How to overcome interview nerves

How to overcome interview nerves I have this friend. He is keen to move jobs however there is one major problem – he has a fear of interviews which has stopped him applying for roles. Recently, he took the brave step of sending his CV for a role and was lucky enough to get invited to attend an interview. Instead of being happy (let’s face it – getting to interview stage is cause for celebration in itself!), he was instantly anxious at the thought of going through the interview process. His anxiety wasn’t just the nerves that most of us experience when faced with the prospect of an interview, it was full-blown panic which occupied his every waking hour. He became increasingly withdrawn and edgy as the interview date approached. Clearly, working in the recruitment industry, I was seemingly well-placed to help him but I must admit I struggled. As someone who enjoys interviews and interviews people for a living, it doesn’t hold much fear for me simply because it is my job and crucially, I have had so much practice. I really had to put myself in his position to try to understand what he was so afraid of and to help him get through it. His biggest fear was that he wouldn’t be able to articulate his experience in a clear, concise way and at worst, would freeze completely. In order to help him prepare, we broke this down into the following areas: Know yourself If you are very lucky, you will work for a company who give you regular performance reviews. “Lucky?!” I hear you say, I know that regular appraisals are rarely the highlight in anyone’s calendar. However, they equip you with many of the skills you need to be good at interview (clearly, not something your company is actively trying to encourage!). Fundamentally, they make you think about your role in detail and give you the opportunity to talk about it. They make you analyse what you are good at and what you need help with. In short, they get you thinking about all the things you are asked at interview. Unfortunately for my friend, he works in an industry where decent performance management is a rarity and he hasn’t had an appraisal for around 15 years! In my opinion, this is tantamount to human rights abuse, but that’s one for another blog! Despite being a highly skilled, professional and motivated employee, he struggled to articulate his experience at all - he simply hadn’t had the practice. For him, we had to start at the very beginning in order to get him to the point where he could talk about his role. Preparation A good analogy when talking about Interview preparation is that you should have an imaginary filing cabinet in your head which you then fill with examples of your experience in different areas eg. People management, working under pressure, problem solving etc. Your preparation should involve ‘filling’ your files with good examples so that in the interview itself, you can quickly find the relevant ‘file’ and retrieve the example. Rather than trying to memorise numerous answers to questions (which you may or may not be asked), this technique focuses on your own experience in different areas. This is what you should learn, rather than stock responses to standard questions. This will also mean that you are more able to cope with ‘curveball’ questions. A useful way to structure these is to use the STAR / CAR format – click here for more info That said, there are some categories of question which you would be wise to prepare for (what are your strengths/weaknesses? Why are you interested in our company/role?). Be wary of over-preparing My friend spent a lot of time preparing for his interview. He, quite rightly, researched the company in depth. However he spent lots of time trying to anticipate questions they would ask and rehearsing his answers. He even went as far as writing these down. In a way, there’s nothing wrong with this if you are using it as a technique to understand your key strengths but the problem he found was that he put so much pressure on himself to remember these perfect answers word for word, that as soon as he messed up, which everyone does inevitably, he was unable to get back on track. Also, the way you write is very different to the way you speak and so this may not be the best way of helping you prepare. It would be much better to jot down bullet points and key words as a prompt. Plan the logistics It may seem obvious but I have lost count of the number of people I know who failed to plan their journey and turned up late or worst, went to completely the wrong place! Making sure that you know exactly where the interview is being held and if possible, doing a dummy run to suss out the parking situation etc. will give you one less thing to be nervous about. Likewise ensure your interview attire is clean, ironed and not missing any buttons. Anticipate anything likely to cause last minute stress and ensure it is sorted. Learn to relax My friend is a passionate music fan however when I suggested he listed to some music to help him relax before the interview he was adamant that this wouldn’t work as he needed to be completely focused. He clearly felt this was the best way to handle it, but ultimately it didn’t work and he entered the interview as jittery as ever. Perhaps, using music as a last minute form of distraction would have helped calm him down. However you do it, spending time trying to relax before an interview is a vital part of your preparation. Understand what/who you are up against Part of your preparation should include research into your interviewer – read here for advice. If you don’t know who you are meeting, call and ask. It may just be that the person you are meeting has a similar background to you (and therefore you have some common ground) which will help reassure you a little. Either way, forewarned is forearmed. Equally, try to find out what the style of the interview will be. Is it a formal panel interview or a more informal sign-off? I appreciate that it can be very difficult to find this information out if you are dealing with the company directly however it is worth asking. If you are being represented by a Recruitment Consultant, I would be surprised if they didn’t ensure you were fully briefed on this. Clearly, you need to prepare yourself anyway, but it may help your nerves if you know what to expect in advance. Think of it as a conversation. I know this is akin to saying ‘picture your interviewers naked’ but if you can tell yourself that an interview is merely two parties getting together to learn more about each other, it may dispel some of the fear factor. It is a two-way street – you are there to learn about the company as much as they are there to learn about you. Please also bear in mind that many interviewers will be inexperienced and may well be suffering from nerves themselves! Don’t be afraid to acknowledge your nerves. In my friend’s case, they had an insightful interviewer who could see he was paralysed by nerves and who addressed this head on. He was mortified that they had noticed but let’s face it, if you are very nervous, your body will give you away. Much better to acknowledge it by saying “please bear with me, I am very nervous” or “I haven’t had an interview in a long time”. This will make you more human and approachable and a decent interviewer will then be able to help you come through it. In the interview itself, if offered a drink, always accept a glass of water which will help guard against the dry mouth which nerves tend to produce! It also gives you a device to buy some valuable thinking time if you get a question which is particularly tricky. Unfortunately, the best way to get better at interviews and keep the nerves at bay is to do more of them – something which few of us are likely to do unless we are active in the job market. Interviewing well is a skill you can learn however coping with severe nerves requires you to prepare more thoroughly to ensure that you are feeling as confident as possible, minimising any superfluous anxiety. Ps. Despite his declaration that the interview was a complete disaster, my friend was offered the job! Clearly, he had prepared well enough that the interviewers got a good enough feel for him despite his shaky start. Thankfully, he didn’t allow his interview-phobia to stop him from seeking a new opportunity…
 

