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A job interview or how important is preparation?

An invitation to a job interview evokes mixed feelings in the candidates. On the one hand, when applying for an attractive position, everyone hopes to be invited to the interview, but on the other, when it happens, joy quickly gives way to anxiety and the vexing question ‘and now what?’. 

Regardless of whether the interview is held in one of the glass conference rooms in a tall building in the city centre, a small office of the manager of a foundation, or whether it is organised remotely, you should thoroughly prepare for it. How to do it? What to focus on? How to manage stress and present yourself in the best possible way? 

Describe your position

You should start your preparations by carefully reading the ad of the position you applied for. It is important to be aware of the requirements set by the employer and the job description of the person employed. Carry out a quick test: without looking at the offer, name the position you are applying for and try to talk aloud about the requirements for the candidates. Also, think about the daily tasks in the job offered - what would an ordinary day look like for an employee working in this position? Talking about the offer in your own words will not only refresh your memory, but it will also give you an opportunity to decide whether the job offered is actually attractive for you and if yes, to what extent. 

When you want to find out more details about the position offered, you may also analyse the offer by highlighting the essential as well as desirable competences for the position. The information published in the ad will help you to relate the employer’s requirements to your own skills and experience. 

Analyse you resources

Once you know what the employer is looking for in a job applicant, it is worth considering your own resources. Why are you a good candidate for this position? Analyse your strengths and weaknesses in a rational way, consider which tasks you find satisfying and which are the last ones on your to-do list, in which areas where you feel confident and at ease and which require intense concentration or are a source of extensive anxiety for you. Think about what you are interested in and how you can link this to the sector you would like to work in or the responsibilities of a particular position. Think about how your personality can influence your daily work and which of your qualities you would like to present to the employer.

Also, look at your previous work and educational experience. Using your CV or simple notes, consider how your previous job (even if only temporary!) or task (e.g. a group project as part of a course at university) corresponds to the responsibilities of the position you are applying for. Think about your activity in a research club or as a volunteer and what you could learn as part of it. Be creative and open-minded - just because you have never worked as a marketing professional does not necessarily mean that you do not have the experience required for this position!

Practice what you plan to say

As the next step, practice your self-presentation skills - try to talk about yourself out loud. Sometimes, even if people have a lot to say and their thoughts seem clear and logical, what they actually say may sound chaotic, full of interjections and unnecessary repetitions. This happens especially when they are in a stressful situation. Rehearsing your speech will help you not only to structure your story, but also to control your nerves and avoid using inadvertent colloquialisms (during the rehearsal you will have a chance to capture them and come up with alternatives) or talk about extraneous issues in your interview.

You may find it helpful to structure your speech using bullet points to list your skills and experiences that you particularly want to share with the employer in the context of the offer. What competences do you have that will enable you to perform well in the position offered? What previous professional or educational experience corresponds to the skills needed for effective performance in the position offered? What are your weaknesses and how do you deal with them on a daily basis? What motivates you to work? These are just some of the questions you should answer before the interview.

Make sure you look professional

When preparing for a meeting with an employer, it is also worth planning your attire. As a fundamental rule, your clothes should be neat and clean and in good condition. Apart from this, it is important to ensure the outfit is suitable for the job - some industries and positions allow more leeway in terms of a dress code, while others have strict rules defining the appropriate dress code. To avoid a potential faux-pas, take the time to consult the available materials about the company or institution - for example, photos of the team posted on social media or the code of conduct published on the website. You should also feel comfortable in your outfit - beautiful but unwearable shoes or clothes making you feel like someone else will not work. Remember that the classics will never fail you - a light colour shirt or blouse, elegant trousers, a business dress or skirt, polished and well-kept shoes and well-chosen, understated accessories will not only enable you to make a good impression, but they will also not distract the employer’s attention from the most important issue - your competences. 

Find out more about the employer

A true classic discussed during a recruitment interview is the candidate’s knowledge about the organisation to which he or she applies. Hence, you should try to learn more about the company: get to know its business profile and departments, read about offices in other cities, find out about the company’s history and organisational culture. Also, remember the benefits offered by the company in the advertisement and the location of its headquarters. Be ready to answer the question as to why you would like to work for this organisation.

Prepare questions

The interview is a chance for the two parties, the candidate and the employer, to get to know each other. So be ready for the recruiter to devote some time to your questions. This is an excellent opportunity to clarify any doubts, find out about the responsibilities at the workplace, ask about the team, the immediate supervisor or those aspects of the organisational culture that are unclear to you. It is a good idea to prepare such questions in advance so that you can demonstrate your engagement and interest and you do not forget them due to the stressful situation of the meeting itself. Remember that your questions are also assessed by the employer and asking insistently about the salary, the possibility of a pay rise, bonus and holidays may cause the employer to perceive your motivation as superficial. 

Interviews are based on the art of effective self-presentation, which, like any other skill, requires training: talking about yourself, active listening and responding accurately to questions, as well as managing your body language and inherent stress. The key to feeling more confident before an interview is to have a thorough understanding of the offer and a rational assessment of your own competences. It is important not to be excessively optimistic or overcritical - look at your strengths and weaknesses as objectively as possible, and try to back them up with examples: What proves that you are excellent at teamwork? What event leads you to say that you are not a good organiser? 

Treat the interview as a chance to learn more about the offer and an opportunity to let your recruiter to get to know you.

Remember that on the other side of the table/screen there is a person whose aim is not to make you anxious but only to see how well your competencies match the position they have to offer. This kind of a calm, balanced approach will certainly bring an interesting conversation. 

If you need to test your self-presentation skills before the interview, come to the Careers Service where our career advisers will be happy to help you during individual consultations.

About the author

Emilia Latała-Cudecka – psychologist and professional advisor for persons with disabilities. She is a graduate of Psychology at the Jagiellonian University and Human Resource Management at the Tischner European University and currently she is undergoing training in psychotherapy at the Postgraduate Medical Education Centre of the Jagiellonian University Medical College. Her interests include socially oriented trends on the labour market, such as diversity management and intercultural management, as well as CSR activities. Her focus is psychology of human development in the life course, in particular developmental changes and transferrable skill building as well as their significance in successful career development.