This is a sequel to my earlier post on how to write CVs and application forms. For it I assume that most people either know the basics of a job interview or can familiarise themselves with them. If not:
- Turn up on time. (Which is in practice 15 minutes early. So I allocate half an hour – and walk round the block a few times if I don’t have an unexpected delay).
- Look the part (and I am so not the person to give fashion advice. Fortunately I can just wear a suit).
- Research who you’re going to be interviewed by in advance – and show you’ve researched them.
- Ask questions throughout the interview and when they ask if you’ve any questions and don’t panic.
- Be enthusiastic.
- Above all, show you can do the job, you want to work there, and you fit with the people interviewing you.
- Finally don’t be afraid to realise half way through the interview that this isn’t a place you want to work.
Here are some less obvious pointers – and ones I wish people had told me ten years ago.
Interviewers are looking in general (there are always exceptions) for two things. Someone who can already do the job, and someone who appears to fit the workplace. You’ve made it past the first hurdle by getting to the interview, but this is the big one. There can (normally) be only one.
So other than the standard list, what should you research when preparing?
I’m serious. Prepare a dozen unusual and challenging incidents from your life. It is common for interviewers to ask questions of the form “What would you do in [this situation]?” The correct answer is of the form “When I was in [situation very like “this situation”] I did [thing].” Then explain in detail how the situations are alike in the way that matters to the interviewer and what [thing] was and why you did it. Prepare a dozen that might be relevant – and try not to repeat yourself unless you are asked a later question that is absolutely asking for the incident you’ve spoken about.
So to give an example, you’re applying for a job that involves dealing with the public – and you’ve never done that job before. You’re asked “How would you cope with someone panicking and getting aggressive?” One possible answer is “When I worked behind a bar [story of one of your worst nights]” If you have no direct experience (or even sometimes when you do) show you have transferrable skills. It is entirely legitimate to use your hobbies here.
And now we come on to the killer question. “
Name two strengths and two weaknesses.
To start with anyone who says “You should answer it [like this]” is misleading you – probably unintentionally. But it’s a good test for job interview advice and finding out which parts you should ignore. Your strengths should be easy (although I have once interviewed someone who cited timekeeping as a strength – she was fifteen minutes late to the interview).
Your weaknesses on the other hand are a killer question. It’s all about reading the interview panel; I have once interviewed alongside someone else – and we were looking for completely opposite answers to this question. To me, everyone has weaknesses. If you didn’t name any you were not being forthcoming so I was going to mark you down. To another member of the panel if you named a weakness that was a good reason not to hire you. The third member of the panel was looking for wooly answers – neither entirely ducking nor exposing themselves.
So I’m going to suggest how I handle things – this is one of those questions where you are interviewing them as much as they are you. If asked to name one weakness I mention my dyslexia as it is both a genuine weakness and something I have overcome the challenges of and that I assuredly will not need special provision.
If I’m asked to name a second, I’m as likely as not to riff on Larry Wall’s Virtues of the Programmer (Laziness, Impatience, and Hubris). This manages to simultaneously duck the question and be true – and it also establishes a rapport with a range of people likely to interview me. And this question is all about how you link to the rest of the table. So it answers the question while showing you are dealing with your weaknesses, it’s honest – and it creates personal coded ties to certain groups while really not working with certain other people I don’t want to be hired by.
But those are my answers to the weakness question – and only works for certain audiences. Of course those are normally the people I want to hire me.