The other side of the table

By Byron Kalies, Management consultant

This is the third in a four-part series on the interview process and starting a new job

Meticulous preparation makes any job interview much easier

Last time we looked at some of the skills needed when interviewing. This time we'll examine things from the other side of the table and consider some of the factors you should think about when you want to land that big job.

If you have experience of interviewing other people, it is certainly a big help when it is your turn to be the interviewee. You know how the process works and you can concentrate on trying to give people exactly what they need.

To do this, there are also some practical measures which can help, including the following:

  • Investigate
    Firstly, find out as much as you possibly can about the job, the organisation you're applying to work for, and the people who will interview you. This is easier to do if you're going for an internal transfer of promotion, but still aim to find out about any new responsibilities or particular pet projects they may have. There's no guarantee these will crop up in the interview, but it certainly won't do you any harm to know a bit more about these people. Also, this research will help you form your own views about the job and may add to your general knowledge.

  • Study the paperwork
    Look carefully at all the paperwork. When you submit a CV or application form, be sure to keep a copy, along with a copy of the job advertisement or description. The people conducting the interview only have this limited information relating to you. Put yourself in their place and consider what they are likely to ask. Ask yourself about any gaps in the information, what the obvious strengths are, and what stands out most on the application form. I worked for a year in a betting office in England and was always ready for a question about that. Be sure you remember exactly what you included on your CV or form and can explain everything. If necessary, go through it line by line and think of examples to back up whatever you've written down. If you claim to be focused on getting results, then have evidence to hand. It is an obvious thing for the interviewer to ask about, so be ready with a convincing answer.

    In that way you are giving the interviewers what they want. Most companies are looking for reliable candidates they can trust to do a good job. Interview boards rarely look for "off the wall" individuals and they tend to arrive at a group decision that is frequently very conservative. This means that members of a group will be trying to reach a unanimous decision on candidates rather than taking a chance. As the interviewee, you should be aware of this and recognise that a "safe and controlled" approach is often the best. It goes without saying that you must also respect all the basic practical details about arriving on time, dressing appropriately, etc.

    There are also a number of "advanced" scenarios which include:

  • Special preparation
    There is an interesting new theory about how to prepare mentally for interviews. It says that you should rehearse for several days in advance at the same time the interview will take place. The theory is that your body and brain get used to "turning on" at that time of day. I'm not yet convinced, but there's no harm in giving it a try.

  • Surprises
    However well prepared you are, there will be the odd surprise. Recent trends in forward-thinking organisations are to go beyond the standard methods and behavioural techniques of interviewing. They want to try something different and find new ways to challenge the candidate. This could mean a completely unexpected question, perhaps asking about your philosophy of life. The idea is to see how well you think on your feet. So what do you do? The first thing if you are thrown such a question is to take a deep breath and not to panic. You can even acknowledge that it has taken you by surprise. Take a few seconds to consider your reply, then answer as honestly as you can.

  • Be yourself
    Another technique is to take the candidate to lunch to see how they interact with others in a social setting. You can't really prepare for this sort of unexpected move. All you can do is deal with the situation as openly and authentically as possible.

    Candidates often try to give the answers they think interviewers want to hear, while what the interviewer is really after is a better understanding of the candidate's beliefs and opinions. At the end of the day, it's surely better to fail an interview by being yourself than to come up short by trying to be someone else.

    In the next article, we'll assume you've got the position and face the real test of meeting your new colleagues for the first time.

    Points to note

  • As an interviewee, learn about the job you've applied for
  • Remember the details on your CV and application form and anticipate likely questions
  • If you claim to have certain skills or experience, have examples to discuss
  • In answering "surprise" questions, be yourself and answer honestly

    Byron Kalies ( is a writer and management consultant currently based in Liverpool, England. He writes for a number of magazines and newspapers across the world and has written a book 25 Management Techniques in 90 minutes.

  • Taken from Career Times 24 June 2005
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