Many of us spend hours working on cover letters, application forms and model answers for interviews that will make us appear as the best candidate for a given job. I have spent hours trawling the internet for model answers for the most difficult questions (what has been my biggest career failure? How do you phrase the answer to show that you turned this into a success? What does the interviewer want me to say to this question?).
Below are some of my top tips for how to give a winning interview performance.
Top Tip 1: Don’t Be Perfect, Be Real
Most people try and give the answer that they think the interviewer wants to hear (“no, I have never had a conflict at work, as I get on really well with all people”; “I can work perfectly with people from other cultures, I adapt very quickly”).
On the surface this is great (although can come across too good to be true) but by doing this the person is setting both themselves and their future employers up for difficult times. As reality sets in (and people are just people, and therefore not too good to be true) the person’s real strengths and weaknesses come to light and rather than these being “part of the deal” of hiring the person these things are now surprises.
Make sure you are open and honest about who you are and who you need the organisation to be, in order for you to be happy and to find success.
Top Tip 2: Be Aware of the Job You Are Applying For
The way you apply for a job should give the person short listing clues about your skills. This is true of being interviewed too. If you are a fundraiser, show off your verbal pitch skills at interview by giving clear and concise answers. If you are an operations manager, give detailed answers as well as discussing how you have managed to get others to adopt policies and practices you have initiated. If you are a project manager, break down answers in to pieces and work methodically through them one by one. Highlight your own skills and approach with the way you answer questions.
Top Tip 3: Ask Questions!
An interview is often the only opportunity that you, as a potential employee get to assess the suitability of an organisation for your own style and needs. Too often, candidates ask no questions. As a recruiter this is often a red flag to me. Getting a new job in the aid and development sector can be life changing (new country, new friendship groups etc etc). Ask the questions you do have. Especially at a second interview, as usually this will be your last opportunity to ask those questions before an offer is made. Ask questions about the culture of the organisation, approach to work/ life balance, retention rates of staff, key issues facing the organisation, what your manager’s style is like… ask all the questions that will help you to make an informed decision about the step that you are considering taking.
Even 6 months in the “wrong job” can be a very long time. Asking questions shows the interview panel that you have confidence, that you are actively considering the organisation and position and that you are proactively trying to ensure that if you are chosen it will be a good fit and positive experience for both parties.
Top Tip 4: Know the Organisation You are Applying For
Know about the organization you are applying for. This is a mistake many people make when coming to an interview and they know the job but not about the organization.
Know their mission, their history, themes/sectors they work on, key words/phrases they use and make sure to apply your answers back to this. Using key phrases can make a hiring manager feel more confident about your fit within an organization and that you speak their language which means it will take less time for you to settle into the job. This is important when hiring. It also shows that you DO want to work for this organization and have done your research on how you will be a good fit within the agency.
Top Tip 5: Be Professional
It may sound obvious but what does it mean to be professional?
Be on time, be dressed for success, have a copy of your C.V. and the job description, don’t slouch or lounge in your chair (if doing this in person), have a notebook and pen to write down the questions so that you can address all the points (questions sometimes have multiple parts and in trying to answer the first part, you can forget the second part!).
Going in professionally means this will translate to your confidence and attitude and that will reflect in how you hold yourself.
If you have further top tips to add to this post, please feel free to contribute these as comments below.