How to prepare for a job interview
Get Interview Ready!
Chris Webb outlines the steps FE professionals can take to feel more prepared for job interviews and practical tips for enhancing interview success.
We’ve all been there – the nervous excitement (or sometimes just nerves!), the anticipation of what might come up, the creeping sense that you might have forgotten something important – a job interview can often be a daunting experience, but it doesn’t have to be! In this article, I’ll outline some of the key practical steps interviewees can take to feel more prepared for job interviews ahead of the big day!
Step #1 - The Pre-Preparation
Many of us only start preparing for an interview once we’ve sent off an application or received an interview date but there are benefits to starting earlier in the recruitment process, particularly if it is a role you are really interested in. Contacting the named individual on the job advert to inquire about the role can be an excellent way to both get your name in the minds of the recruitment/interview panel and also gain some additional insights about the nature of the job role that can help with both your application and interview preparation. Most job postings on sites like college.jobs.ac.uk will have a named individual who you can contact with any questions about the role and searching for and contacting individuals currently doing this type of job in the ‘People’ section on an organisation’s LinkedIn profile is another useful way to gain insights into a role before you interview for it.
Step #2 – Research Matters
‘Research the organisation’ is possibly one of the most common pieces of advice when it comes to interview preparation, and with good reason! Taking time to get a better understanding of the organisation you are applying to isn’t just about ticking a box to show that you’ve bothered to do some research, it helps you to craft interview answers that are relevant to the organisation and allows you to connect your knowledge, skills and experience more clearly to the institution/role that you might be applying for. With this in mind, it’s important to think of the research you undertake for a job interview in a couple of different ways:
- The Sector – What’s happening in FE right now that might have an impact on the institution you are applying to or the job role you are going to be doing if successful? For example, you could consider looking at the possible implications of new government legislation like the Skills and Post-16 Education Act (1)
- The Organisation – What are some of the key things you might need to know about the organisation you are applying to? This could involve looking at their institutional values to see how they match with your own values and experience, reviewing their most recent Ofsted report or getting a better idea of the organisational policies that might impact the job role you have applied for e.g. Safeguarding, Student Support, Wellbeing etc.
Step #3 – Prepping Your ‘Go-To’ Answers
While interview answers should never feel too robotic or scripted, there can be an advantage to preparing key points you want to hit for your ‘Go-To’ answers at an interview – this might be because there are key questions you know are going to come up (for example, ‘Why do you want this role?’ or ‘What would you bring to this position?’ are both questions that come up regularly at most job interviews) or simply because there are specific examples from your experience that you know it will be valuable to mention in relation to the job you are applying for. Whatever the reason, preparing short, bullet-point reminders about key content for your ‘Go-To’ answers can provide invaluable prompts for you on the day of the interview.
Step #4 – Revisiting the ‘Cheat Sheet’
Always save the job description! It’s extremely easy to apply for a job role and then lose track of the job description once the vacancy expires, but this can be one of the most valuable tools for your interview preparation, so make sure to keep it somewhere safe! The job description for a role acts as your ‘Cheat Sheet’ for the interview itself, as it provides the key information regarding what you would be doing in the job (duties/responsibilities) and what the organisation is looking for (the person specification) that allows you to anticipate the type of questions that might come up on the interview. For example, if a person specification for a job role lists ‘Ability to lead a project’, ‘Ability to solve complex problems’ and ‘Ability to organise and motivate students’, it is likely that the interviewer/s may ask questions designed to find out about your competency in these areas. Revisiting the job description in advance of the interview will also help you to consider which examples from your experience you might want to use in the interview to evidence your relevant knowledge and skills – a recent article from Henrietta Nagy on the college.jobs.ac.uk website (2) explores how to approach these competency-based questions in more depth, including how to make the most of the STAR technique! (3)
Step #5 – Thinking Beyond the Interview
Sometimes, your job interview may involve more than simply a one-to-one or panel interview and might include other activities such as a tour of the institution, an observed workshop/session or an in-tray exercise. You may not always be able to prepare for these additional interview activities completely (particularly if this is part of the exercise itself) but by considering the ‘Cheat Sheet’ tips above, you can make a reasonable assumption about what skills or competencies the organisation might want to assess using these sort of activities. How you come across before or after the interview itself is also extremely important, as many interviewers take this into account when assessing candidates – being positive and appreciative of reception staff or other individuals you meet at the organisation on the day of the interview can go a long way!
Step #6 – A Two-Way Process
Finally, don’t forget that an interview is at its core a two-way process, in which both parties (the employer and the applicant) are scoping each other out to ensure that the relationship will be a good fit! With this in mind, it’s usually good practice to prepare at least 2-3 questions for the interviewers that you can take with you to the interview on the day – this could be anything from ‘What would your expectations be for me in my first 3/6 months in the role?’ to ‘What does the training and development offer look like for support staff at your institution?’ but ideally should demonstrate your interest in the role and the fact you have pictured yourself doing the job you are applying for. These questions don’t have to come at the end of an interview – helping an interview feel more like a conversation can make the experience seem more natural for both interviewees and interviewers!
- GOV.UK – Skills Bill Becomes Law - 28 April 2022
- college.jobs.ac.uk (Henrietta Nagy – 4th April 2022) – Competency-based interview questions and responses
- GOV.UK - How To Use the STAR Interview Technique in Competency-Based Interviews