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  • Estelle Curry

Interview Through Storytelling - Prepare to Flourish series

Picture the scene. You get an email inviting you to attend an interview. Your initial reaction is delight. You’ve finally got a chance to meet a prospective employer and convince them you're the best person for the job. Once you’ve come to terms with the interview, what is the next thing you feel? Is it excitement? Is it dread? A mixture of both is most common. You’ll inevitably start visualizing yourself in the job and thinking ‘What if….?’ However, you still need to do a great job at the interview, and there is so much preparation to do.

This blog is here to help you do just that, prepare as best as possible for your interview. We're going to talk about how there are different types of interviews, how interviews are scored, and how to prepare. Most importantly, we'll talk about how to structure your answers in a way to tell a great story, one that the interviewer will remember.

Types of interviews

There are lots of different types of interviews. In this blog, we're going to look at the two of the most common and one gathering popularity. Each company will have its own way of doing things. That is why it's always a good idea to gather a bit of information from the interviewer before the interview to help you prepare. You can ask them:

  • What style the interview will be.

  • How long it will take, if you don’t know already.

  • To send you any information (aside from what is already available in the public domain) they think might be helpful for you to know before the interview.

  • To send you a copy of the job description.

Traditional interviews - are where the interviewer will ask you to walk them through your resume. They'll ask you questions as you go along. They'll most likely ask you why you left each role, what led you to the next one and dig a little deeper into each position to find out what you were responsible for. This style of interview aims to get a fuller picture of your experience, how you got to where you are today, and if the role available is a good step for you. They will most certainly ask you why you're applying for the position and what you think you can bring. They may even ask the dreaded strengths and weaknesses question.

Competency based interviews - are interview questions that require candidates to provide real-life examples as the basis of their answers. It is widely believed that the best way to distinguish a candidate's potential future performance is to find examples of past performance. If you can provide evidence that you have done something well in the past, there is a high likelihood that you will do it well again in the future. That means they will ask you to give a specific example of a time when you did x, y, or z.

Before writing the job description for the role, the person hiring will have identified the competencies/ skills they believe are essential to succeed in this role. These competencies/ skills are then transformed into questions. Such as "Tell me about a time when you successfully delivered a complex project."

Values interviews – are less common, and values driven organizations will most likely have these interview styles. They want to see if you share their values. Employees who share the organization's values are most likely to succeed and have a sense of fulfillment in their jobs. That's why this style of interviewing is crucial for values driven organizations.

Further down we’ll tell you how to tackle these styles of interview.

How interviews are scored

You will often see interviewers jotting down notes throughout the interview, which is a good thing. It means they're keeping a note of what you're saying. You want them to be writing because when it comes to choosing a candidate, they will use those notes to see how you answered these questions, compared to other people they interviewed. It is also quite likely that they will be rating your answer on a scale to make it easier to compare your answers to others.

Each employer will have their own way of scoring, and here is one example of a scoring system commonly used. Before the interview, the interviewer will have determined what type of answer they are looking for. For instance, for questions such as "Describe a time when you had to deal with pressure." they will predetermine what they believe to be indicators of a good answer and the indicators of what they think would be a wrong answer, as demonstrated in the table below.

Positive indicators

  • Demonstrates a positive approach

  • Considers the broader need of the situation

  • Recognizes their own limitations

  • Is able to compromise

  • Is willing to seek help when necessary

Negative indicators

  • Perceives challenges as problems

  • Attempts unsuccessfully to deal with the situation alone

  • Used inappropriate strategies to deal with pressure/stress

  • Focused on one element of issue, unable to see bigger picture

Marks are then allocated depending on the extent to which the candidate's answer matches those positive and negative indicators. In this example, we'll use a scale of 0 – 3.

0 = No evidence displayed

1 = Partial evidence of positive indicators

2 = Good level of evidence displayed

3 = Excellent level of evidence displayed

How to prepare for interviews

Answering questions successfully relies on your ability to tell a story concisely while including everything the interviewer needs to know. Regardless of the type of interview, the number one thing to do is know your resume inside out and upside down. Talking about any part of your resume from memory will show the recruiters that your experience is solid and nothing in your resume is embellished. The next thing to do is to research the company extensively. It is no longer enough to be able to reel off their mission verbatim. You've got to be able to tell their story in your own words. While they might be impressed that you've memorized the timeline of their milestones, they'll be more impressed about what you know about their products and services. Knowing the overall mission of the organization, the purpose of the division/ department and a good level of knowledge about their customers and competitors will demonstrate that you really want this job and are ready for it.

How to answer traditional interview questions

One of the first questions you're likely to be asked is why you have applied for this job. A great formula to answer this type of question is to address the job on offer, the company brand, and the company culture.

