How to deal better with a job interview

Going through the interview process needn't be daunting if the candidate is properly prepared

IT was children's book author Lemony Snicket who said: “Besides getting several paper cuts in the same day or receiving the news that someone in your family has betrayed you to your enemies, one of the most unpleasant experiences in life is a job interview”.

I wrote an article a while ago about applying for jobs. Now it's time to look at the follow up; the interview itself - the part that has many people breaking out in a cold sweat. Many people espouse the ‘interviews are the least reliable predictor of performance' mantra, but they remain far and away the most common form of selection procedure; you need to be able to deal with them.

Success starts early. Preparation is vital. Chances are that most interviews these days will be competency-based. Competencies are what enable you to do a job effectively. They are built from a combination of behaviours, skills, knowledge, experience and abilities. The competency mix an all-star footballer has, for example, could include technical skill, fitness, calmness under pressure, tactical awareness, decision making, visual acuity and learned experience from playing in high pressure games.

Competency based interviews work on the loose premise that how you have performed in past situations will be a good indication of how you will perform in the future. Accordingly, you will be asked to give real life examples of how you previously demonstrated an aptitude in a particular competency. If, for example, the company needs someone who is calm under pressure, with good organisational skills they might ask something like “tell me about a time when you had to manage competing priorities and deadlines at work”.

So, make sure you come to the interview armed with well thought out examples of where you have displayed the competencies they are looking for. How do you know what these are? Look at the available material: job description, person specification or even the advert itself. The essential criteria should give you a good insight into what the key duties are, so have examples lined up that fit with those. Some JDs even go as far as listing the competencies for you.

Now some employers will cram far too much into these documents, so you will need to work out examples that can be used across multiple areas. If you chair key meetings at work for example, this may be used to demonstrate your ability to manage logistics, deal with multiple stakeholders, work under pressure, manage time, demonstrate confidentiality, provide customer service or process information effectively. It just depends what the angle and focus of the question is.

On that note: when you sit down to begin, don't just latch on to the first familiar words you hear. Listen carefully for context. If not, you may miss vital information and set off on a tangent that has no meaningful bearing on what the interviewer is asking you about. You also get zero bonus points for answering within a millisecond of the question being asked, so take a little time to think things through.

Another quick tip: don't say ‘we', that dilutes and obscures your role in the action; say ‘I' did this, ‘I' did that: make it clear to the interviewer what you were personally responsible for doing. It's also not a crime to ask the interviewer to repeat or clarify a question. Better being clear than guessing wrongly and waffling through the next 10 minutes.

And as a final thought: I know many people come to interviews as if they are preparing for a battle. However as Aaron Rodgers famously put it: ‘R-E-L-A-X'. Don't let nerves destroy your chances. You should take comfort in the thought that the people on the other side of the table genuinely want you to do well. They have invested time, money and effort in the process because they want their next hire to succeed and so will try to get the best out of you.

:: Barry Shannon ( is HR director at Cayan in Belfast

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