Preparing for Interviews
You’ve written the killer CV, completed the online application, navigated your way past recruiters and talent managers, and now you’re invited for interview. Face to face, Teams or telephone, love or loathe it, now it’s all down to you to deliver in realtime. For some, this is the platform they love; the chance to showcase their skills and experience and what they can bring to the role, whilst others will read the thought of being in the spotlight and fluffing their lines. Whichever camp you’re in, there’s plenty you can do to ensure that the experience is a good one. Whether it’s picking out your ‘best bits’ in advance so that you don’t waffle your way through every question, or making sure you have enough up your sleeve to ensure you’re not stuck for an answer, we have some simple and straightforward ideas to share.
There are many cliches around the art of preparation, and for good reason. There won’t be a second opportunity to make a good first impression, and whilst it sounds obvious that you should do your homework before the interview, it’s surprising how often clients tell us that a candidate wasn’t as well-prepared as they could have been. So do spend enough time making sure that you’ve done as much as you canto demonstrate your interest in the company and role that you are interviewing for.
A good recruiter will provide you with some background information, such as a job description or specification, who the role reports to, team structure and what to expect at interview, but you should also do your own research to ensure that you standout from other candidates.
Research the company online; its history, its products and brands, its size and turnover, which categories it plays in, and where it operates geographically. Does it have a specific mission or purpose? What is its stance on issues like sustainability? You should be able to find most of this on the company’s own website, but look at other sources such as relevant trade publications (Marketing Week, The Grocer),and awards bodies like The Drum and Cannes Lions, as well as using your own network to gather informal knowledge about the company, the people and the culture.
Read the job spec thoroughly, and consider how your skills and experience relate to what’s required. Think about any areas where you’re less confident, and how you might address this if asked. Consider the brands that you might be working on – have you tried them yourself? (If not, do!) What do you think? What do they do well and what could they do better? What about the packaging? How well does it stand out on-shelf? What are your thoughts on their advertising? Does the brand have an online presence?Do they use social media/influencers? Do they have any notable partnership or sponsorship activity? Also look at the wider market – what are the key drivers in this category? Where do you see threats and opportunities? Who are the main competitors? You don’t need to do a full SWOT analysis, but jot down a few top line thoughts so you can comment confidently.
Check and double check that you know what type of interview you’re attending. You wouldn’t be the first person to rock up to an interview a week early, or to log on to Teams only to realise that you’re meant to be at an office 20 miles away, but in an ideal world, you’d rather not be that person! Check every detail, confirm with the recruiter or hiring manager, and then check again. Set a reminder on your phone as well as your diary. If you’re attending in person, plan the route, book your tickets or parking (remember to ask if there is allocated parking for visitors) and leave in plenty of time to allow for delays.
Dress appropriately –business casual unless you’re advised otherwise. Ensure that everything is clean and ironed, and that your shoes don’t let you down! Personal grooming is, well, personal, but you shouldn’t feel under pressure to be something you’re not. As long as you are clean and tidy, the rest is up to you (but it’s a good idea to avoid heavy fragrances if you’re going to be in an interview room with someone for an hour).
If it’s a Teams or telephone interview, make sure you have a link to join, you know what number to expect a call from, or if indeed, you are doing the calling. Check your tech well in advance. Do you have the right software/app installed? Is it running the latest version? Are your camera, microphone and speakers working? Do you have a suitable background? Make sure that you won’t be disturbed by your phone, the doorbell, Alexa, or any two or four legged friends.
A final word on telephone interviews; even though you can’t be seen, it’s still well worth preparing yourself as if you’re attending in person. Getting dressed, sitting in an upright chair at your desk and with your notes to hand, all help to put you in the right frame of mind. We can tell if you’re lying on your bed or slumped in a bean bag, and slurping your coffee, vaping or smoking are a huge no-no!
What type of interview?
CV based interviews are usually quite informal, bringing your experience and career decisions to life in your own words, but do resist the temptation to go into too much detail. Stick to the highlights, key achievements, promotions and reasons for moving on to your next role. Refer to anything that is particularly relevant to the job spec, such as innovation projects or working with a specific grocery account. Try to read the interviewer’s reactions; do they look interested and engaged? Demonstrate your emotional intelligence and self-reflection by pausing to allow interaction or questions. Check back with the interviewer to ask if you have answered their question, or if there is anything else they need to know.
