In this series of 4 articles Julian Smith provides you with some clear guidelines as to what the typical hiring manager expects of you at an interview. Today we take Test 4, Prove your skill set.
Setting the Scene
In my career to date, I’ve spent hundreds of hours interviewing candidates for jobs – either as one of my direct reports, or someone reporting to a member of my team. Every “first interview” has 4 key hurdles or tests you need to pass to get to the next stage of the interview process. You’ll need to pass all 4 well, to be the preferred candidate for the job – and that should be your goal right up front.
Ask yourself, “What is the employer looking for from the perfect candidate and how can I position myself so that I am perceived as one of the front runners for the position?”
Remember perception is everything in the first interview – you may well be the most qualified or experienced, but how you come across during that first meeting carries the most weight initially.
Here are the 4 tests you’ll need to pass to progress and my tips on how to ace them.
We’ll take each “test” separately in a series of 4 short articles with tips on how to ace each one. This is Test 4.
Test 4: Prove Your Skill Set
This may seem like the most important hurdle of all – that you actually have the skills and experience to do the job. It is and it isn’t. If you’re offered an interview, it’ll be because your CV or initial screening indicated you’re likely to have the necessary skills, or because the company may have a training programme to get you up to speed. Whilst skills can be trained – you must prove you can deliver the core skills and, if not, have the ability to learn.
- Demonstrate you have the required skill set, or the capacity to learn quickly: You should consider what skills the perfect candidate for the job would have and assess yourself against these. The best way to do this is to review the position description and review the key outcomes and competencies the role specifies. Never accept an interview without being able to review the job description. If one is not available, then chances are the company is “fishing” and may not be serious about appointing someone into the role. At the very least you should be able to chat with the recruiter or hiring manager on the phone and ask them to give you a rundown on the key deliverables of the role and the key skill sets and experience required.
- Behavioral Questions: During the actual interview, it’s likely that you’ll experience behavioral questioning techniques that are designed to uncover how you have performed in the past in a range of key areas. Often they’ll start with “Tell me about a time when you had to use X”. In a structured interview there’s usually a behavioral question for each key competency being sought.
- Competencies: The best way to prepare for these questions is to establish the key competencies required (which is why access to the job description is critical) and to learn the STAR technique for answering. The STAR method gives the interviewer all the information they need in a format that makes it easy for them to evaluate you. You describe the SITUATION (S), the TASK (T) you had, the ACTIONS (A) you undertook and the RESULT (R).
- Assess your skills & experience against the key competencies in advance: By determining the key competencies in advance you can prepare a series of stock examples of where you have demonstrated that skill set. Expert interviewees are able to choose examples that are interesting to the interviewer, illustrate multiple competencies and they communicate them clearly and succinctly. Again the key here is to practice, practice and practice. If possible, bring the situation you have used back to how this may apply to the role you’re being interviewed for.
- Align your skills and experience to the key competencies: You might find it helpful to get a soft copy of the job description from the recruiter and under each of the key competencies, type out your example that proves you have the necessary skills – don’t forget you need to have a “meaty” result that resonates with the interviewer. While the journey and the actions you undertook are important, business is still about achieving outcomes. Be sure to use the STAR method to outline your experience clearly and succinctly.
- Listen actively. During the interview itself, the skill you need to master is not just talking, but listening. Make sure you truly understand a question before you start answering it. If it’s not clear to you, ask the interviewer to clarify it for you. “Could you clarify that question for me, which skill set would you prefer me focus on in my answer”?
- Look out for visual indicators: Listening is done by the eyes as well as the ears. Look for non verbal cues. Are the interviewers engaged, do they seem rushed, are they making eye contact (when not writing)? If you get the sense that you’re not being listened to – ask yourself why? Are my examples too long, am I speaking in a monotone voice, have I moved off topic? When interviewing there is nothing more irritating that someone who waffles and moves off topic and doesn’t get the hint when I ask them to be more specific. It’s generally an immediate fail.
Recruitment is not an exact science and can be a very subjective processes – but you can ensure you position yourself for success by being aware of these 4 “tests” and preparing well for each one.
At the end of the day, you’re marketing yourself to your prospective employer – put yourself in their shoes and ask what they are really looking for and what makes you the best person for the job? Even if you’d rather stick a needle in your eye than work in sales, the interview process is essentially a shopping expedition by the employer and you want to position yourself as an asset they really want to acquire. You need to sell yourself – authentically.
You may wish to re-visit the previous 3 tests:
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