Let’s talk about the dreaded job interview. How do you prepare for it, and what exactly is an interviewer really looking for?

During the course of our collective careers at mwah. we’ve conducted an awful lot of interviews. I’m not sure if it’s hundreds, probably more like thousands, but certainly enough to be really clear on what we’re looking for.

Here’s our take on what are the most important elements for the perfect interview:

  • The first and obvious thing, of course, is can you do the job? Do you have a set of experiences and capabilities that match the job requirements, and can you articulate this clearly and confidently with examples that demonstrate your abilities?
  • What level of energy and enthusiasm will you bring to the role? The only way of judging this is by the level of energy and enthusiasm you bring to the interview. You need to stay upbeat and super engaged in the conversation.
  • Then there’s the next layer of what kind of human you are, and whether you’re a good match with the values and culture of the team you’re going to be a part of. This is for both you and the interviewer to work out together. Are you a good fit for the team, and would the team be a good fit for you?
  • A bonus is if you have a clear view of where you could take the role, what’s your vision for what you could bring to the role and how it could grow.

If that’s what we’re looking for, then how do you best demonstrate these?

  • Do your research, know something about the company and position you’re applying to and why you want to work there. If you’re not sure you do want to work there, this will come through in the interview, so don’t fall into the trap of going for any job, because you need a job. You need to be able to express why you really want this job, or else you need to be really good at faking it!
  • Do a little more research and know the person you’re talking to. It’s a respect thing. If they’re good, they’ll know you. Knowing them back – what you have in common, for example – will be a foundation for easier connection. Why does connecting matter? Because it gives confidence and trust on which to base the whole conversation.
  • Know your own strengths and weaknesses and what you will bring to the role. People hate talking about themselves, so having these words at your fingertips will help the conversation flow, and make you look confident in yourself and your abilities.
  • Understand the job ad and position description (if it exists) so you know what they are looking for. Have examples prepared that talk to the skills and experience being sought so you can answer those behavioural style questions e.g., Tell me about a time you were able to influence someone to change their course of action.
  • If you were able to find out about the strategic direction of the organisation, have a view on how this role could contribute to that, and how you would grow the role.

Whilst you expect the interview to be about answering questions, the best interviews are a great conversation. Don’t be afraid to let your personality shine through, try to be yourself, and find ways to add a bit more information about you, rather than just the bare bones of the answer to a question.

You need to balance coming across as confident, but not arrogant. I remember one interview where I asked a question about whether someone had experience in managing grievance cases, to which they responded, yes, yes, plenty of times. They gave the impression that this question was beneath them, and they couldn’t be bothered expanding on the answer. No need to tell you, they didn’t get the job.

What are some of the questions you’ll be asked, and what are we looking for in the answer?

Tell me about some of the more memorable people you’ve worked with in the past. What was their impact on you and where are they now?

What the interviewer really wants to know is what you’ve learned from others, and have you built lasting long-term relationships with your colleagues.

Tell me something you’ve done recently that you’re really proud of.

There is no right or wrong answer to this question, but what you choose to highlight will be an indication of what you value.

Why are you leaving your current role?

What they really want to know is whether you’re leaving on good terms.

What are your development areas?

What they really want to know is that you care about learning and improving. They’re also looking to understand which part of the role you might need more support with.

Sometimes an interviewer will give you a problem that they want you to solve. They’re not usually looking for the answer, but want to understand how you would go about solving the problem, what steps you would take, and what information you’d need to collect.

The best interviews are where you both finish the interview feeling that you’ve made a connection with the other person.

Sometimes, no matter what your preparation is like, the interview can fall a bit flat. This may not be your fault. For the perfect interview, there’s a responsibility on the part of the interviewer for things to go well. Generally, an interviewer who is well prepared, welcomes you and helps you feel relaxed, is present and responsive in the conversation, will help you to perform at your best.

Don’t be afraid to ask your own questions, such as what type of person is going to fit in best with the team? For example, someone who is easy going and not going to make too many waves, or someone who’s not afraid to shake things up?

Then there’s the conversation about money. We’re surprised by how many people are unprepared to answer this question and are clearly uncomfortable with the topic. You should have an idea of what the market salary for the role is and be able to confidently say what you are looking for in terms of dollars. If you aren’t sure you’re worth what you’re asking for, then the interviewer won’t be sure either!

At the end of the interview, when you’re asked if you have any further questions, a great question to ask is, “does the panel have any concerns or feel there are any gaps in my answers?” This gives you the opportunity to add something to meet those concerns.

Summing it all up

So, be yourself, let you shine through. Keep up the energy and enthusiasm and make sure you are confident in what you say. Build a connection with the interviewer and try to make it a good conversation that you both enjoy. This should see you winning at your next interview!