Top 10 tips for creating 10 great first impressions in the first 10 seconds of an Interview

So you have been successful in securing an interview, you have passed the Telephone Interview with flying colours and you are fully prepared for your first face to face interview. It’s all plain sailing from here right? What can go wrong? Speak to anyone who has ever interviewed and they will tell you that there have been numerous occasions where the interviewee has made the worst possible first impression at the start of the interview and that it was hard work from there on in. Perhaps worst of all, the interviewee is often oblivious to this fact. Here are some basic suggestions to ensure you hit the ground running and that the interviewer is excited, not disappointed, by their first impression of you:

1. Make eye contact immediately. This may seem incredibly obvious. However all too often a nervous candidate will fail to do this. This is the biggest killer for first impressions as it raises a number of sub-conscious doubts including the impression that the person is rude. Look a these tips if you are aware it is a personal weakness and would like some ideas on how to improve.

2. Once you have made eye contact, the next thing the interviewer will often notice is footwear! So, and again this is obvious, ensure you have clean, polished and ideally ‘on-trend’ shoes! If you are interviewing with a fashion or design-led business ensure you are dressed appropriately for their brand. 3. Wear clothing appropriate to the interview. As per the previous point, a poor choice of the right attire can be a killer for first impressions. Without wanting to specifically highlight my own gender’s shortcomings…try to ensure you haven’t picked out a suit you bought 20 years ago! This can create an impression that you are old fashioned and lack attention to detail. Also, it is important that you accessorise appropriately. For women, too much jewellery can be off putting and similarly an eyebrow piercing is probably not going to do you any favours in a corporate interview! It is also vital to dress appropriately for the company culture. For instance, in the Retail sector, we have some clients for whom it is imperative to arrive suited and booted. However, we also have some clients who don’t want to see candidates in a tie and in some cases, a suit would be positively frowned upon as the interviewer themself is likely to be wearing jeans and a fleece. 4. The handshake! Clearly there are a number of cultural complications here. However, in the UK, this is incredibly important. A weak handshake is a real first impression killer. If you are applying for a leadership role this can be one of the most important things that you must get right. However, be careful not to be too firm, as this can imply that you are attempting to assert control. I interviewed for a role with a firm many years ago and received feedback that I had done well but the lady I met was unimpressed by my handshake….I had failed to let them know that I had broken my hand a week before and was in significant pain! My learning from this was to pre-warn people if you have a problem! 5. Greet the person by their name. This can be one of the most psychologically influential actions you can do to create an immediate positive impression Read here if you are sceptical! 6. Greet the person confidently and ask ‘how are you xxx?’ I am always amazed by how little interest an interviewee shows in the interviewer. This is not only a polite question but it also demonstrates a certain degree of emotional intelligence, a quality increasingly sought after in modern leaders. 7. The second question you are likely to be asked (and yes this will generally happen in the first ten seconds) is whether you would like a drink. It is crucial that you accept this offer of hospitality. A refusal can be considered rude in most cultures around the world. As an aside, greet your interviewer with a large energy drink in hand and this really will create a terrible first impression! 8. Smile. A smile can mean lots of things however to put it simply it implies you are social, you like people, they like you, you are confident and you are pleased to be at the interview. 9. The first impression will often start before you have seen the interviewer. Switch off your mobile phone in the reception area and do not be tempted to read emails etc. You will be much more relaxed and will come across as being in control of your personal/working life. As an alternative, take a serious newspaper, appropriate trade magazine with you and ‘be seen’ to be reading this. This will give the impression that you are ‘well read’ and intellectually curious. 10. Interact with other interviewees / receptionist. If you are in an animated conversation with another person when the interviewer enters the reception area their first impression will be that you are confident and sociable. I hope this helps and as always, please add some suggestions to the comments below.
 

In 2014 what is the most important thing Retail candidates must demonstrate at interview?

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The retail recruitment market is now moving at its fastest pace since 2007. I can’t back this statement up with statistics (other than overall unemployment is now down to 6.8%) but I have spoken to a lot of employers and candidates recently and they have all said the same thing, it is much better out there. In fact it is dramatically different to this time last year. Candidates whom were struggling to get an interview previously now often have anywhere from 3-5 processes. Clearly this creates a new problem, what roles do you go for…another blog for another time!

