Answering Interview Questions 2

In an earlier article, Answering Interview Questions 1 (you can read the article here), I wrote about interview candidates only needing to prepare answers to a few core questions which stem from four concerns of hiring managers. That article then explored how to respond to two questions – one which frequently starts off an interview (Tell me about yourself) and the other that frequently is one of the last asked (What are your salary expectations?). Here I explore other questions that an interview candidate must prepare for and suggest how to do this.

Focused, Competency-based Questions

As the hiring manager needs to establish during the interview whether a candidate can actually do the job, you can expect to be asked specific questions about how you meet the key requirements for the job. Hopefully your resume was focused on this specific job and therefore listed your skills relevant to the job. If so, the interviewer will ask you about them and these questions usually come in a particular format.

The format for asking about your skills is based on behavioural or competency-based interviewing techniques. The thinking behind this technique is that past behaviour is a good predictor of future performance. Therefore, for each skill that is a key requirement for the job (and for all the skills you list in your resume), you should prepare an answer to this question: “Can you give me an example of a time you did XXX?” (Replace XXX with the relevant skill, job task, or responsibility). Another popular way of asking this questions is: “Tell me about a time you did XXX”.

The interviewer is looking for specifics and detail, and if you cannot provide a credible example, you are deemed not to possess that skill. It is difficult to bluff in answering these questions as the interviewer usually asks deeper, related questions to understand the situation better. Such follow-on questions include “How many people were involved and what were their responsibilities?” Or “How exactly did you go about planning this?” “How did you monitor and track progress?” So your answers need to be based on a real example.

The way to answer competency-based questions is to use CAR stories. C-A-R stands for Context, Action and Results (another form of this is STAR stories – Situation, Task, Action and Results). You explain the Context of your example in terms of how the situation came about and any other background details. You then explain the Action you took or the action your team took but describe your involvement. Finally, you discuss the result or results taking this action led to. If the result involved anything quantifiable such as cost savings or increased sales, quantify the results in monitory (dollars $) or percentage (%) terms.

In addition to credibly demonstrating that you possess the skill being discussed, using C-A-R stories adds impact to your interview performance. Everybody loves stories and pays attention to them, so relating your answer in this format makes you memorable.

Questions relating to your Strengths

A sure to be asked core question stemming from the hiring manager’s four concerns relates to those about your strengths and can you do the job. You can be asked about this usually in one of four ways:

What are your strengths? OR

Why should we hire you over other qualified candidates? OR

What would you say are the main things needed to do this job well? Can you do those things? OR

Why should we hire you?

Whichever way the question is asked, you should approach answering it in the same way. Start by stating that you more than meet the three or four top requirements for the job (these are a mix of skills, qualifications and experience) and give examples of when you used them (use C-A-R stories). Then talk about any skills, education and experiences that make you unique – things other candidates probably don’t have or don’t have in the specific combination of them that you have. Throughout your answer, remain aware that you are trying to show that you meet the key requirements of your job target.

What about Weaknesses?

Unfortunately many interviewers still ask this rather pointless question. No candidate in their right mind is going to sacrifice themselves by discussing a weakness that might mean not being offered the job, and other answers are probably not relevant to the position anyway! Trained interviewers are told to avoid such unproductive questions.

If asked, the way to address this question is to mention one or two shortcomings that are not very important to the job, but to discuss them in a way that shows you are self-aware and that you are doing something to overcome the weakness. You could make the answer even stronger by giving an example of a time you overcame the weakness, and effectively make it sound like a strength!

What are your career goals?

Interviewers ask this question to see if you know where you want to go with your career or are drifting through it. Your answer will also give them an idea whether you will stay short-term or longer with their company, and also whether you have done some research on them. If you sound too short-term or drifting, they may not offer you the job if they have another candidate who knows why they want the job and where it fits into their career plan.

The way to approach this question is to convey that you want to work in companies that match your personal and career goals, and align with your work values – linking this to their company will really prove to be a strong answer and have them already viewing you as “one of them”! So firstly talk about the job responsibilities you want to have a few years down the road in broad terms. Then talk about the type of company and people you want to work with (if you really want the job make it sound that this is them!) and explain how and why the company is a good fit for your goals. This will demonstrate that you have done your homework and researched the company, its people and its culture. It further indicates that, since you know a lot about the company and believe it to be a good ‘fit’ with your goals and values, you will stay more than just short-term.

What did you like most / least about your last position?

In some ways your preparation for the previous question is relevant to this one too. The approach should be to link your answer to the requirements of the job target and not to talk about a list of negatives about your previous company or boss – if you talk about your previous company negatively, it might be assumed that you would do so about the target company too.

