Applying for a job is hard but perhaps I can make it easier … I’ve been both an interviewer and an interviewee and given I’ve just finished interviewing I thought I’d share some learnings from the most recent process. (PS I work for the public service but I think my thoughts work equally well for large organisations.)
Let me tell you first what I’m looking for when I interview. Understanding the difference between skills and knowledge is important. Most applicants won’t know how to do a job before they start and they’ll learn that on the job … that’s knowledge. But skills are different: like time management, computer literacy, written and oral communication, working well in a team and good judgement. Skills take much longer to teach, eg written skills, and I expect an applicant to be able to demonstrate the skills for the advertised position … perhaps not at the highest level but at least have some experience.
So, a few things that might help a few of the recent candidates who didn't interview so well:
Ring the contact person. Before a resume/application is submitted DO ring to find out about the job. DO ask about the job and the skills being sought. This is a chance to make yourself stand out from the rest of the applicants. Please DON’T ask “how much are you paying?” straight after you’ve introduced yourself.
Resume. If the job has a duty statement or selection criteria DO address these. This document tells you what the job entails and what skills the successful person should have. Addressing these shows attention to detail and understanding. I only want to interview six people and not addressing these makes it easier for me to throw an application on the discard heap.
Research. Once you know the name of your prospective employer DO find out who they are and what they do. This may be the first question you’re asked, but even if it isn’t DO make it known that you’ve done this. This shows initiative, research and self motivation.
Preparation. DO think about the questions you’re likely to be asked at the interview. A duty statement or selection criteria is pretty much the questions you’ll be asked. DO prepare answers to the questions and DO make a list examples you’d like to use in the interview. It's hard trying to think them up on the spot.
Promptness. DO turn up 5-10 minutes before an interview. The trend now is to provide the questions before the interview starts and it’s a chance to think about what you'd like to say and apply your examples to each question. PS Where you can, DO try to have a separate example for each question, and not reuse the same example.
Greeting. DO shake hands with each member of a panel, and please ladies … no limp handshakes. DO repeat each member of the panel’s name as you meet to help remember their names, and DO take off your coat. DO ask whether it’s OK to use any resource material you’ve collected eg list of examples, copies of website material, etc. I’ve never said no (or been told no for that matter) and it shows a well prepared, interested candidate.
Interview. Each question is looking for your experience (and this is where a relevant example is so helpful) and your understanding of the skill(s) behind it. DO try to cover both of these things for each question, and maybe an example will help:
Question: Give an example of where you have demonstrated good time management skills.
Answer: Last July was a busy time as I was involved in preparing a contribution to the annual report as well as my usual work. One week I was asked to prepare an urgent brief for the Minister. I discussed this with my supervisor and suggested that some of the routine work I usually do could be shared between a couple of staff who don’t regularly do the same sort of work but are available to help when things are busy. That would allow me to make the urgent brief my priority and I would go back to the annual report contribution while the brief was being checked. Everything was submitted on time. To manage my time I also maintain a diary, prioritise my work each week based on deadlines, complexity and how long work will take to complete, and I actively work with others in my Section to ensure all our work is achieved.
The example gives the interviewer context to the answer and lists the skills: organisation, working with others (more senior and junior), pro-activity, self starter, planning and information sharing.
Closing. DO ask questions if you have any, including how much the position will pay if that hasn't previously been mentioned.
I've finished interviewing for the position I have and the successful person starts next week. Good luck with your interviews or interviewing in the future … it's a time consuming, laborious process with an uncertain outcome. (PS If you read scary ... you got it!) How do you go about organising yourself, and what preparation do you do? And what are you or would you be looking for as an interviewer?