Competency based interviews are more structured and can appear somewhat formal and intimidating, but they are simply a way of standardising questions so that a fair comparison can be made between candidates. They are typically arranged around certain key competencies, so if you know this will be the interview format, check the job spec for clues as to what they will be looking for. These will be things like problem-solving, dealing with conflict, effective communication, team leadership. You can then prepare some outline responses that you can adapt according to the specific question. There are plenty of free online resources available, so check those out too.
Whilst the possibilities for interview questions are endless, there are some that you can anticipate and prepare for, such as ‘Why did you choose a career in marketing?’and ‘What do you know about our business/why do you want to work for us?’ You can find some great suggestions in our ‘Guide to interviewing Marketers’?but also check out resources online and of course, the all-important job spec.
At the start of the interview when you may be a little nervous, sense-check that you understand what the interviewer wants to find out from each question. Beware of trying to make your pre-prepared answers fit, and take a moment to think before launching in to a monologue! For example;
Skills vs Attributes
Very often, when we ask a candidate about their skills, they will respond with a description of their attributes. Skills are things that you can back up with qualifications or specific experience, whereas attributes could be better described as your natural tendencies and the way you handle things. Think about the distinction between the two and try to answer accordingly; ‘I am really organised and work well as a member of a team’ is not the same as ‘I hold a ProjectManagement qualification and have experience of managing cross functional teams….(give an example)’
These types of questions seek to understand your suitability for the company and role, so this is where you can talk about your traits such as your work ethic, your ambition, what motivates you and what you find challenging. Whilst it’s great to be honest, be mindful of being too frank about the fact that you hate your current boss and the culture is blame-focused or misogynistic (even if it is!). Instead, try ‘I really like working in a collaborative team where everyone’s contribution is valued and we’re working towards a common goal.’ Similarly, take care not to allow your personal interests and values take over, unless they are pertinent to the role or the business. It’s fine to talk about sustainability or vegan food if that’s the company’s mission, but not if you’re interviewing fora role marketing burgers and bacon!
How to answer the tricky questions
We all dread those difficult questions that you’re never quite sure how to answer. What motivates you? What winds you up? What are your weaknesses? What would your boss/friends say about you? How do you handle stress/conflict? If you were a car/biscuit/dog what brand/breed would you be, and why? If you’re asked one of these, you can take the humorous approach (‘I’d be a Collie, I’m great at rounding people up!’), or flip it around and say what you do like. So, when asked about your weaknesses, try to put a positive spin on it ‘I wouldn’t choose to spend all my time working on spreadsheets, but I understand it’s a key task andI enjoy the output and actionable insights that the data generates.’ Whatever you do, don’t answer that you are a perfectionist, or that you can’t think of any weaknesses, you’ll come across as lacking self-awareness, or even arrogant.
This type of question is much less common in today’s world, but you may well be asked what your interests and hobbies are. It’s great if you can find some common ground with the interviewer, but stick to the neutral stuff such as sport, travel, gardening, music rather than polarising topics like politics and current affairs.
Take some time to prepare a few thoughts around what you might ask the interviewer. Even if all your questions have been covered, it’s good to have some talking points, perhaps around their future plans and projects, opportunities for progression etc. Keep it top line, but show your curiosity with some well-chosen questions.
And a final word on interview etiquette…
Even the best laid plans can sometimes come undone, life happens and situations change, but you can safeguard your reputation by following some simple principles. You never know when you’ll meet that person again, so be sure to act with courtesy and integrity.
· If you need to cancel an interview, or you are going to be late, give as much notice as possible via the recruiter, or directly with the interviewer. If all else fails, call the main company phone number and leave a message
· Only ask to rearrange if you REALLY want to – don’t waste everyone’s time by rearranging and then cancelling again
· Don’t make an implausible excuse. If you’ve changed your mind, be honest and explain your reasons, people will respect your honesty.
· And above all – don’t not turn up!