Instead talk about how you liked most aspects of the previous job and company, but that you would have liked more of “X” in that position. Here “X” should relate to one of the responsibilities of the new position. You could also mention that you are looking for a new challenge or a role with more of a regional focus (but only if the new role requires this). You could also talk about wanting to work in a company with a more “Y” environment or culture – where “Y” relates to something that exists in the new company. Answering in this way puts a positive spin on your answer by making it sound that you are attracted to the role and company rather than just trying to get away from something you dislike about your current or previous role.

Why do you want to work here and what do you know about our company?

This question too is related to the previous two questions and seeks to establish if you are an ‘informed’ or ‘uninformed’ candidate. An ‘informed’ candidate will have researched the company sufficiently to answer this question competently because they will be able to talk knowledgeably and meaningfully about the company and how it ‘fits’ with their personal goals and values. Hiring managers strongly dislike ‘uninformed’ candidates and in surveys report that they won’t hire them even if they meet all other requirements for the job!

You can read more about this in our article “How to Be an Ideal Candidate for the Job” here.

So you don’t have to prepare separately for hundreds of possible interview questions as this article and particular Answering Interview Questions 1 demonstrates.

Answering Interview Questions 1

You only need to prepare for a few core questions

Preparing for a job interview is a daunting task for most people and many people feel overwhelmed with the seemingly huge amount of work involved. But the task doesn’t have to be so overwhelming if planned properly. One area that prospective interviewees should focus on is preparing for commonly asked or otherwise predictable questions.

The hard way of preparing for these is to do an internet search on “interview questions” because you will inevitably end up with hundreds of such questions – that would certainly add to the feeling of being overwhelmed! However, the majority of possible interview questions only require preparing answers to just a few core questions. Let me explain why.

What the Hiring Manager is concerned with

During the interview, the hiring manager (or recruiter if applicable) is concerned about four things:

  1. Can this candidate actually do the job? Have they got all the ‘key requirements’ (a mix of skills, qualifications and experience)?
  2. Who is this person? What are they like? What type of personality have they?
  3. Will this person fit in with my team or company? Will they fit in with the organisation’s culture?
  4. How much is this person going to cost me?

So you don’t need to research and prepare answers for hundreds of interview questions. Instead, all you need to do is to prepare your responses to just a few possible questions that stem from the four main concerns of hiring managers listed above. If you prepare material so that you can competently and confidently discuss these four concerns of hiring managers, you will have prepared answers to most questions you can be asked at interview! The questions may be phrased differently or come in various forms, but essentially they are asking about these four concerns, and the responses to them will be similar – based on your preparation to discuss them.

Make sure to give the hiring manager what they want

In order to do well in the interview, your task is to provide the hiring manager with all the information they require to put the above four concerns to rest. As many hiring managers are not trained in interviewing skills, they may or may not ask appropriate or sufficient questions to elicit this information, so your additional task is to make sure you address them whether asked about all of them or not. In other words, you need to be proactive in the interview.

That start off question: “Tell me about yourself

Some people, both interviewers and candidates, see this question as one to settle you down – an easy question to answer because it is about you. But it is a mistake to respond to this in a casual or informal manner, and a wasted opportunity too. A well-prepared response is as easy to prepare and deliver as a casual ‘history of me’ answer!

This question provides a great opportunity for you to describe your background (i.e. education and work and other relevant experience to date) in a manner focused on showing that you meet the key requirements of the job [you can read an article on how to identify these key requirements here – it is titled “The Single Most Important Task In Your Job Search”].

Answering the question in this way also helps you steer the interview in the direction you want – that is to demonstrate how you meet these key requirements. From your answer, the interviewer will pick up on a few points you mention to continue the discussion – and conveniently you have prepared for these points.

One useful way to structure your answer to the question is to talk about your education (from university or school onwards, whichever was most recent) and your work experience. Then discuss the skills you developed along the way, especially those that are your strengths (you can read how to identify your skills and strengths here).

The skills and strengths you choose to discuss should of course be focused on some of the key requirements of the job. You can follow on from that by discussing one or two of your work achievements, particularly any you are proud of or are relevant to the job target.

The Salary Question

In answering questions that stem from the fourth concern of the hiring manager (How much is this person going to cost me?), the key is to not get into negotiating salary before you are actually offered the job – read how to do this in our article “When Is The Right Time To Talk Money During Salary Negotiation?

Further “Tips for Negotiating a Higher Salary” are discussed here.

Just in case you made a mess of your salary negotiation at an earlier interview or answered too soon or asked for too much in the current interview, read our article “Did You Ask for Too High a Salary During Your Interview? Here’s How to Make A Comeback.”

A following article, Answering Interview Questions 2, looks at other core questions that stem from the four concerns of a hiring manager. You can read that article here.

MBA Fair, 11th April, 2018

An MBA event with some useful ‘freebies’.

