Presentations at interviews

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Have you had any experience of delivering presentations at interviews? How do you prepare? How do you engage your audience?

Presentations are a common part of the recruitment process for graduate, research, teaching, consulting and other professional roles across a range of sectors.

Whether you have had a lot or limited experience in delivering presentations through university or work, you might find the tips below useful when preparing for the next steps in your career.

Purpose of having presentations at interview

The employer wants to see evidence that you can do the job and evidence of your written and verbal communication skills. This is covered in detail in the points below.

Notice of presentation at interview

Candidates are usually told 3 – 5 days’ in advance what they will be required to present on which is usually in the format of an email or a notification on the recruitment portal. You will either be given a set date or be able to choose from several dates and times. For some roles which require an assessment centre, candidates might be told on the day that they are required to present and given the brief. Presentations usually last 5 - 15 minutes and are often the first part of the interview process i.e. before a one-on-one or panel interview.

Understanding the brief

It is imperative that you are clear on what you have been asked to do. Always revisit the task and contact the employer if you have any questions. Sometimes you may be expected to present to the interview panel as if they were clients / students / colleagues etc. Examples of presentation tasks can include addressing how you would carry out one or more aspect of the role; a timeline of how you would spend your first few weeks or months in relation to a project; a strategy for engaging with multiple stakeholders, managing a budget or building a brand.

Think carefully about the task and how it relates to the job description and person specification. This is another opportunity for you to demonstrate you are a suitable match for role. Consider the questions below:

  • What do you need to address?
  • How long have you got to present?
  • Who is your audience?
  • What do you need to focus on?
  • What research is involved?
  • What is important to the employer e.g. skills and strategy?

Verbal communication – tone and speed of voice

Be aware of how you come across when you present. Do you use different tones when speaking? Consider what you are presenting on and how your voice can convey the correct message. If you have practiced your presentation, you are more likely to come across as confident in the delivery. Avoid relying on cue cards or simply reading text off a document or screen. It is normal to have speech anxiety in this situation. Usually, most of what we feel during this period is not visible to the audience. Examples of nerves include shaking, a dry mouth and an increase in body temperature. We can often speed up the pace we are presenting at as a coping mechanism i.e. rushing through the content for it to be over. However, we must recognise if we are speaking too fast or our words are mumbled. Pauses during the presentation can be a great way to gather our thoughts and give a moment for everyone in the room to process what has been said.

Time management

Your ability to deliver your presentation within the allocated time limit says a lot about you. This shows you are organised and can complete tasks in a timely manner. The planning and preparation you put in beforehand will be helpful here.

Non-verbal communication – connecting with the audience

Whether you are presenting to two people or a larger audience, you need to find ways to connect with them. How many people are expected to be present and who are they? Think about your facial expressions, gestures and posture. Looking at individuals in the eye, smiling and having open body language can help to make the audience feel relaxed and you come across as more approachable.

Written communication – visual aids

Be mindful of the type of organisation you are applying to when preparing your resources – colours, logo, values and strategy. Ensure that if you are creating a PowerPoint presentation, the colours do not clash and that you do not include too much text on your slides. Think about the use of suitable images or charts.

Be confident when using this Microsoft Office application and save several versions of it on a USB and email it to yourself in case technology fails you when in the interview room. Remember that the audience can read everything on the slides very quickly. Use the slides for key points and keywords as prompts to lead you.

Handouts can also be useful as the interviewers will refer to this for more detail on the task.

Ensure your spelling, punctuation and grammar are correct. Avoid the use of Americanisms for non-US companies. Think about the language used and the role you are going for. Visit the organisation’s website to gain a further understanding of what type of employee they are looking for.

Dealing with the unexpected

Be prepared to adapt your presentation delivery style if the reality does not meet your expectations. Examples of this include the size of the audience, room and technical issues. It is important to not get stressed or look as though you are under pressure. Try to remain calm and positive as these are qualities employers look for in most roles. Have a plan B for your presentation delivery in case something does go wrong.

Questions

Always be prepared for questions at the end of your presentation. Individuals will have queries or want to make comment on specific content. Be open to these questions and any constructive feedback and respond in a professional manner. By giving yourself enough time to prepare your presentation, you will have the confidence to articulate your strengths and ideas.

Checklist

Here is a checklist to use when preparing for your next presentation at interview

  • Seek clarification on what you must do
  • Identify your audience
  • Get confirmation on the use of technology in the room
  • Revisit the job description and person specification
  • Spend time planning your presentation
  • Practice your presentation in front of others
  • Take a course or watch a webinar on confidence building, presentation skills or public speaking
  • Speak to a careers professional or mentor about dealing with nerves

Remember…

You made a good impression during the application stage of the job and got shortlisted because the employer wants to meet you and hear about your strengths and ideas. Spend enough time preparing for your presentation so that you can demonstrate why you are suitable for the role.

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