Despite the fact that the market is shifting, it is still, just, an employer driven market. I stated in my previous blog that I think this will have tipped in the candidates favour by September. In the meantime employers are still relatively cautious with interview processes usually running over several stages, psychometric tests common place and the assessment centre used liberally to work through volume.

However, regardless of how employers are approaching their selection there is one trait/behaviour/characteristic that they all want to see.

ENERGY

As retailers pull out of cost cutting and look to growth they will need a different type of leadership. The vast majority of retailers have taken a battering over the last six years and while in the main the fittest have survived there is still a big job at hand. The rate of change has been fast over the recession but few retailers have a genuinely joined up multi-channel strategy or have truly embraced the range of technological resources available. The high street isn’t dead either and there are a lot of chains looking to expand again. This is only going to increase as the economy improves, confidence returns and retailers look to invest again.

As a result employers are looking for candidates with the drive, passion and desire to support this growth. They need ENERGY.

I think I’ve lost count of the amount of times I have asked candidates to demonstrate energy at an interview, a bit of fizz as a client said to me last week. So how do you demonstrate ‘fizz’?

1)      Talk with your hands.

2)      Use positive body language, lean forward, keep a good posture at all times.

3)      Vary your pitch, tone, volume and pace of talking.

4)     Talk about things, when relevant, that you are genuinely passionate about.

5)      Drink a coffee.

6)      Ensure your eyes are ‘sparkling!’ Get a good nights sleep and if you are still looking a bit tired then try some eye drops.

7)     Smile, smile and smile. Laughing helps too.

If you feel you can’t really demonstrate energy in your interview, you are probably applying for the wrong job! Everyone excepts that you shouldn’t try and be someone that you are not but this is your one chance to impress a potential employer and convince them of your energy and drive to perform. Make sure you take that opportunity.

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How to write an interview script – with FREE Retail Area Manager Interview Template

We are often asked by clients for sample interview questions for certain roles. This tends to be by smaller companies who perhaps have a small HR function and who have never had reason to write a formal interview process or script. With this in mind, we thought it would be useful to outline how to draw up a standard interview script. It may sound simple but there is more to it than googling ‘top ten interview questions!’ – at least if you want the interview to effectively assess potential candidates! NB. I have kept this intentionally simple. If we were designing this for a client from scratch we would need to go into more detail, designing a competency matrix as the foundation before writing both the job description and subsequent interviews. Why have a standard interview? There is a balance here between making the process too standardised and having an informal process which purely relies on personal opinion rather than hard evidence. If the process is too formulaic, you may miss out on some of the candidate’s less tangible qualities. If you have no process at all, chaos tends to ensue with each hiring manager looking for something different, no audit trail and worst case scenario, questions being asked which are discriminatory or even illegal! Also, a big problem companies face when recruiting is that the people doing the interviewing may have had no interview training and be nervous themselves when called upon to interview. Having a (good) interview script can help give inexperienced interviewers confidence. What are the competencies/capabilities you are looking for? This should be the starting point for any recruitment process. Of course there is more to it than that (culture fit, personality etc.) however at the very least, you need to know that the candidate has the capability to do the job before you factor in their potential ‘fit’ with the company. If you don’t have one already, it is worth drawing up a list of competencies for the role you are recruiting for. These should be a clear guide to the specific skillset required, ideally with key measures for each competency attached. Keep the list brief – any more than 6 competencies and it will be very hard to assess these effectively. Think about what the absolute pre-requisites are and ask yourself “what will the person be doing to demonstrate success in this role” and “how will we measure their success?”. The format should look something like this: Once you have your competency matrix agreed with the key stakeholders, you can use it as the basis for the job description and the interview process. What structure do you want your script to have? For a straightforward interview, e.g. for the first stage of a process before an assessment centre or where there will be a 2 stage process with a structured interview first followed by an OJE or sign off interview at final stage, then I would suggest the following: a combination of a competency based interview and a more fluid set of questions to assess culture and team fit. That way, you will be assessing in a rounded way while still providing a robust audit trail and a consistent set of questions for every candidate. How many questions? This is a tricky one. Ideally, an interview like this should last between 1 and 1.5hrs – anything less and I would question its validity. However, different interviewers will have different styles – some more verbose than others and some more skilled at keeping an interview moving if the candidate’s responses are too long-winded. I would use the competences as a guide and aim to ask 2 questions per competency. This will keep the interview balanced and then you can allow additional time for the more open, culture based questions. What format should it take? Again, simplicity is key here. Having worked in-house and knowing how difficult it was to get any interview feedback from hiring managers at all let alone anything in writing, it needs to be a document which is easy to use. There should be enough space for notes and there should be specific enough questions to guide the interviewer about how much detail they need to give in terms of feedback. To score or not to score It is possible to assign a mark for each question, enabling you to give a total score for the interview. This can be done by apportioning a score per competency e.g. if you have 5 competencies for an Area Manager role, you could assign 4 points per competency, giving you a total of 20 possible marks. The scoring for each competency is based on a scale for instance: 4     Excels in demonstration of capability 3     Demonstrates capability 2     Demonstrates some areas of capability however has some development areas 1       Does not adequately demonstrate capability   If the assessor feels the candidate has excelled in their demonstration of the competency, they would get the full 4 points and so on. This tends to work particularly well when used as part of an overall assessment process. We have created a free Area Manager interview script template, download here:
 