As many of our readers are interested in the topic of an MBA (Master of Business Administration degree), we have agreed to advertise this up-coming MBA event in Singapore. This event is free-of-charge.

For those who are considering doing an MBA degree or have an interest in the topic, there are some ‘freebies’ you might be interested in such as a one-on-one chat with business school admissions directors, GMAT instructors (probably worth going for this alone!), and scholarship information (another worthwhile attraction!).

The event will at least give you much information on a range of MBA and Executive MBA courses that the organisers are ‘marketing’ and a chance to talk with someone from those universities who will be able to answer questions relevant to their institution. Another valuable feature of this MBA event is that there will be panel discussions featuring school representatives and alumni – the alumni will be able to give you the real picture of the pro’s and con’s and the up’s and down’s of each of the programmes being marketed.

The information ‘flyer’ we were sent is as follows:

Join the Access MBA Tour and connect One-to-One with world’s best business schools. Find your MBA match with the help of our international team of business education experts.

Hold personal meetings with Admissions Directors from prestigious MBA programmes, get advice from our MBA consultants and GMAT instructors, hear from school representatives and alumni during Panel Discussions, and learn about 2 million euros in scholarship opportunities.

Some of the participating schools: INSEAD, IE Business School, ESSEC Business School, HKUST and many others

Date: April 11, 2018

Time: From 5:00 pm to 10:00 pm (upon invitation)

Venue: Orchard Hotel Singapore; Address: 442 Orchard Road

Metro Station: Orchard

Register athttps://www.accessmba.com/link/5a

To secure your place at the event, you would be well advised to register at least 10 days before the event.

This is your opportunity to take the first step towards your MBA journey!

Salaries of the 2017 Graduates from SMU, NUS and NTU

Average graduate starting salaries increased again for 2017

The Ministry of Education recently revealed this year’s results of the Graduate Employment Survey conducted jointly by the universities. The survey reveals the starting salaries that the 2017 graduates from the main Singaporean universities attracted. For simplicity, this article will only discuss the mean or average salaries of those who secured permanent full-time jobs – of course, there were those who attracted higher salaries, particularly those who achieved distinctions in their degree, as well as those who received lower.

All of the universities reported an increase in average starting salaries from the previous year (2016).

Singapore Management University (SMU):

The average salaries that SMU graduates secured were: $3569 for accountancy, $3862 for business, $4013 for economics, $3922 for information systems, $3344 for social science, and $4778 for law. As in previous years, SMU law graduates received the highest average starting salaries for their year.

National University of Singapore (NUS)

The average salaries that NUS graduates secured were: $3005 for arts; $3365 for social science; $4124 for dentistry; $4958 for law; and $2298 for music.

The two multi-disciplinary programmes attracted $3297 for environmental studies and $4010 for computer engineering. The Yale-NUS programme graduates secured an average of $3812 for arts and $4362 for science.

The medical school graduates average starting salaries were $4367 for medicine/surgery; and $3165 for nursing.

Engineering graduates attracted an average salary of $3508, and the individual engineering disciplines starting salaries were $3215 for biomedical engineering; $3550 for chemical engineering; $3361 for civil engineering; $3529 for electrical engineering; $3783 for engineering science; $3425 for environmental engineering; $3905 for industrial and systems engineering; $3269 for materials science engineering; $3537 for mechanical engineering.

The school of science average starting salaries were $3053 for science; $3186 for applied science; and $3473 for pharmacy. The school of computing starting salaries were $4510 for computer science; $4061 for information systems; and $4114 for business analytics.

The business school average starting salaries were $3770 for business administration and $3396 for accountancy. Architecture attracted $4037; $3034 for industrial design; $3105 for project and facilities management; and $3090 for real estate.

Nanyang Technological University (NTU)

The average starting salaries for graduates of the business school were $3530 for business; $3121 for accountancy; $3830 for the double degree of accountancy and business; and $5036 for the double degree of business and computer science.

Engineering starting salaries were $3645 for aerospace engineering; $3326 for bioengineering; $3326 for chemical and biomolecular engineering; $3373 for civil engineering; $3667 for computer engineering; $4078 for computer science; $3532 for electrical and electronic engineering; $3538 for environmental engineering; $3685 for information engineering and media; $3279 for maritime studies; $3288 for materials engineering; and $3422 for mechanical engineering.

Humanities, arts and social science graduates salaries were $2862 for fine arts; $3119 for Chinese; $3134 for communication studies; $3286 for economics; $3042 for English; $3206 for history; $3042 for linguistics and multilingual studies; $3107 for psychology; $3353 for public policy and global studies; and $3263 for sociology.

Science degree graduate average starting salaries were $3177 for biological science; $3035 for chemistry and biological chemistry; $3517 for mathematical science; $3504 for mathematics and economics; $3367 for physics / applied physics; and $2722 for the double degree in biomedical science and Chinese medicine.

