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Preparing for an interview

Written by: Stephanie Sparrow
Published on: 21 Oct 2011

Preparing for an interview can take as much time and research as the initial stages of applying for a job, but how far should those preparations extend?

They should at least include practising online tests, some online research and talking to people who work for the company, says Stevan Rolls, head of HR at Deloitte LLP.

And he warns HR professionals not to be complacent. "Knowing how interviews work and having an insight into the process doesn't necessarily give you an advantage," he says.

He has heard of applicants recruiting a coach to help them with their interview style but he warns that this should not lead to being over-rehearsed. "Interview practice is good, but one of things a recruiter is trying to do in the interview process is to match culture and style [of the candidate and company]. Do not present yourself in a way that is not helpful to that."

Rolls says that when he has been invited for interviews he looked at the procedure from the recruiter's perspective. "It's always odd being the other side of the interview desk but I try to put myself in their shoes," he says, explaining that it's about knowing what is important to the interviewer. "I think about what parts of my background will be important to them," he says.

Candidate feedback shows that interviews are becoming tougher, says  Susie Ankrett, regional director at the Institute of Recruitment Professionals.

"Finding a job used to be about the CV and interview. Now it's about CV, online testing of verbal and numerical abilities, assessment centres, role-plays, competency-based questions, a presentation and so on."

Economic pressures mean that, more than ever before, organisations are conscious of getting it right first time - they cannot afford to re-recruit for the same role and they need to find people who can inspire others to engender success in these tough times.

"The process for senior managers has now moved to middle managers, and more rigour is going into this because organisations really want to get it right", she says.

It is important to be focused and to convey that in a targeted and relevant application and interview, says Bob Garvey, incoming professor of business education at York St John's University.

He advises that a well-prepared submission recognises an organisation's plans and values. He says that this can be achieved by holding a telephone conversation with the recruiter before you submit the initial application, or even by asking to visit the organisation.

And plenty of preparation is vital if you haven't changed jobs for a while, as Stephen Reilly explains. Reilly, who recently joined engineering and project management consultants Amec as resourcing leader, had been in his previous post at a property company for six years.

He applied for HR roles in a variety of sectors and called on two university friends, from different backgrounds in law and finance, to help him prepare for possible interviews. "And to get other perspectives", he says.

They ran through competency-based interviews, analysed his answers and created other interview scenarios. Despite having to meet in a coffee shop for some of this, Reilly felt that he benefited from their views. "And they were honest with me in their feedback - almost too honest", he jokes.

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