10 of the biggest interview #fails

Attending interviews is a nerve wracking experience and a situation where a number of things can go wrong. Sometimes interview mistakes are embarrassing, often they could have been prevented, and some are funny later - even if they weren"t funny at the time! At AdMore recruitment we have nearly 70 years of experience between us and have certainly seen and heard of our fair share of mistakes and blunders. Below are some examples and the names of course have been changed to protect the innocent…

  • Don’t hug the interviewer: - At a previous employer my boss at the time was interviewing for someone to join our team. Having interviewed a number of candidates he selected his preferred individual and organised for them to meet our Managing Director.  At the end of a grueling 90 minute interview, the MD gave the candidate some positive feedback in reception and went to say his goodbyes. Feeling warm and exited about joining the company the candidate shook the MD’s hand and decided to embrace him with a giant man hug! I am glad to say that despite the faux par, the individual was offered a job and did join the business. Unfortunately for him, it wasn’t the last time he heard the story at work though!  If the interview is going well and you are getting a good “vibe” you need to make sure you don’t let your emotions get the better of you, maintaining your composure is key. It can be easy to feel comfortable in that situation, lower your guard and perhaps say something you otherwise may not have done.
 
  • Don’t walk out… One of my colleagues was running an assessment centre on behalf of a client when one of the candidates asked to excuse himself to use the toilet. The candidate failed to reappear after 5 minutes, after another 5 minutes it was agreed someone should go in to check he was ok. Upon entering the toilet the window was open and the candidate was no where to be seen! The shame was that he was actually doing okay. Interviews and assessments are designed to be challenging, to put you through you paces and assess your capability for the role. This means at times it may feel uncomfortable and difficult but you should always try and stay the course. In reality it may not be as bad as you think and unless you stick with it you will never really know.
 
  • Was that a toilet I heard flushing? –One of my colleagues shared a story from when they were working as an in-house recruiter and were conducting telephone interviews for a mid/senior role in Europe. Towards the end of the interview where they were providing the candidate with some information on the role, they were most disturbed to hear a loud flushing of a toilet in the background, raising some serious questions about what the candidate had just been doing! So make sure you get the environment right! Telephone interviews I think are often difficult and as we have written in a previous blog click here it is all about making sure you have the right environment, free of distractions and interruptions. But please be aware the person on the other end of the phone can hear more than perhaps you realise.
 
  • Sorry, what did you say your name was? – there is no excuse for getting the interviewers name wrong. With Adams as a surname on more that one occasion I have been referred to throughout the interview as Adam. It really isn’t difficult but you must make sure that you know the person you are meeting. If you are meeting more than one person then you should know all the names. As part of your interview research you should find out as much as you can about that person.
 
  • Why is no one else wearing a suit?  unfortunately this is probably one of the most common fails. In today’s business world company cultures have a big impact on dress code and it is no longer safe to assume that you should always go in your best suit and tie. Many businesses may have a more casual dress code and failure to wear the appropriate attire may be interpreted as a lack of understanding of their culture. So make sure you find out in advance. The other point of course, is making sure that the standard of dress is correct. You don’t need to go out and buy a new suit every time you have an interview but make sure it is clean and pressed. Unfortunately we received feedback on a candidate recently who arrived at his interview complete with food stains on his tie which again didn’t create the best first impression!
 
  • I am very sorry but I am calling as I am going to be a little late –The record lateness I have experienced which I hasten to add was based on a legitimate issue on the M25 was 6 hours; fortunately the client had space in her diary to accommodate the candidate. Before you ask, yes she did get the job, her determination clearly impressed! But unfortunately this is also probably one of the most common mistakes. If, for what ever reason, you are held up it is really important that you ring ahead to let the interviewer know. This should be in advance and not 1 minute before you are due to arrive.  Planning and leaving plenty of time will reduce the chance of being caught up in traffic.
 
  • Sorry but you are a day early – we recently had a candidate who managed to show up a day early despite written confirmation and a call. Sadly it is not that unusual so please remember to check and check again to make sure where you are supposed to be and when.
 
  • Sorry I forgot to switch my phone off – this happens far more often than it should but let’s face it we have all done it.  But it won’t go down well when the interview is interrupted with your favorite anthem blaring out or your novelty ringtone. I know it is basic but just make sure it doesn’t happen to you.
 
  • That was in very poor taste - Be very Careful with Humour. A lot of humour is based around taste and what might be funny and acceptable to you may be offensive to the person you are with. So definitely steer clear of anything controversial, it is easy sometimes to ruin a great interview with a throw away comment. I have a few stories on this one but none repeatable here! Some things are best left for the pub.
 
  • Hey you, that is my parking space –One of my colleagues had an incident where the candidate who was running late ended up cutting up the interviewer who was also running tight for the time in the car park outside of the office. This ended up with the candidate making a rude gesture to an individual unaware that they were the person about to interview them… and no they didn’t get the job.  So don’t forget to be polite and treat everyone in the company as you would the interviewer. Whether that be the receptionist or security guard. These people may be asked for their opinion or make comment to the interviewer on how you have conducted themselves. It is just courteous and polite and your overall behaviour will be noted.
 