Sport science and management average starting salary was $3372; while the Bachelor of Arts in education was $3489 and the Bachelor of Science in education was $3610.

What is involved in Outplacement Support?

Outplacement support benefits the company as well as the individual

This is a question I have to frequently answer either by e-mail or over the phone. When retrenching a staff member or members, people in the Human Resources department like to offer the person or persons involved various supports to help them secure another job. This is also aimed at protecting the company’s reputation, both internally and externally.

The Benefits of Outplacement Support

Providing outplacement support presents a more human and caring side of the company, and to the remaining employees, it shows that the company is going to great lengths to help the retrenched staff. This lessens the inevitable blow to staff morale that accompanies retrenchment.

To the outside world – customers, clients, suppliers, the media, etc – a company that provides outplacement support is viewed as less mercenary and penny-pinching. Even when people don’t fully understand the need for the retrenchment, by providing outplacement support they perceive the company in a more positive light.

Of course there are huge benefits to the retrenched staff from outplacement support, and as stated in a previous article, it helps their self-esteem as well as places them in the best possible position to secure another job.

So what is involved in outplacement support?

Career Choice and Planning Programme

There are generally two programmes involved. The first, which we in Sandbox Advisors call ‘Career Choice and Planning’, is focused on providing the individual with a clearer understanding of their career goals; the options or choices they have; the constraints they face; their skills and strengths; their work values and motivations; their core interests, particularly those related to work or career; and their personality type and how it affects their career and job search.

This ‘Career Choice and Planning’ programme not only leads the individual to a better understanding of themselves, but helps them identify ideal industries and careers to focus their job search on. In doing so, it broadens the scope of their job search and widens out the variety of jobs they are willing to pursue. In short, it increases their options.

The process also uncovers vital inputs for crafting a new, impactful resume, cover letters, and online profiles such as LinkedIn. The increased self-knowledge also helps prepare them for job interviews and salary negotiation.

The steps involved in the ‘Career Choice and Planning’ programme includes psychometric inventories or personality assessments – the Myer Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI) and the Strong Interests Inventory (SII); the completion of a set of self-assessment exercises to uncover achievements, skills and strengths; work values elicitation; and the unearthing of deep aspirations about work and career.

Transition and Job Search

The second programme, which we call ‘Transition and Job Search’, focuses on getting interviews and converting them into a job offer.

Resume, Cover Letter and LinkedIn Profile

The starting point of this programme is the crafting of an impactful resume, cover letter and LinkedIn profile – these are the tools used to secure interviews. To create these impactful instruments, the individual has to complete a workbook that compiles and assembles information in particular formats – they are provided with a guidebook and supporting materials to help them. Their career advisor then uses this to craft an impactful resume and profile.

The Job Search

Once the individual has a new resume, cover letter and LinkedIn profile, they are ready for the job search part of the programme. Their career advisor helps them develop a three-pronged job search strategy focused on the three approaches to job searching – job boards, employment agencies or recruiters, and networking. Using a guidebook and directed by their career advisor, the individual produces a personalised strategy for their job search. This, and the use of the tools discussed above, will attract more interview calls.

Preparing for Interview

The interview preparation part of the programme involves two workbooks. One is focused on presenting the individual’s career achievements and key strengths in an impactful, structured manner – this also provides a structure for answering unexpected questions. The second workbook is focused on answering interview questions, and in particular, focuses on commonly asked and expected interview questions specific to the individual’s job target. When the ‘content’ for interviews is prepared, then there is practice in the ‘techniques’ of successful interviewing, including a mock interview and how to be proactive during interviews. Building and presenting confidence and poise during interviews is also practiced.

Ongoing Support

When the preparation stages described above are completed, we provide ongoing support to the individual for a period of two months. This involves tracking their job search activities and providing advice on how they should tweak their approach if necessary. The individual is also provided with guidance for ongoing needs, such as tips for upcoming interviews and dealing with various job search situations. This support ensures that they ingrain all the best practices for a good job search and that they execute a speedy and effective job search.

The Single Most Important Task in Your Job Search

You need to show that you meet the requirement of the job
You need to show that you meet the requirements of the job

Career advisors are often asked what is the single most important task in the job search process. The answer is undoubtedly the identification of the key requirements for the targeted job.

There is an assumption underlying this statement which is that a resume is to be specifically targeted at one particular job and not used ‘generically’ for a wide range of job applications. However, the identification of the key requirements for a particular job is not only to be used for focusing a resume, but it is also of the utmost importance in preparing for interview too, as we shall see.

Firstly, let us consider the importance of the key requirements when crafting a new resume. All career advisors agree that one must have a very focused resume to get called for interview for one’s targeted job. So how do you focus a resume?

