It’s difficult to know exactly the right way to prepare for an interview. I have successfully coached many graduates and developers to new jobs and preparation is essential to succeed in any interview. The question is what should you prepare and how much? Read the website? Check the latest news articles? Speak to people who currently work there? Download accounts for the last 5 years? It’s hard to know what information and how much to prepare on, and essentially how to use that preparation to demonstrate your enthusiasm for the company. I am going to offer my opinion and some thoughts on this subject.

Yesterday I had a meeting with several technical members of a top London Consultancy. Each have been involved in interviewing graduates so I was keen to know what they look for and what makes Grads stand out to them. What was quite interesting about our conversation was that it started to help me deconstruct something that I have long thought about. How can you measure how bright someone is?

Most companies recruiting Graduates are looking for a ‘bright’ candidate… but what is ‘bright’? What does it mean? It is an ambiguous word that I have found hard to measure. In the past I have relied on my gut instinct when speaking to someone to decide if I feel they are bright enough for a job. Speaking to the consultancy yesterday helped me to start breaking this trait down into measurable qualities.

They spoke a lot about good questioning skills, candidates that could ask the right questions, listen to the answers and were able to process the information. I believe the raw skill here is in being inquisitive. Some people are naturally inquisitive – they naturally know how to ask the right questions, but many people simply aren’t sure what they should be asking. I believe simply by being honestly interested in the opportunity it’s possible to demonstrate these skills in an interview, whether it comes naturally to you or not, which brings us back to the preparation necessary for an interview.

Very early in my career, when I used to prepare for interviews I’d rack by brain trying to think of a question to ask at the end. I would think I don’t want to ask anything obvious because they will think I should know that already. Preparing for an interview you should not be thinking “What will make me look good” or I’ll learn the website inside out – that will show my enthusiasm”. You should be asking yourself questions that you really care about. The fact is that you may actually get a job at this company…  If you get this job it will make a difference on the rest of your career and life. Hopefully you will be looking to stay with this company for at least a few years, you may even want to stay with them for the rest of your career. If you get the job it will occupy most of your time, these people will become your friends. When you start thinking about the opportunity in this way the preparation becomes far more focused around “what do you want to know” instead of “what could you tell them to show you’ve prepared”. If you really think about it you should already have an honest interest in them and the questions will be obvious. These are good starting points.

–          What will I be doing Monday to Friday? What is a typical day?

–          What are they really like to work for?

–          What is the industry like? Who are their competitors and what makes this company better than them?

–          What is progression like in the company – What will I be doing in 3 months, 6 months, 2 years or 5 years? What have previous grads gone on to do?

–          What is the team like? Is it a big team? Are they young/old? Social? Will I fit in?

–          Etc…

A lot of the answers to your questions you will find on the internet from reading their website, industry news, google, blogs from other members that have worked at the company etc. but you should be left with a long list of questions that you can ask at the interview. Interviews will be a lot easier as they become more of a fact-finding meeting.

The strategy is to start developing an ‘honest’ interest in your career. Don’t think “I just want to get a job”, think “I want to get the right job for me”. Remember interviews are a two-way exercise and it is important to treat them as such. When you get further through the process to the 2nd, 3rd and 4th round interviews, a lot of your initial questions will have been answered but this is an opportunity to meet and question even more people within the organization to get an even better feel for what the company will be like to work for.

–          How did they get into the organization? As a Grad or with experience?

–          How quickly have they progressed through the ranks?

–          What is their personal perspective on where the company is going over the next 2-5 years?

–          What are they looking for in their next recruit?

–          Etc…

If you use this strategy properly, not only will it enable you to make the right choice in your career but it also carries many other benefits.

–          It will ensure you come across as bright because of your ability to ask the right questions and be interested in the answers.

–          It will ensure you come across as enthusiastic because of the effort you have already put into finding out about the company.

–          It will help with interview nerves as you should be excited about going in to an interview to find more out about the job instead of trying as hard as possible about making a good impression.

–          It will help build rapport with everyone you interview with as it will enable them to speak about themselves and their company – effectively selling it back to you…

I am keen to hear feedback from you. Perhaps you approach every interview like this already or perhaps you have a completely different strategy when it comes to preparation. I am not advocating that you do no other preparation than this, merely that you take an ‘honest’ interest in every opportunity and use that as a starting point.

 Good luck to you all.

 Barry Cranford