 

Top interview tips! What to ask your interviewer

So, you've tried to build rapport with your interviewer and answered a smorgasbord of competency questions. You are reaching the end of the interview and the interviewer asks the dreaded question "do you have anything you would like to ask us?" Gulp...your mind is blank and so you say "no thanks, everything has been covered" or something similar to get you off the hook. But it's okay because that question is merely a formality, isn't it? Well, in some cases perhaps but in my view it is an absolutely critical part of the interview. Here's why: 1.If the interview has been particularly structured eg. Competency based, then you will have had to give very specific answers and probably will not have had any leeway to expand on your other selling points. 2.By asking the right questions at the end of the interview, you can subtly give the interviewer more information about you in addition to what they have already gleaned about your ability to do the job. 3.An interview is a two way process and you should ideally walk away knowing more about the role and the company you are applying for. These questions therefore are an invaluable way of finding out things that are not readily accessible online or in the job spec. 4.As this tends to be a more relaxed part of the interview, it is an opportunity to get your personality across. 5.Remember the truism that people love talking about themselves (and the company they work for). If the interviewer has conducted back to back interviews, they may well be glad to talk 'off script' for a while. So, how do you make sure that the questions you ask are insightful, illuminating and useful?! Here are just some ideas for brilliant questions to ask your interviewer:

About the role

What is the common quality that is demonstrated by the people currently doing this role? What is the biggest challenge facing the person who is appointed? What will the expectations be for the first 30 days in the role? How will success be measured? Who is the key stakeholder for this role? What will they be looking for?

About the company

What attracted you to the company? What does the company brand mean to you? ...a good way to frame this would be to say "as a consumer, I love that the brand has a strong British heritage....what does it mean to you?" That way, you get to impart another positive viewpoint to demonstrate your interest in the brand. How would you describe the company culture?

About the interviewer

What is the key quality you look for in a member of your team? How are your team performing? What is your next move within the company? And finally, the killer questions which I always love to be asked by a candidate: Do you have any feedback you can give me about my performance today or Do you have any reservations about me that I can try to reassure you about? ...these last questions demonstrate an openness, self-awareness and a willingness to improve that many people value in their employees. Clearly, you need to be able to handle the response with finesse and grace..!

Miscellaneous

You may want to ask questions about the next stage in the process, the induction and the training offered - just remember to preface these with "if I was successful...." If appropriate, ask about the benefits package offered however I would avoid asking anything about salary - depending on who the interviewer is, they may be unable or unwilling to discuss this and it is such a hot potato that it is better to wait until they broach the subject with you. See our follow up blog on how to approach questions about salary in an interview! As ever, these top tips are not exhaustive but will hopefully get you thinking about what you can ask which will set yourself apart from your competitors. Good luck!  
 

How to research your interviewer

By Sophie Mackenzie, AdMore Recruitment

No matter how well you prepare for an interview (see our previous blogs here and here for some advice), there is one element which you will not be able to control – the person doing the interview!

Even in the most structured competency based interview, although designed to minimise subjectivity, you will be at the mercy of the interviewer and winning them over is a key aim in addition to demonstrating that you can actually do the job in question!

We have written previously about how you can build rapport quickly in an interview but what other measures can you take to impress?

Well, as ever, preparation is critical and in addition to doing your research on the role and the company, you should ideally research the person you are meeting. Here are some tips:

Make sure you have their name and job title

Sounds obvious but it is so important that you know who you are meeting. There is a big difference between meeting a junior member of the recruitment team, an HR Manager or your future boss. Each of these individuals will have a slightly different perspective and agenda. Here’s what I mean:

A junior recruiter – is likely to be conducting a ‘vetting’ interview to ascertain that you possess the key criteria for the role before they put you forward into the formal process. This could well be conducted over the phone. Click here for our advice on Telephone Interviews.

An HR Manager – will be focused on ensuring that the interview process is consistent and is likely to conduct a competency based interview as a result. Click here for top tips on how to pass a competency based interview. Their knowledge of the role in question will dictate how in depth the questioning is but one thing they will definitely be interested in is how you fit culturally with the company. They will be looking for potential issues (gaps on your CV for instance) so that they are confident if they ultimately put you forward to meet the hiring manager.

A hiring manager (future boss) – they will be focused on whether you can do the job, whether you will fit with the team (will they like you) and how soon you can start.

Once you have ascertained which category your interviewer falls into, you can tailor your approach accordingly.

General research

When you set out to research your interviewer, first reflect on what information you would like to find. Key areas may be:

  • Shared history (companies, sector, University, home town)
  • Shared interests (hobbies, training courses, education)
  • Clues about their personality and management style (overall tone, language used, anecdotal evidence)
 

LinkedIn is the obvious place to start to research your interviewer, particularly to understand what their career path has been and to see whether you have any common ground eg. companies you have worked for or mutual contacts.

Understanding which companies they worked for and when may give you insight into their experience and management style. For instance, if you know they worked for a company during a period of intense growth, this may indicate they have a strong entrepreneurial style and are used to managing change.

It is worth checking what University they attended and what they studied. Any school information will give you an indication of where they come from which can also be a nice introduction if you hail from the same area.

Reading testimonials, if they have any, will give you insight into what they are like to work with. It is also worth reading their recommendations of current and future employees as they will often include hints about the qualities they admire in a colleague or team member.

