Any questions? Karen Middleton on preparing for job interviews

In the second part of her advice on getting a job, chief executive Karen Middleton looks at the interview stage.

In my last column I talked about the project of looking for a new job and beginning the process of applying for posts. I want to talk a bit more about the application and interview. 
I mentioned the format for a CV but more commonly you will be asked to complete an application form. The most important piece of advice, and the thing most people do not do, is to follow the instructions. 
If it tells you what colour ink to use, what font, how many words and anything else, just do it. If it asks for evidence of how you fit the personal specification, do just that. And do this for each competence they are looking for. Also try to make your statements outcome-focused and not simply list what you have done. Remember to ask yourself the ‘so what?’ question. What difference did whatever you describe make?
In completing your application, use words that appear in the job description and personal specification. Tell the truth and capture the reader’s interest too.
Remember that your application is simply to get an interview so make sure you fulfil the requirements and then some.
And so to the interview. Preparation is everything and does take time. Try to find out who will be interviewing you. Ask if it is possible to speak to the panel members beforehand and, again, use your networks to find out as much as you can about them. I mentioned last time the sort of preparation you might have for these conversations. But whatever you say, make sure you make a good impression and ask questions that will inform your preparation. You might also want to visit the organisation and meet your prospective line-manager.
Preparation might involve researching the organisation, its values and priorities, the local health demographics and the big issues for the local health economy. It could also involve researching current national and professional issues and that is certainly where the CSP website, bulletins and Frontline can help.
Any presentation you are expected to deliver requires careful preparation. It is the one thing you have control of. The main mistake is not answering the question that has been set. Others are not sticking to time or reading verbatim notes. Do rehearse. Time yourself – and get someone to listen to you.
There are as many different sorts of interviews as posts so it is difficult to give advice to cover the full spectrum. But there are some generic points. First impressions count. My main advice is to dress as though you already have the job. If in doubt, dress more smartly than you think necessary. 
Do arrive in plenty of time and allow for travel problems. Centre yourself before you go in and remember it is a two way process: always start with a handshake.
Pause before you answer each question and try to illustrate the points you make. If you are unsure of a question, check your understanding. Nothing is worse than a candidate rambling on about a subject that has no relevance.
Do try to make eye contact and smile and the time will fly, I promise you. And have one or two questions to ask at the end.
There are more specific tips for different sorts of interviews and the more senior you get you might want to invest in interview coaching. This has certainly been invaluable to me in the past.
Two final tips: Do not do any negotiation about hours or salary until you know you have been successful and, lastly, any interaction you have with human resources or administrative staff are likely to get fed in somehow. So be very careful to show respect and be professional with whoever you speak to in the organisation.  Good luck! fl

Got a question for Karen?

Do you have a question for Karen about applying for a job, taking on a leadership role or a management issue? Drop her an email and she’ll try to answer your question in this column (suitably anonymised, of course!)​​​​​​​

Karen Middleton

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