In our first blog in this series we focused on developing your career vision. In Blog 2 we described the ins and outs of finding a job after graduation, before tackling that sometimes-scary but always-necessary thing called networking in Blog 3. Last week, we talked about the merits of internships. So now, in our final blog of this series we have but one thing left to talk about before we leave you to your scintillating career journeys: interviews! This blog describes the dos and don’ts of interviews, from the perspective of an experienced recruiter in the environmental sector.
By Bridget Berlyn
This is it! You’ve found the right job to apply for, submitted an awesome CV, your killer cover letter absolutely rocked my world and you are one of the lucky few who received that elusive interview invitation. What do you do now? The short answer: be on time, be authentic, and – most of all – BE PREPARED!
1. Research the organisation (again!). Know who we are and what we do. There will be the inevitable question (or version thereof): “Why do you want to work for us?” We ask this because we want to know how much you have actually thought about this particular opportunity and how we fit into your career plan.
2. Research the position. We want to know that you are not under the impression that your job will entail swimming with dolphins every day (unless we are interviewing a prospective dolphin trainer at an aquarium). Read the job spec carefully and prepare questions about any aspects of the position that you don’t properly understand.
3. Know your stuff. Most interviewers will ask one or two technical questions to see if you are who you say you are, and that you know what you say you know. It’s a good idea to examine the job spec and to try to imagine the kind of questions that you might be asked. For example, when interviewing for a biodiversity-related position you might be asked: “What do you think are the biggest threats to biodiversity in the Western Cape?” This is called a competency-based interview question and is used to gauge your ability to grasp relevant information and apply it to the scenario at hand.
4. Come prepared. We may ask you to prepare a presentation/paper, or to stay behind and complete a competency exercise as part of the recruitment process. This is a very important part of our consideration so make sure you take the time to produce your best work.
5. Know yourself. Interviewers will often ask personal questions to encourage you to reveal your character and level of self-awareness. Knowing a bit more about what makes you tick will help us to establish whether or not you would be a ‘fit’ within the team or broader organisational culture. When we design interview questionnaires we sometimes ask: “Tell us about a time when you overcame a personal challenge, and what you learnt from that situation?” This demonstrates your ability to reflect and grow.
It helps to give some thought ahead of time to the famous interview question, ”what is your worst/best quality”, so that you have a fairly innocuous (yet truthful) answer in your back pocket. Mentioning things such as ‘poor attention to detail’ or ‘controlling in team situations’ could be deal breakers.
It is impossible to anticipate the exact questions that you will be asked in an interview, but it helps to read up on some of the more common questions asked. Here are some handy examples and tips (and here…and when in doubt, just ask Google).
6. Dress Appropriately. I am sure this one has been drilled in by now (well, I hope so!) but even if you are interviewing at a company that has a casual dress code, being smartly dressed tells us that you respect us enough to put in an effort (unsure…just Google it).
7. Be punctual – If it comes down to a neck-and-neck-race between you and another candidate, the person who was courteous enough not to keep a panel of four interviewers waiting will get the job. So take my small-town-girl-in-a-big-city advice and give yourself 10-15 minutes of “getting lost” time when planning your arrival – just in case. Regardless of the reason, if you are running late, call and let us know.
So, you are sitting in the reception area waiting for the interview. You are well prepared, dressed in a killer outfit, you’ve done your superhero poses in the bathroom and you are 5 minutes early! You’ve got this! That is, provided that you can stop your heart from pounding in your throat, and remember your own name. Or is it just me who feels this way before an interview?
To calm your nerves, I will let you in on secret: the interview is not a test! Rather, it is a guided conversation that helps us to decide whether or not you are the right candidate for the job. Remember when I said in Blog 2 of this series that I was looking for reasons to toss out your CV? Well, now I am looking for reasons to hire you. I want to place the right candidate in the job as much as you want this job. So, it may help to see your interview as an exploratory chat rather than a firing squad.
Your interviewers may ask you to do a personality test of sorts as part of the recruitment process. This is a good sign! While it doesn’t necessarily mean that you have got the job, it does mean that it is in the organisation’s interest to pay a consultant rather large sums of money to assess you further.
Assessments help to establish the fit-factor between you and your line manager or the organisation, so take the test seriously and don’t try to beat it by giving us the answers that you think we want to hear. Firstly, you don’t actually know what we are looking for, so you may as well be honest. And secondly, these tests are designed to show up the kinds of inconsistencies that inevitably come up when a candidate is answering dishonestly. This only tells the assessor about how you are trying to beat the test, and not what a great prospect you are.
It will normally take a few days for an organisation to make a decision and get approval to offer you the job. At this stage, they may inform you that they will be contacting your references. Make sure you have up-to-date contact details for at least two consenting referees. Give your referees a heads-up that they might be contacted so that they are not surprised when they get the call. You may also be asked for additional information, such as security checks, credit clearances and your pay cheque.
Remember that the interview is not over until you have a signed offer in your inbox. Be available and prompt in your responses when asked for information. A former colleague of mine used to predict the success of the interview candidates by the way they handled the job offer administration. At the time I thought that she was being old fashioned, but looking back at the candidates that I have placed in the last few years, I agree with her.
Even after considering thousands of applicants over the course of my career, one of the best parts of my job is still making that job offer call. Who knows, maybe I’ll be calling you one day!
With that, our blog series comes to an end! We truly hope that our early-career blog series has given you the insight, knowledge and – perhaps most importantly – courage that will help you to visualise and attain a meaningful and satisfying career in whatever sector you choose!
Good luck and happy career journeys to you all!
Zoë Boshoff and Tali Hoffman
Disclaimer: The views expressed here are solely those of the authors in their private capacity and do not in any way represent the views of the ACDI, or any other entity affiliated with the ACDI.