What can I do to prepare for the unpredictable?

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To an extent, you can prepare for anything; you may not have a specific answer up your sleeve, but you can have a strategy, even if it’s only to take a breath to organise your thoughts. Not all the questions in this section are unpredictable, but they represent some common issues which, if not anticipated, can throw you on the day.

How do you deal with anxiety?

Understanding where that anxiety is coming from is half the battle, although I’m not suggesting therapy is necessary for you to perform well in an interview. However, it’s all about taking control and a good antidote is to prepare and focus on what you would like to say rather than on what might happen. If you’re anxious about what questions they might ask, look at the job description and write your own questions, then practice them. If you’re concerned you’ll be late, get there the night before…and so on.

If you get offered a job, but want to attend another interview coming up soon, how do you go about telling the first employer this?

You can consider telling the first employer the truth at the outset, i.e. that you’re applying for a number of jobs, they will then be prepared. If you do tell them, they don’t really want to hear that you’re holding out for a better offer, nor do you want to give them the impression you are just dithering and can’t decide what to do. If you’re going to be open, be polite, calm and clear. Possibly tell them that you’re having difficulty making up your mind and perhaps it comes down to location. Another option is to ask for time to think over their offer, but stress that you are still very interested. The conventions differ in different sectors. Some are used to giving people a week to mull over an offer. Others, like teaching, often expect people to decide there and then.

When you don’t have the knowledge of a particular issue but you have the capacity to learn and do it properly, how do you convince the panel of this?

This is probably the area where being able to show evidence of skills and competencies is of prime importance. Brainstorm as many examples as you can (both in and outside work) where you have had to learn and apply new learning. How did you approach it, how did you use your initiative, whom did you enlist to help you, what was the result, would you have done it differently? In short, break the example down in to its component parts.

Tackling the interview presentation topic in 10 mins (what do they want to learn in 5 minutes!)

Ideally, the employer will have told you exactly which competencies and aspects of the job and person specification are being tested by the presentation. Quite often the content of a presentation is the subject of the first interview question. If you have only 10 minutes, communication skills, and the ability to build rapport are likely to be the main aspects being assessed. Try and find out to whom you’ll be presenting. Often it’s potential colleagues; sometimes you’ll be asked to imagine the panel are students or a typical client group, so adapt your style and content appropriately. Play to your strengths and be yourself.

How can I prepare for being interviewed by people I know?

A good panel chair will acknowledge the strangeness of the situation before the questions start which will help put you at ease. Remember, they can only score you on what they hear, especially if you are up against external candidates, it wouldn’t be fair otherwise. So don’t assume knowledge on their part. It’s also hard to be invited to suggest improvements without feeling you are implying the job hasn’t been done well, especially if the previous incumbent is on the panel – which does happen. You might acknowledge the great improvements to date and then say how you would build on that work in the future.

How do I deal with aggressive interview panels?

The days of ‘hostile interviews’ are pretty much a thing of the past. There is a big difference between someone who doesn’t smile, has a stern tone of voice and interrupts you if you waffle on too long and someone who is aggressive. The limited time for an interview, typically 45 minutes, also means that follow-up questions can be delivered fairly briskly and this can feel uncomfortable at times, especially if you’re not fully prepared. Academic interviews will of course, ask you to back up your arguments and they may do this brusquely. The best advice is to focus on what is being asked not how. Prepare by asking a friend to ask some questions in a formal and business-like style.


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