A comprehensive interview guide

Approximately 250 people apply for roles in knowledge work, and only five get called in for interviews. That means you beat 98% of the other people who applied. At this point, the organisation is trying to find out if you are as great in person as you are on paper. The great news is you are better! These tips will make sure you come across as such:

The organisation & industry:

  •  Understand the organisation (vision, mission, values, key achievements over the past year)
  • Understand the industry you are joining (what are the current trends, e.g you cannot apply for a role in international development without talking about green, inclusive development)

The role:

  • Back your answers with examples – Review the job description and highlight key elements that directly match your professional experience (i.e research, reporting, etc)
    • For areas that directly match your background, come up with impactful examples you can share using the STAR format

This is an excerpt from a cover letter workshop I conducted that also works perfectly for answering interview questions. Have 4-6 strong stories using this format. They work on numerous questions.

Examples from my career include:

Sample question 1 – Describe a situation where you resolved a conflict (it can also work if asked about how I work with teams or manage a large project)

  • Situation – I was part of a cultural change project during my tenure as HR Manager at xxxxxxx. 
  • Task – Specifically, I led the designing of employee engagement surveys for a cross-country project spanning three countries involving 3500 staff members. This was challenging because the various country teams had diverse resources and areas of concentration, which led to conflicts about what to prioritise. 
  • Action – However, I managed to navigate these disagreements through influence, negotiation, and radical communication. 
  • Result – Ultimately, we managed to deploy the surveys, leading to high-impact results, including asset management training for all site staff which increased “xxxx per xxxx” on 30% of our sites in the first 12 months. Since then, whenever I am faced with a conflict, I first seek to understand the other person’s viewpoint and then create common areas for the problem we are solving.

Sample question 2 – How have you demonstrated resilience in your career (it can also work if asked about managing organisational change, training staff etc)

  • Situation – One of the hardest challenges I faced in my career was owing to the economic downturn brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic in 2021. 
  • Task – I was required to reduce staff costs by xx%, which meant laying off xxx of our xxx staff members.
  • Action –  I achieved this by creating empathic communication channels, ensuring legal compliance, negotiating severance pay with leadership, and training laid-off staff on job application practices. 
  • Result – xxx number of staff were successfully offboarded, and staff costs were reduced by xx%

More on the role:

  • Google common interview questions for that role and practice answering them (websites will usually share sample answers). Feel free to write notes but also practice saying them out loud. Speak to yourself in a mirror if you have no one to practice with!
  • Have answers to these specific questions:
    1. Tell us about yourself – Have a 90-second elevator pitch specifically anchored towards their job description
    2. Why are you the ideal candidate for this role? Basically, they want to ensure that you meet all the criteria for the position.
    3. Why do you want this job, or what would you accomplish if you are hired in this role? Share what you know about the role and company and the value proposition you bring to them. Feel free to talk about things that excite you about the opportunity.
    4. What experience has prepared you for this role?  – Remember how you highlighted your strengths against the role; talk about those things! Feel free to use one or two examples prepared using the STAR format to emphasise these experiences.
    5. Why do you want to leave your current role? Be positive in your response. Perhaps you want to pivot your career or are looking for more challenging opportunities. Do not bad mouth your current employer.
    6. What are your future goals? They are interested in establishing if you will stay and grow with their organisation.
    7. What do you know about our organisation? Vision, mission, values and key achievements from the past year. Also, feel free to add aspects that will specifically apply to your role.
    8. What are your salary expectations? Google the industry standards for the role or organisation, and ask connections who do similar work. Do not underprice yourself! Feel free to say your expectations are negotiable based on the comprehensive remuneration package.
    9. Tell us about your strengths – Have atleast two and really sell them!!! Feel free to use examples prepared using the STAR formart to highlight these strengths.
    10. Tell us about your weaknesses – Have atleast two, and make sure you pivot them into strengths. For example:

Situation: I have learnt that I am notoriously bad at estimating how long it will take me to complete a project. Task: At first, I saw this as a weakness but realised it’s a developmental area that can propel me from good to great if I can master it. Action: Since then, I have participated in numerous project management, critical thinking, budgets and decision-making courses. Result: My work now has project scopes, plans, requirements, stakeholder lists, risk matrices, and evaluation milestones.

Preparing for the interview:

  • Practice, practice, practice – If your interview is virtual, feel free to record yourself in your full interview outfit with your STAR stories, answering common interview questions, and the role-specific questions you googled. Analyse your video for how you can do better and view how your panellists will see you. 
  • Get enough rest the night before
  • Eat before. I have found that I am always cranky if my blood sugar is low.
  • Pick out what you will wear in advance. This is very industry specific but feel free to err on the side of comfortable and professional.

In the interview:

  • Confidence, confidence, confidence – Remember you were selected from hundreds of applicants. You are good enough to be in that room and have a great value proposition! So make eye contact and speak like you are sure about what you are saying because you are! 
  • One sorry and two thank yous – While you will make mistakes, recruiters do not expect you to be perfect. They care about how you recover from them. Do not fall into the “gratitude and apology trap”. Your conversation should not be just “sorry and thank you”. Ideally, you should have two thank yous and one sorry in your gratitude and apology toolkit. You both have something to offer and gain.
    • Only two thank yous, one at the beginning and one at the end
    • Only one sorry for a legitimate mistake
  • Ask questions at the end – For example:
    • What are the next steps in the hiring process?
    • Based on what you’ve seen today, will you recommend me for the next round of interviews?
    • What additional information can I give you to increase your confidence in me?
  • The second thank you – End by thanking everyone by name (if you can remember) and tell them you look forward to hearing from them (confidence!)

I have great faith in you! Go get them tiger!

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