How to Ace Job Interviews
Reaching the interview stage for a prospective job represents a significant milestone as you take steps towards building a civilian career. It also confirms that your CV and job applications are working, given that you’re being selected as a potential candidate hire. For some, however, it can be an unfamiliar and stressful experience.
Fiona Jackson, OA Career Consultant provides advice on how best to prepare for interviews.
Performing well at an interview can make a crucial difference to your chances of being offered the role, but success often depends on your preparation. Time and again, great candidates go to interviews under-prepared for basic questions, leaving their responses to chance, rather than taking the opportunity to provide evidence as to why they are a great fit for the role.
Good preparation can also help with those interview nerves that can often result in a blank mind when faced with a tough question. By analysing the job description and person specification and matching your experience and evidence beforehand, you can avoid having to rely on pulling answers out of nowhere.
Job descriptions and person specifications will often include a lengthy list of requirements compiled by the employer, covering qualifications, experience, skills, and sometimes character traits that are typically referred to as soft skills.
To help target your evidence to the most important requirements for the role, try taking a piece of A4 paper and dividing it into two vertical columns. In the left column, list the elements that the employer is looking for; some will be marked as essential and others as desirable. Focus on the aspects they have included as essential.
In the right-hand column, list your matching experience next to each bullet point. This can be an achievement from your former service role or an area of skill or experience where you have delivered tangible outcomes. If you haven’t already spent time translating your military experience on your CV for the civilian jobs market, this is something worth spending additional time on before your interview.
Make sure you cover the skills, experience or competencies that are listed first in the person specification, as it is likely that the interview questions will include these.
Tell a Story
Employers will often be seeing multiple candidates for a role, so interviews are usually kept to short and limited time slots. Interviewers will likely have set questions that they want to cover over the course of your interview, so it’s important to keep your answers focused and brief. If you spend too long answering a single question, you will risk losing the interviewer’s attention and potentially cause frustration.
To keep your answers interesting and on point, try compressing your evidence into mini-narratives. Not only will this engage the interviewer’s attention, but it will also make it easier for you to recall examples of your experience and achievements when asked.
Shape your evidence narrative into a story with a beginning, a middle and an end. For example, when outlining a work situation where your input was needed, explain what skills or experience you applied to address the issue and how it turned out. Make the narrative personal to you and try not to just repeat phrases or extracts from your CV.
Aim to have three or four of the main points from the job description that you can communicate clearly and confidently and focus on getting these across in the interview.
First impressions are critical. Research suggests that first impressions are formed within the first seven seconds of meeting someone, so it’s vital to get this right. Always dress a level smarter than the organisation’s dress code to ensure that you arrive looking your professional best. Reception staff are often asked for their feedback on interview candidates, so it helps to always be friendly, polite, and engaged.
If you are feeling nervous before your interview, try and visualise a time that you performed at your best and play it back in your head. During your interview, aim to relax and speak clearly and audibly, signalling confidence and reassurance to the employer that you’re someone who can do the job.
In addition to knowing that you have the skills and experience for the role, your personal qualities are important to convey. Interviewers are evaluating if you’re a potential addition to their team. Integrity, energy, and enthusiasm are difficult to resist as people will always want to offer the job to someone they can trust and can get the job done.
With the rise of remote working, it may well be that you are offered an online interview rather than a face-to-face interview. While the principles of preparation and presentation remain the same, there are some additional tips to bear in mind.
- Dress as smartly for your online interview as you would for an in-person meeting and try to avoid stripes or complex patterns that may be distracting on screen.
- Wear shoes. Whilst it may seem strange to put shoes on to sit in front of a screen it has an important psychological effect on bringing our work-selves to the meeting.
- Find a professional-looking neutral background, ideally a blank wall. Try to avoid filters if possible and don’t use anything themed.
- Pay attention to the lighting and use natural lighting wherever possible.
- Check your equipment and settings. Make sure you have all the correct links and log in instructions for your online interview and test your camera and sound beforehand.
- Maximise sound quality by opting for small earbud earphones so you can be heard clearly.
- If using a laptop, try to elevate to eye level so you are not looking down and try to focus eye contact on the camera when you are talking.
- Eliminate distractions. Banish children and pets from the room and close doors and windows to eliminate any background noise. Silence any notifications on your laptop and phone.
- Take advantage of your interview space. Your interviewer can only see what’s on camera so if you want to have a cheat sheet or post-it notes with inspiration to hand stick them to your screen or on the wall behind.
Top tips for preparing for an interview
- Research the company, the market it operates in and the interviewers.
- Make sure you are familiar with the job description and person specification and how your experience aligns with it.
- Prepare and practise answers to some common interview questions. Think about how you would summarise your relevant skills and experience in a two-minute elevator pitch.
- Be prepared to demonstrate times when you have used a specific skill – use the STAR method to help provide examples (Situation, Task, Action, Result).
- Ask a friend to help with a practice interview to hone your answers and build confidence.
- Have some questions ready to ask as it demonstrates your enthusiasm and highlights the research that you have undertaken.
- Plan your interview outfit in advance and take copies of your CV, a notepad and a pen.
- Arrive 10-15 minutes early. Try to stay relaxed and aim to make a great first impression.
- Avoid answering any questions negatively. Companies want to hire problem solvers.
- Focus on your key strengths and demonstrate why you are uniquely qualified for the position. Tie your answers back to your skills and accomplishment and stay concise and focused.
PREPARING FOR COMMON INTERVIEW QUESTIONS
Whilst interviewers will undoubtedly include some questions that are specific to the role you are applying for, there are some more general interview questions that you can spend time preparing for in advance.
Tell us about yourself.
This is a simple opening question, and the interviewer will be looking for a summary of your career to date and key skills. Practise in advance and think of it as your two-minute elevator pitch
Why do you want this job?
Think about and rehearse how the themes of your military roles fit with the role on offer and make it the perfect next step for you.
Why are you changing careers/ leaving the armed forces?
Give a clear reason but don’t dwell on any negatives. Discuss the positive reasons for change and wanting to take your new civilian career in this direction.
What are you most proud of in your working life?
Prepare some stories and practise talking about your career highlights that can demonstrate how you successfully delivered, turned a situation around or handled a difficult project.
What are your strengths and weaknesses?
Prepare to talk about three or four strengths listed in the job requirements that you can demonstrate with examples. Don’t linger on weaknesses but include one skill that you would like to develop.