Interviews. The good, the bag, the oh god nos.

Today I wanted to discuss one of the major factors in recruitment. Not a skill shortage, or office politics, but the one thing we all get nervous about, and have to go through (most of the time) when it comes to landing a new job. Interviews.

There are loads of different techniques companies use in the search for an ideal candidate. Some are short and sweet, others are stretched out over time longer than it would take to reach the next galaxy. Is there a perfect interview structure? That’s debatable. However, there are some unnecessary interview techniques that really should stay in the 80’s with shoulder-pads and the “power perm” (my mum had both of those). I’m not going to go through every single one (I’d be here all day) but want to touch on some of the most popular and some of the most uncomfortable interview techniques.

Competency based interviews

One of the most common interview types out there, these interviews are usually conducted by a HR person with a clipboard, (sometimes a line manager will be in the interview but may not be leading the interview) with a set of questions that everyone who is being interviewed will be asked. The good thing about these interviews is it provides the employer with a level playing field on which to assess applicants, as everyone is being asked the same. As this is such a common interview type now, candidates can easily prepare for them and know what kind of answers they should provide. Typical questions will be based around scenarios (Give me an example of where you have dealt with XXX situation, strengths, weaknesses, etc) and will be graded based on your answer. The downside to these interview types is that they can feel rather like a tick box exercise and do not provide you much of a chance as a candidate to showcase your human side.

Assessment days

I have been to assessment days, and as an internal recruiter, I have also conducted assessment days, and I can see the pros and cons of these. It all comes down to the size of your company and the volume of vacancies you have on offer. If you are a large organisation taking on 500 graduates, assessment days are fantastic. If you are an airline trying to narrow down 2,000 applications to 150 jobs, again, these are a great way to get through a high volume of applicants. If you have 5-10 jobs available in different departments, they are probably not going to work.

Typically spread over a day, they are an opportunity to assess how candidates tackle different situations and scenarios. There is normally a group activity, some paper work like a numerical test and a psychometric test, and sometimes a one to one interview with a manager on the same day. As an employer the key to getting these right is to make sure you don’t leave people hanging around for too long. If you are planning on conducting one to one interviews, its best to make sure you have one or two hiring managers available to do this. Leaving candidates to stew for an hour before a one to one interview after two hours of group activities is not only quite intimidating for a candidate, but it also comes across that you are not really bothered about enticing people to come and work for you – remember, for your organisation to run well and give the best service, you need employees to want to work for you.

The “sell me a XXX” interview

Sales jobs require sales interviews. I get that. If you work in sales, no doubt at some point in your interview, you had to “sell” a product to the interviewer. They were probably imitating a difficult customer, who wouldn’t let you close the sale. After being put on the spot having to sell a pen/carpet/toilet paper (or some other random object that had no relevance to your actual job) You are told that you didn’t actually sell anything, followed with the million dollar question of “why do you want to work in sales?”.

Leaving the interview feeling a bit flat, you feel that you didn’t really have a chance at getting that job. You see the problem with this? I have been told by hiring managers that these interviews are to test people, to see how well they can handle rejection, and that candidates who cant handle this interview style will never be good at sales (even though at times they had worked in sales before?).

If you have to test someones sales ability, give them all the information they need in order to do so. For example, the interview I had with Virgin Holidays required me to “sell” a holiday to the interviewer. They wanted to test my fact finding and my ability to match a destination to requirements. I had brochures and a note pad to scribble things on and a calculator, in other words, everything that I would have to hand in a real life situation. This meant I was able to sell something relative to my actual job and could ask everything I needed to without worrying about committing it to memory, show them a hotel that matched what they wanted, and calculate a discount to get them to buy the holiday.

If you’re conducting a sales interview, please make sure what ever it is you are asking them to sell is relative. As a candidate all I can say is if you’re going to an interview where your job involves selling something – practice selling something!

The informal chat/Interview

It’s easy to see why many candidates prefer informal interviews. They often take place outside of the office, sometimes over coffee or lunch, and they are generally a lot less stressful than a full-on face to face meeting. Because of this, candidates usually feel a lot more relaxed and confident when it comes to this type of interview, but it is important to remember that they are still part of the selection process. Whatever you say and do during these informal conversations will still have an impact on whether or not the interviewer decides to invite you to the next stage, or offers you a job.

These meetings could actually tell the recruiter a lot more than you realize, so keep it business like, dress appropriately, be aware of your body language and ultimately approach it the same way you would if it were a more traditional interview. As these interview types are typically more like a conversation that firing questions out, as a candidate it is good to have some questions prepared to ask in order to keep the conversation going more proactively and to show your interviewer what you can bring to the business. Be prepared to take more of a lead than you would in a normal interview situation.

Telephone interview

Telephone interviews are a tool for the recruiter to assess whether you are a serious applicant and decide whether or not to take you further through the application process. The questions are more likely to focus more on your general competences and skills. As a candidate, your aim is to try to show your enthusiasm and commitment in a short conversation.

The positive thing about phone interviews is that they are quicker and more convenient for both you and the interviewer than arranging a meeting face-to-face. If the job you’re applying for relies as much on your personality or telephone skills as on qualifications and experience, the recruiter will be particularly interested in how you come across. However, phone interviews can be difficult because neither party can see the other, so the usual visual clues are absent.

If you have a telephone interview, simple tips to prepare could be the make or break. Treat it the same as you would any other interview, do your research, write down some questions to ask, answer your phone professionally, get rid of any background noise, take notes, and have a copy of your CV and the job specification to hand to refer to. Remember that this is just a preliminary round so refrain from asking about salary, working hours and holiday until you are in a face to face.

Remember, this isn’t an exhaustive list of interview types and you may have to go through more than one of these before you get your job (or your generic rejection letter). Its important to treat every interview as just that, an interview, and as an opportunity as a candidate to showcase why you are the candidate to employ, as well as finding out if the company is right for you. As an employer, remember that interviews are often the first impression candidates get of your company, so make the process a good one. Too many times I have had hiring managers treat candidates as though they should be grateful for an opportunity to meet them, put them through a grueling interview process and then wonder why they aren’t falling over themselves for a job offer. The reason why? They were made to feel like that. Intimidation isn’t necessary in a job interview. It should be about weather or not a person can do a job and fit in with your business.

What is your best/worst interview experience?

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