful in relation to any achievement). Or, if you've said on your resume that you managed a budget, envision being quizzed about the details of that budget.
In general, be prepared to talk about:
- Problem solving (your biggest problem in particular)
- Planning how you could have performed better with hindsight
- Any gaps in your resume
If it's difficult to develop objective curiosity about your own resume, study someone else's (your Michael Page consultant will be able to furnish you with sample resumes), and then apply any questions that occur to you, to your own. You could also give your resume to an intelligent friend or relative and ask them to quiz you about your career.
The famous question - "What's your greatest weakness?"
There are some famous 'impossible' interview questions around, the most dreaded of which is 'What's your greatest weakness?'. Rather than tell your interviewer that your perfectionism lets you down, think carefully about the qualities of the people doing the job you're interviewing for. Everyone has weaknesses. The important thing is to pick the most forgivable one for the role you're doing. A good way into this is to think about the strengths necessary for your role and then think how those strengths could shade into weaknesses. For example, confidence can shade into arrogance; dedication can shade into blindness to the task, and so on.
Other things to cover in your preparation include your:
- Long term career plan
A popular interview question these days revolves around your greatest achievement. It's important to exercise some discretion here. If the most important aspect of the prospective job involves leading and motivating people, talking about finishing the marathon may not be the most relevant reply. Remember, your interviewer ultimately wants to know what you can do for the company. Hence, for most jobs (not all!) your achievement should probably include an element of teamwork. Once you've chosen an achievement that relates the skills required for the job, write a few paragraphs about the situation, using some of the questions and issues discussed above to guide you.
Writing about your achievements and experiences is a good brain flow exercise. On the night before an interview, when your research is complete, it's a good idea to take a few sheets of paper and just write out what you feel about your career so far. Start anywhere and write anything that comes into your head. You'll be amazed at how effective and comforting this can be. Apart from giving you the confidence that you've covered all relevant points, it's a great way to tire out your brain and ensure you get a good night's sleep!
Finally, don't worry about having interview nerves to some degree. It's only natural to be apprehensive in an important situation. Nerves are healthy. What you want to avoid is debilitating fear, and if you're fully prepared, this shouldn't be an issue.
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