To get called for an interview, the applicant or candidate needs to specifically demonstrate in their resume that they meet all or most of the selection criteria for the particular job. The selection criteria roughly equates to the main or ‘key’ requirements to perform in the job reasonably well. These ‘key’ requirements will be a mixture of skills, qualifications and experience.

The task of identifying the ‘key’ requirements is easier for a publicly advertised position because the ad usually lists both the responsibilities of the job and the main requirements needed to do it well. However, it is wise to check that the advertised requirements is complete by doing some research – see below.

When a position comes from the “hidden” job market – that is, through networking where candidates hear about the job through ‘word of mouth’, there usually isn’t a job description or person specification to go with it. In such cases, the job applicant has to do some research themselves. To start, search the internet for previous advertisements of the same or similar roles – what requirements were listed for these? Then talk to people who are already doing that job – or to their immediate supervisor. Ask for their opinion on what the key requirements for the job are. Thirdly, you could also search an occupational database such as O*Net (www.onetonline.org) that will provide data on the tasks, responsibilities and requirements for a huge range of jobs.

The above research will uncover quite a lot of information and you will need to distill this down to a manageable number. As you need to demonstrate in your resume that you match the requirements of the job, you need to identify and determine just the 6 to 8 “key” requirements for the specific position. Print off this list and have it in front of you as you write your resume. The Summary or Profile and the Key Skills sections of your resume need to reflect these 6 to 8 “key” requirements. In wondering what to include and what to leave out – if something is relevant to the key requirements it should be included, if not, leave it out. In this way your resume will have greater impact as it is focused on showing that you meet the main requirements for the job. And because it does, you will be called for interview.

As stated above, knowing the 6 to 8 “key” requirements for the position also guides your preparation for the interview. As you prepare answers to commonly asked questions, the answers should be focused on demonstrating how you meet the requirements. After all, from the interviewer’s perspective, the interview is about discovering if you can do the job and showing that you meet the requirements meets this objective.

Therefore, for these reasons, identifying the 6 to 8 “key” requirements for the job is the single most important task in the job search process.

Managing That First Impression at Interview

You have to manage that first impression

When you arrive in the interview room, it is only natural that you want to make a good first impression. The impression we make is determined by our non-verbal communication – what is usually referred to as our ‘body language’. Our bodies are constantly giving off signals – they continually communicate what we are feeling and thinking inside – that is why it is called ‘body language’. That first impression takes but a moment – it is both a conscious and sub-conscious process in the mind of the interviewer, and within a few seconds they have an initial impression of you.

Your non-verbal communication is something that interviewers pay close attention to. From the very first moment that they see you, they notice how you are dressed, the expression your face, whether you are smiling or frowning, your handshake, and the way you hold your body. These all contribute to that first impression. So you have to manage that first impression. But how?

There are a few exercises that will help you make a stronger, more positive impact in that first impression. The first of them is something you do before the interview and involves deliberately changing your body posture to control the levels of two hormone. You want to increase your testosterone level and decrease your cortisol level – cortisol is the stress hormone. Power-posing is how you do this, and by power-posing for just two minutes before an interview (or any other evaluative event such as speaking in public), your performance will be significantly better.

Dr Amy Cuddy, a social psychologist in Harvard Business School, gave a TED Talk on how to do this – watch her most interesting talk here, or go to: https://www.ted.com/talks/amy_cuddy_your_body_language_shapes_who_you_are.

The second exercise involves taking control of your breathing. When we feel stressed – and being interviewed is a stressful situation – our breathing tends to be shallow and higher in the chest. By breathing deeply so that our diaphragm pushes our stomach out, we relax our body (again bringing the cortisol level down). But breathing deeply has another positive effect – it bring energy into our body, an energy that can be used to show enthusiasm and interest in the job and organisation you are being interviewed for. This extra energy in your body deepens your ‘aura’ and projects confidence and poise.

To achieve the correct breathing, get balanced with your feet firmly on the floor (whether you are standing or sitting). Breathe in deeply through your nose all the way down to your stomach, and hold the breath for a couple of seconds. Then exhale the breath out through your mouth more slowly – the ideal ratio of out-breath to in-breath is 2:1. Do this for five minutes in the waiting room and you will feel calmer, more relaxed and more energetic – ready to perform better at the interview.

The two exercises above will help you appear more confident, poised and relaxed when you sit in that interview chair. More importantly, inside you will “feel” confident, poised and relaxed.

To round things off, pay attention to your handshake as this too gives off a sub-conscious signal. A wet, limp, cold handshake portrays fear and a lack of confidence, and produces an “ugh” feeling in its victim! On the other hand (no pun intended!), a firm, strong handshake portrays confidence and self-belief, and is a pleasant experience for the recipient, especially when it is accompanied by a smile. But firm and strong doesn’t equate to hurting – so get the balance right. Practice your handshake with a few friends or family members, and smile as you do it. Get their feedback and adjust your handshake as suggested.