Try to look for key words and phrases that are repeated in the profile. As NLP practitioners would advocate, using these phrases in your interview (provided done so in a natural way) will help ensure your answers resonate with the interviewer.

Remember, if you are not connected to them, googling part of their Linkedin profile may enable you to view their complete profile.

Google Search can often produce interesting results particularly if your interviewer has been quoted in the press or has contributed to any conferences or industry publications.

The company website will sometime list detailed biographies of their senior team so it is worth checking this out too.

Twitter is increasingly used by recruiters to identify candidates and flipping this on its head, can be a useful tool to get ‘inside the head’ of your interviewer – providing they have a Twitter feed of course. This should give you snippets of insight about their interests and even sense of humour – all useful to help you build rapport.

PDF search Searching for PDF documents in a search engine is a great way of finding additional information for instance if the person in question has published any articles, presentations or attended any conferences.

Verbal References are useful if you have any links within your network to people who know the person in question either as peers, previous employees or managers. Clearly, discretion is important here – you don’t want word to get back that you have been interrogating a mutual acquaintance!

Director inventories such as the Institute of Directors or DueDil are useful particularly if you are meeting a Director for a small business.

Using the information

Once you have done the general research about the person and in particular their career history, you can start to make some deductions (although be wary of having too many pre-conceptions).

For instance, if the person has recently joined the company themselves, they may well still be adjusting to the culture and the successful recruitment of this role may well be a way to prove themselves internally.

Equally, knowing that the HR Director you are meeting was formally in a senior operational role should give you valuable insight – this is a powerful combination!

Using the information gleaned during your research requires thought and planning. Think about how you can build rapport quickly and establish common ground. Clearly the skill here is doing this in a subtle and natural way.

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How to pass the secret tests at an Assessment Centre

By Sophie Mackenzie, AdMore Recruitment

Having taken part in Assessment Centres as an assessor, a candidate and as an observer, it is my view that companies tend to approach the Assessment Centre in one of two ways. Either a. using the AC scores as the absolute measure of a candidate’s suitability and having an unwavering attitude to the pass/fail marker or b. using the AC scores as a useful indicator of suitability but taking other factors into account.

In the second case, the other factors are undoubtedly related to how the candidate performs as a whole throughout the day and this includes how they interact in between the exercises.

The challenge for a candidate is that it is unlikely you will know which of these camps the AC will fall into – so how do you make sure that you nail not only the formal assessment exercises but the informal elements too?

Do your preparation

If possible, get as much information from your recruiter in advance about what to expect on the day and who will be assessing. This will enable you to do your research about the key individuals in advance.

Equally, think of some topics of conversation to draw on throughout the day – this could be something relevant to the company eg. their latest results or simply a general news item.

Look for clues

You should have read the Job Description anyway, providing there is one, so re-read it and look for indicators about the type of person they are looking for from a behavioural perspective. Doing wider research on Linkedin, the company website and Glassdoor.co.uk will also give you insight so you can tailor your approach. For instance, they may be a very corporate business who will be looking for a more formal, polished approach. Alternatively, they may be a quirky, more personality-driven culture which may indicate a more unusual feel to the assessment centre.

Dress Code

Your recruiter should be able to guide you on this. Generally speaking, be prepared to wear business dress – it is much easier to remove a tie than magic one from thin air if you haven’t got one with you! As the day progresses, ensure you maintain your level of presentation – don’t be tempted to loosen your tie or take your jacket off unless the assessors specifically mention it.

First impressions count

This is as important here as in every other area of life and as ever it is the simple things that count. Greet everyone warmly with a smile and a firm handshake when you arrive – the receptionist, the other candidates, the assessors. Chances are, you will find yourself in a room with the other candidates over a cup of coffee and this can be an awkward moment, particularly as people often assume that they are in direct competition with each other. This may well be the case, however, by putting others at ease, you will help yourself to feel more comfortable. Also, in doing this (by asking questions, building rapport etc.), you will create potential allies who may come in handy later and to any observers you will get noticed as a positive influence. Please see our previous blog for more detail.

Drink lots of water Keeping hydrated is proven to aid concentration (but make sure you know where the toilets are?!). Likewise, ensure you have a decent breakfast and take advantage of any snacks offered throughout the day – an empty stomach can be distracting.

No smoking

It is a fact that popping off for a fag at every opportunity is unlikely to endear you to the assessors and most importantly is likely to mean that you miss valuable influencing opportunities. Equally, heading in to a small room for a role-play smelling of cigarettes will not go down well.

Turn off your phone!

I know of a candidate who, half-way through an assessment centre, took a call rejecting him from another role which he really wanted. He went into the next exercise, messed it up and consequently blew his chances of securing another offer. Make sure you leave a voicemail explaining you will return calls later and if you have to send a text message, ensure you do it in private. You must make sure you look completely committed and focused on the task in hand.

Mind your manners

This should be a given however I have witnessed potentially good candidates blow it over lunch with appalling table manners! If you have the opportunity, remember to thank the assessors or the facilitator for their hospitality. Courtesy should extend to your conversations – the skill is to bring people into the conversation taking care not to dominate.

Keep your wits about you

There can be a lot to take in but ensure that you understand the agenda and timetable for the day and also which room you need to be in for each exercise. In some assessment centres, particularly for graduates, part of the ‘test’ is how you manage your time throughout the day and they will put you under time pressure intentionally to see how you cope.