  • The job – explain how this role is exciting to you. You believe you have all the skills and experience to thrive in this role. It would allow you to do your best work.

  • The company brand – explain what the organization's brand means to you.

  • The company culture – explain any shared values you have with the organization.

Here is an example of how that might look;

Interviewer: Tell me why you applied for this role?.

Interviewee: I got very excited when I saw this role become available. There are three elements I look for when applying for any job. The first is finding a job that will match my skills and experience, a role that I believe I can thrive in. The second is the company brand, and this company has a great brand, which is very appealing to me. The final thing I look for is a company with a great culture. From the research I've done so far, this looks like a great place to work.

If you’re unsure of what your values are, you can listen to our podcast episode on creating awareness. We speak about how to identify your values and why doing so is a great tool to use in your job search.

They will also probably want to know why you left each of your previous roles and what drew you to the next. This is to determine if you're a serial job hopper or if you left because of problems in your last position. One thing that can be frustrating for a manager is hiring someone they want to develop over the medium term and that hire moves to another job after a short period. It takes a lot of time and effort to get someone trained up to do the job, and a high turnover can affect productivity and team morale. So make sure you're prepared to answer these questions.

How to answer competency and values based questions

When it comes to competency or values based questions, preparation is vital. You want to be able to tell a story without getting lost in your thoughts or jumping around between the beginning, middle and end. Having a bank of examples of how you have done things in the past is a great way to prepare your story. I always recommend people to have a little interview notebook to construct and record all their examples. Think of all your most significant successes every time you reached or surpassed an objective. When preparing for a values based interview, do the same, but also identify what value you were demonstrating in that example.

Many people recommend the STAR method when answering competency questions. Join us for the accompanying podcast, where we’ll be speaking with a recruiter from HubSpot who will share tips on using the STAR method.

Another method is the CBI method. It's shorter and easy to remember. Preparing your answers using the following model will help you tell your story concisely while providing maximum impact.

C – Context – Give a summary of the situation or problem you were faced with

B – Behavior – What action did you take and why? What were the challenges you faced?

I – Impact – What was the impact? How did your behavior help the situation?

Identifying which competencies and values to prepare for

Now that you can construct your answers, how do you know which competencies to prepare for? Some interviewers are kind enough to tell you precisely what competencies they'll be looking for. Others won't, which means you'll have to do a bit of research. Many companies (especially large ones) will have competency frameworks, and you could ask about this or take a look at their website. But the best way to guess what competencies they'll ask for is in the job description.

Go through the job description with a fine-tooth comb. Highlight any competencies or skills that you see. For every bullet point on that job description, think of an example of how you have excelled in what they are looking for. Have all your answers prepared. And once you've done that, read them over and over and over again. Read them so much that you can say them without looking at them.

In terms of values, any company conducting values-based interviews will have their values displayed on their website. Additionally, regardless of whether you've been called for a values-based interview or not, knowing the company's values is a crucial part of your research.

Use the online edge

You may recall there once was a time when everything wasn’t online. But the fact that this information is now available at your fingertips, you’d be crazy not to use it. Here are some tips:

  • Look up interview questions – I have given a few examples, but you’ll find hundreds online, some split into categories

  • Use Glassdoor – if you’re applying for a large organization there’s a good chance they are detailed on Glassdoor. Sometimes interview questions and processes are highlighted. You can also find out what staff think about the company.

  • Check if the organization has been in the news – top firms are always proud when they’ve had positive PR in the news. If you Google them, click on the news button to see if there is anything positive about them you can highlight in the interview. It should go without saying you wouldn’t bring up anything negative.

  • Look up your interviewers on LinkedIn – what makes interviews so nerve-wracking is the fear of the unknown. If you look up the interviewers on LinkedIn you’ll already have a bit of familiarity before the big day. You might even find something you have in common with one of them that you could bring up.

All in all, you’re looking for any sort of edge on the competing candidates.

This level of preparation may seem like a lot of work, but there's a good chance you're going to have to do a lot of interviews before you find the right fit. Hopefully not, but it means you’ll get lots of practice, and you’ll get better with each interview. Your story gets more refined, and feels better telling it. The more practice you do, the more confident you will be and that’s exactly what the interviewers are looking for. The good news is that if you want a bit of extra help, there are interview coaches out there that can help you prepare.

For more great tips and techniques to help you prepare for your interview, tune in to the next Prepare to Flourish podcast episode, where we'll be speaking with Martin Kelly, Martin is a Principal Recruiter at HubSpot. With over ten years in recruitment, Martin has a blend of inhouse and agency experience. . You can listen to our accompanying podcast here.

What steps will you take this week to flourish?

Edited by Stephen Flanagan at Talent Attract.


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