When you are in the interview, sit upright but relaxed in the seat with your lower back touching the back of the chair, and your feet firmly on the floor. Take two deep breaths before speaking as this will bring back the effects of the earlier breathing. Now you are set for a good interview!

The Most Important Task in Preparing for Interview and Answering Interview Questions

Its crucial to identify the 6 to 8 “key” requirements of the job

Your objective at interview should be to demonstrate that you are the most suitable candidate for the job. To do this, you need to show that you meet all of the key requirements for the job – but how do you find out what these are?

If the job was advertised in the newspapers or on job boards on the internet, then the task is simpler. Usually a job advertisement will list the main tasks and responsibilities of the position, as well as essential and desirable requirements. The requirements will be various skills, qualifications and experience. However, do not stop there but do some research as well such as that suggested below.

Interviews for positions secured through networking (and as much as 50% of jobs are found through networking) present a bigger problem – there is no advertisement to identify the responsibilities and requirements. So what should a potential interviewee do then?

Search the internet for previous postings of similar jobs. Try to gather the information for a few postings as there will probably be slight variations across different companies for the same or similar jobs. From these, identify the common elements and what seem to be the key requirements.

If you know people who are doing the same or similar jobs, especially in the company you are to be interviewed for, talk to them. Ask them for their opinion of what they believe to be the key requirements to be able to do the job. If you know a manager or someone who has been involved in interviewing for your target job, even better! As them about the key requirements. And if you don’t directly know anybody who can help with this, ask your wider network if they know someone you can talk to.

You can also do a Google or LinkedIn search for people either doing a job similar to your target job or the manager of such people. Connect with them on LinkedIn and then ask for their advice – people like to be asked for advice because it shows you respect their opinion!

Lastly, you can search an occupational database such as www.onetonline.org – this site contains details on nearly every job you can possibly think of.

When you have completed the research suggested above, you will have an unwieldly long list of responsibilities and requirements of the job. You need to distil and reduce this list to the 6 to 8 “key” requirements to do the job effectively, so prioritise and group similar requirements. Having just 6 to 8 “key” requirements is more manageable and easier to focus on, because they are the focus of all your interview preparation.

Your task then is to match yourself against these 6 to 8 “key” requirements – do you have them all? As stated earlier, these requirements will be a mix of certain skills, qualifications and experience. To present yourself as the most suitable candidate for the job, you will have to illustrate at interview that you possess each of these. In preparation, you should expect questions such as those asked at behavioural or competency-based interviews: “Can you give me an example of a time you XXX (used X skill or gained X experience)?” The answer to such a question demands a story which demonstrates how you used the particular skill or gained a particular experience. The best way to do this is with a C-A-R story (Context or Challenge – Action you took – the Result you got) or a S-T-A-R story (Situation – Task – Action – Result). Phrasing your story this way will give it impact and make it credible.

Your focus then at interview is to make sure that you get the opportunity to demonstrate that you have all of the 6 to 8 key requirements and, of course, tell them as CAR or STAR stories.

Why You Need to be Proactive during an Interview

To succeed at interview, be proactive in the process

To ensure success in an interview, you need to be proactive in demonstrating that you meet the main requirements of the target job. To understand why, you need to know what typically happens in a company before it gets to the interview stage.

The interview is happening because a job vacancy has occurred due to either:

  • Someone leaving (voluntarily or otherwise!); or
  • Someone is being promoted; or
  • The team is being expanded (more work, expanded scope, etc).

Either way, once the job vacancy is identified, it will be filled according to a process something like this:

The hiring manager (i.e. the manager who has a vacancy) wonders if there is someone he already knows who could do the job. If yes, then great! If not, he will ask his team and other internal managers if they know of someone. If yes, again great! But if not, the next step is to ask his wider network if they know of someone suitable (he will ask managers he knows in other companies; those he has met at conferences, seminars, meetings, etc; and people he knows socially or plays tennis with, etc).

This networking process frequently produces someone to have a ‘chat’ with – this may or may not be a formal interview, but either way, in the hiring manager’s mind, it is an interview to fill the vacant position. Even though the person has only been ‘referred’ to them, the hiring manager usually takes this as a ‘recommendation’. Unless there is something obvious that indicates the candidate won’t be able to do the job well, they will usually be offered it.

Without a formal job description and person specification, the hiring manager will ask questions based on the presented resume and about some of the key skills involved in the job. The decision will mainly be by ‘gut instinct’ on the basis of “I’ll know it when I see it!

The result of such a process can be very ‘hit and miss’ from both sides. If the candidate doesn’t work out, the company has to go through the expensive process of finding a new person. For the candidate starting in the job, if they don’t have most of the actual requirements for the job – many of which may not have been articulated during the interview – the job won’t be a good ‘fit’ for them, and not only will they not perform well, but they won’t be happy in the job either.

If the networking process doesn’t produce a ‘suitable’ candidate, the job vacancy will have to be advertised in the newspapers or on job boards – or given to a recruiter in an employment agency. The recruiter will usually advertise the job, but will also conduct LinkedIn and Google searches – hence the value of having a LinkedIn profile and even a personal webpage.

For either to happen, the HR department are usually involved, and they will ask the hiring manager to create a job description and a person specification – they will offer to help with these, and with turning them into Selection Criteria.

This is a lot of work and hiring managers hate it! They already have too much work to do and don’t want to be bothered with something they have little expertise in. Even when completed, sometimes the job description and person specification are incomplete or not properly focused. When faced with this work, hiring managers often try to hold out until their networking eventually produces someone!

Whatever the process is that leads up to the interview, it has to go ahead. One or more candidates will be interviewed. And here is the problem – not only are many hiring managers not trained in developing job descriptions and person specifications, they are not trained in interview techniques.

So you as a candidate and interviewee need to help them. You need to be proactive and help steer the interview in the direction it needs to go – and that’s to demonstrate that you have the key requirements for the job and will ‘fit in’ to the team and company.

A following article will elaborate on how to demonstrate this.

What to ask for when networking

Ask for advice, not a job!

Networking can be a complex process for many people! There are different aspects to it and all of them require thought. Starting with a clear objective is important – knowing exactly why you are doing it and what you want to get out of it provides direction and motivation. Knowing who to connect with or meet is also important – otherwise you could end up with hundreds of contacts who can’t help you with your objectives. Knowing how to get connected to or meet the people who can help you in your job search is another important part of networking. These aspects of networking have been dealt with in previous articles on this website.

The question of what to say to people or ask of them once connected is frequently asked. This question typically arises when new networkers hear that the golden rule of networking is not to ask for a job. Asking people you have just met or been connected to for a job can create awkwardness, especially if they don’t have a job for you. Asking for a job directly scares people off and can create a ‘cul de sac’ or dead-end for you. So what do you ask of them instead?

Assuming your objective was to connect with people who are in a position to offer you the type of job you are seeking (or at least to connect with people who know these people and could connect you or introduce you to them), then what you ask for is advice or information. Asking someone for advice is non-threatening – it doesn’t create awkwardness – and frequently strokes the person’s ego as it shows respect and admiration. People ask advice from people whose opinions they believe matter, and when asked for advice, it’s natural for the person asked to assume that the person asking admires or respects them. They therefore are likely to agree to help!

The advice to ask for is about your career or about your job search. Tell the person that they have taken the career path you wish to pursue and that you wish to discuss with them the best way forward for you in your pursuit. You are merely asking for career advice.

Or you might again say something flattering about their position or career to-date, and on that basis you are seeking information or advice on the best way to achieve your career goal (i.e. get that job!). As long as you are not asking them directly for a job, they are likely to agree to meet you or get involved in an e-mail exchange. Meeting face-to-face is the most effective way of doing this, and asking for just fifteen to twenty minutes of their time shouldn’t be too much. Always end such discussions by asking them who else might be able to help you.

Even without asking for a job there is much to be gained from such an encounter. You meet them, discuss your career and job search, and they might actually have a vacancy for you! If they don’t, you will have gained valuable knowledge about your career or job search, and they may refer you to someone else who might have a job vacancy or who can introduce you to someone else who might. No matter what the outcome, it’s a positive one for you.

To back up your position that you are not there to ask for a job, do not bring a copy of your resume with you! If asked, tell them that you are there for advice and information so didn’t bring a resume with you, but that you will send it to them shortly afterwards.

This type of meeting (it’s called informational interviewing) is not difficult to conduct, and consistently produces positive outcomes.

Set Career Goals for a Brighter Future

Create your future by setting career goals

The New Year is a time many people make resolutions and set goals for various parts of their life, but few people set or revisit goals for their career. Rather than having specific and clear goals, many people almost drift though their career – they have an idea that they want to be promoted or attain a higher salary, but they don’t actually have a clear goal of where they want to be in ten years’ time or what is the next step or milestone on getting there.

People who plan their career achieve more and are more successful. They tend to be the people that others are envious of and wonder what they are doing to get promoted faster than their peers. People who plan their career are usually more content, satisfied and fulfilled in their work. People who plan their career are more likely to get where they want to go because they have a ‘career roadmap’.

So, as it is the New Year, now is a good time for you to plan your career, and below describes how you can go about doing it.

The starting point for career planning is a question: Where do you want to be career-wise in seven to ten years’ time?

Seven to ten years is considered long-term in career planning, but it is also useful to consider what job you want to retire from at the end of your career – depending on your age, this may be considerably longer-term than your seven to ten year career goal. However, an ‘end-of-career’ goal can provide overall direction to your career and how you think about it. Your ‘end-of-career’ goal may change over time as you gain experience and/or develop new interests, so it is not completely fixed or ‘set in stone’ – but it is an important beacon providing guidance to your career direction.

To develop your career plan, it is useful to identify both your ‘end-of-career’ goal and your seven to ten year career goal. Indeed, your seven to ten year career goal will be a major milestone on the way to your ‘end-of-career’ goal. Even if you are unsure or unclear about your ‘end-of-career’ goal, you can still develop a valuable and constructive long-term plan by focusing on a seven to ten year period. The process of determining both is the same, just that one is a longer duration than the other and will have more milestones. Here, for simplicity, we will focus on developing a seven to ten year career plan.

Having answered the question of where you want to be in your career in seven to ten years’ time, write that down at the top of a sheet of paper – this is your end point. Also write down at the bottom of the page where you are now – the job you are currently in – this is your starting point. This is the framework for your career ‘roadmap’.

Now you need to consider what milestones are in between your starting and end points. Let’s begin at your end point: What type of job do you need to be in to be considered eligible to get the long-term job that you want? What experience and skills are required for this job? This is the final milestone on the way to your career goal.

And for that job – the final milestone job – what job would you need to be in to be considered eligible to get promoted to this job? This is your second-last milestone. And so on until you are back at your current job and have identified milestones all the way to your end job.

Now you have a career roadmap that has identified your long-term career goal (the end point) and each type of job you need to get along the way as milestones. You can see a clear direction your career needs to take. When job opportunities present themselves, you now have guidance on whether such jobs will help you get where you want to be – are they in keeping with your career roadmap? Will such a job help you get the next job that is a milestone on your career roadmap or the one after that? If so, you should take it – if not, it is a distraction on your way to your end goal.

A following article will show you how to create a career development plan that will identify the skills, qualifications, knowledge and experience necessary to secure the jobs on your career roadmap.

How to Identify Your Skills and Strengths

Identify Your Skills and Strengths

To properly prepare for a job interview or to craft a more impactful résumé, at some point you need to identify your skills and strengths. As in previous articles, a ‘strength’ is a skill that you are both good at and enjoy doing. Everybody has skills they are good at but don’t really like doing, so it is better to focus on those that you do enjoy – work using your strengths leads to job satisfaction, fulfilment, and happiness at work.

So, how should you go about compiling your skills and strengths? Firstly, look at your current job – what skills do you use everyday, regularly, and infrequently? Open a file on your computer and start listing these skills. You need to reflect on your job – on what you actually do to meet your objectives. As you list your skills, make a separate list of those you are good at and those you enjoy doing – i.e. your strengths.

Then examine what you did in your previous job and list the skills you used for that. There is no need to repeat any skills you have already listed. You will probably find that there is a large overlap between the skills you use in your current position and those you used in your last job, but make sure to identify those that you no longer use.

Move on to the next job, and then the next, and so on until you have listed all the skills you have used in every position you have held to-date. Depending on your age and experience, identifying and listing your skills can be a tedious task, so perhaps do it over a few days. Doing it this way will not only prevent becoming overwhelmed by the task, but will also result in a more complete list of your skills as your subconscious mind will still be working on identifying your skills even when you are not consciously doing so!

When you have listed all of the skills you have used in your work, both current and past, write a list of all the achievements you are proud of in your life. These achievements will be from both your work life and non-work life, and may include events such as getting a degree, getting married, becoming captain of a sports team, etc. When you have listed the achievements you are proud of, ask yourself what these say about you. For example, getting a degree might say you are studious and disciplined, while passing your driving test at the sixth attempt might say you are determined, motivated and resilient. Then identify the skills you used in these achievements. Since you are proud of these achievements, you most likely used skills you are both good at and enjoy doing – i.e. strengths.

The next step is to identify skills you use outside of work – these are important too. For each of your leisure activities and hobbies, list the skills you use in each. If you are in a leadership position related to any of these, note the skills associated with that role. Some people realise that they have finance ‘strengths’ they use as treasurer of a club, or organising skills they use as secretary of a group. Others identify counselling related skills from voluntary work they do with their faith group or from their involvement in a local youth club or elderly befriending group. List all these skills as some will be strengths and many may well be transferrable skills that an employer might be interested in.

This exercise of identifying your skills and strengths may be a tedious task, but it is also very revealing about yourself. Most people are not aware of all the skills they possess, nor of their strengths, and the process of identifying them is great for their self-esteem. One of the rewards of completing this task is that you will feel better about yourself afterwards. You will also have a realistic list of your skills for updating your résumé, and won’t have to think too hard when you are asked to discuss your strengths at an interview.