Avoid any negativity

As the day progresses, other candidates may start to express their thoughts about the process, particularly if they feel it is not going well. I witnessed a memorable exchange during an assessment centre when one of the candidates openly criticised the validity of the whole event in the middle of the group exercise?! Avoid negative comments at all costs and avoid sharing your opinions about the exercises, even if you agree. You should remain positive and energised throughout the day and give it your best shot irrespective of whether you are privately questioning the usefulness of the event.

Be interested

Whether you are talking to a fellow candidate or to an assessor during a break, show an interest in them. Ask questions – particularly important if you are talking to an assessor, so try to think of some good questions to ask about the company and the role you are applying for. Remember to listen actively. Remember interesting people are interested.

Be yourself

Like it or not, it is a fact that people tend to recruit people they like and get on with. Given the amount of time we all spend with our colleagues, this is actually no bad strategy, providing they can also do a good job of course! Avoid therefore, trying to be someone you are not. Assessment Centres are stressful and pressured and this can often cause people to behave differently than normal. Try to fight the urge to say things you think people will want to hear. If you can relax enough to get your personality across then this will really help the assessors to picture you in their team. Finding common ground will help build rapport so use breaks and lunchtime to steer the conversation away from work and towards extra-curricular interests. This will also make it easier for the assessors to remember you.

One word of warning, ensure you are remembered for the right reasons – an ill-judged joke will not go down well.

Use networking techniques

Assessment Centres can be great networking opportunities so be prepared. Quickly identify everyone involved – who the assessors are and where the other candidates are from – and ensure you seek out each individual, if only for a brief greeting. Take business cards to exchange. Follow up on the day by connecting on Linkedin.

A well-planned, relevant Assessment Centre can be an excellent way of assessing a number of candidates in one go and also gives the candidate a longer period of time with their prospective employer and the opportunity to meet a number of key stakeholders – very useful to determine whether you would fit culturally with the business.

This cultural alignment works both ways and understanding this will help you prepare to demonstrate your personal qualities in between the formal assessment activities.

For advice on how to cope with the formal assessment exercises, see my previous post on Role-Play Interviews, here and my colleague Russell’s post about the Group Exercise. Watch this space for advice about how to handle a Commercial Exercise…

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15+ great website links for Retail & Hospitality interview research

By Jez Styles, AdMore Recruitment

15+ Great Website Links for Retail & Hospitality interview research

Apparently Monday 6th January was ‘Massive Monday’ in recruitment (definitely not a reference to working at desks all year and eating stodge solidly for two weeks). I’m not entirely sure about that but I do get the sense that there is going to be a lot more recruitment activity this year than in 2013. The economic data would suggest that things are picking up, and the recruitment ‘churn’ is showing signs of gathering pace. We have certainly seen a significant change in a) mind-set and commitment to hire and b) the volume of vacancies.

So, if you have made a New Year’s resolution to look for a new position and you have written your CV (Free template here), then you may be close to securing an interview or accepting an offer. It is likely to be a competitive market this year so it is imperative that you set yourself apart with some good quality Retail & Hospitality interview research. Our clients generally feedback more favourably on the candidates that have clearly researched the company and the market vertical. You could of course ‘wing-it’ with a simple read of the corporate website and a quick google search, however if you are looking to go a little deeper it would be worth checking out some of these sites for additional analysis.

Industry Magazines: Retail Week / The Grocer / The Caterer / The Morning advertiser .

Industry magazines are still pretty much the top place to go when you are looking to build a base of knowledge or to read recent news stories. Depending on which sector you are looking to specialise in you may find there are other useful sites to visit, for example if you are looking for a job in Pharmacy retail it might be worth checking the Pharmaceutical Journal (not a light read!). The Retail Week site will require a subscription for detailed viewing but it might be worth doing so for a short period. There is a lot of information in their Resource Bank including a league table of over 200 retailers with detailed financial information.

TIP: If you want to access an article without paying a subscription fee you could try running the keywords (I just cut and pasted the headline below) through a search engine and then clicking the link to the site, hey presto you can read the full article!

Before:

After:

Glassdoor My colleague Sophie wrote a blog earlier in the year about the launch of the UK Glassdoor site here in 2013. If you haven’t seen the site before it is a ‘compare the market’ / ‘trip advisor’ combination for companies. There are reviews from current and former employees alongside interview advice for specific information. There are still gaps for many UK based retailers but you could get lucky with some of the information that is on there. Mint If you are looking for a greater level of detail in your research then Mint can provide information such as company hierarchies and financial performance that is unlikely to be in the public domain. You can get a free trial initially but as with other sites you will need to subscribe for the juicy information. I would advise that you only use this site if you are interviewing at board level given the potential cost involved. Conlumino , Planet Retail  and Verdict Retail are three companies that specialise in Retail analysis. As with other sites there are various options for either free information or subscriptions. They are worth looking at for predictions of future performance and analysis of business models. The Social Sites: Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, Google+. A lot of companies are posting content unique to those sites. To generalise, the majority are using LinkedIn for Recruitment purposes, Facebook for Consumer branding, Twitter for a combination and Google+…not so much. If you are looking for a job in Retail check out our FREE report on over 200 retailers for details on which Retailers are using which channel for recruitment purposes. If you are researching an interviewer ahead of an interview the above sites can provide an excellent level of insight. There are more tips for researching individuals here . We will also publish another blog with specific guides on how to use these sites later in the month. News sites For further analysis and recent news it would also be worth checking the FT, BBC, The Times and The Daily Telegraph. All have excellent business sections so there will be a good level of coverage for the larger retailers and of course a broader view on the economy. It always pays to add a broader context to any specific research you are carrying out. Duedil A great site for those candidates who are considering joining a less well known company. Smaller companies can be tricky to research and importantly you will want to understand their financial position before accepting an offer. Duedil offer information from companies house which you can access for free with detailed reports being available to purchase on an ad-hoc basis. Some of the information could be old though so check what you are buying before you make a purchase. Boolean search Finally, not a specific site but more of a search technique. If you are looking for very specific information then it might be worth running a ‘Boolean string search’. In essence this is a way in which to bring up targeted results on a search engine using specific text and key words. This should really be a last resort and there should be something very specific that you want to find! The link above will take you to a site that offers information on how to look at an individual’s LinkedIn profile via a Google search who is not a 1st degree connection. It is an advanced technique and perhaps one for the back pocket! There are plenty of other sites and techniques to keep in mind for both research and keeping up to date with industry news. I tend to use pulse on my phone to personalise various news feeds and ensure I can browse multiple articles more easily.

There are of course other useful sites which I haven’t mentioned, it would be great if you could add them in the comments below.

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Top tips on how to perform in an Assessment Centre Group Exercise.

By Russell Adams,AdMore Recruitment

Assessment centres, or Selection centres as they are sometimes known, are a common selection tool used to evaluate a number of candidates on a given day. These centres will typically involve a number of different exercises the most common of which are a Competency Based Interview, Role-plays, Group Exercises and Commercial Exercises. They may also include some form of psychometric testing. One of my colleagues has written a couple of blogs providing some useful advice (How to survive a role-play interview exercise and live to tell the tale! and How to prepare an interview presentation)

Here, I am going to tackle the challenges of the all important Group Exercise.

The group exercise is often one of the key components of the Assessment and is designed to assess how effectively you can work in a team and to assess your communication and problem solving skills. In my experience, the size of the group assessed can range from 4 to 12 people. The client will be keen to see that you are a strong team player, flexible, full of ideas, willing and able to listen to and expand upon the ideas of others.

The competencies most often assessed in a group exercise are:

  • Communication
  • Leadership
  • Influencing
  • Teamwork
  • Relationship Building
  • Decisiveness and critical thinking ability

TYPES OF EXERCISE

Group exercises can vary considerably but broadly can be categorised into 3 types.

Role play

In these scenarios the candidates will take part in a group role play. Often candidates will be provided with a range of background information and will assume the role of a particular individual. They will often be set individual and group objectives. There are often conflicting objectives to see how the group can compromise in order to reach its overall objective. The exercise may take the form of a case study and may be relevant to the industry or sector the employer operates within; or equally it could be something very obscure!

Discussion

In these types of exercises the candidates are often provided with a problem or subject matter to discuss. The subject matter can vary considerably but it is often related to current affairs. This is called a Leaderless discussion where no individual is given any responsibility prior to the exercise to lead the group. The group is often required to present their suggestions/decisions to the assessors.

Task based

The other very common type is where the group is asked to achieve a problem solving task ( build a bridge from straws etc.) where they are required to work together to find a solution.

PRACTICAL ADVICE

Relating to others

Don’t forget that the main reason for the group exercise is to see how you interact and work with other people. It is worth noting here that any efforts made to build rapport with the other delegates during the course of the day should help you during this exercise. Clearly, if you have managed to alienate yourself then it may count against you! Overall the behaviour you need to demonstrate in this exercise is concerned with relating to other members of your group. For most roles (although different businesses do look for different behaviours) the employer will be looking for someone who is assertive but balances their own contribution whilst encouraging the contribution of others. It is important to consider active listening. This means it is important that you look at those speaking, nodding with acknowledgement irrespective of whether you agree with what they are saying. Be very careful your body language does not give away your feelings or put off others from contributing. By using active listening and body language the assessors will be able to see you are participating.

Managing group personalities

The competitive nature of these activities brings with it a number of challenges. You may often find that some candidates are overly dominant in their desire to impress the assessors. In a group with a couple of very dominant characters it can be very difficult to gain sufficient "airtime" to feel like you are fully contributing. In such scenarios you will have to be assertive to make sure you are heard but it does present the opportunity for you to involve some quieter members of the group. You need to be diplomatic if conflict does arise - be prepared to compromise but not be railroaded. The best tactic in this situation is to make sure you contribute to the achievement of the group task so keeping the group focused or referring back to the brief or the time left, will certainly sit well with the assessors. It goes without saying that you should make sure you are not the pushy, dominating, overbearing candidate who scores poorly in the exercise.

Read the question

It sounds simple but make sure you take the time to fully understand the task at hand. I have witnessed on a number of occasions people quickly jumping in, trying to assert themselves having misread or not fully understood the task at hand. This has on occasion led the whole group to miss vital parts of the task. If you are not sure, don’t be afraid to challenge or clarify. You will certainly be recognised if you are the individual who is trying to keep the group on track to deliver.

Roles and responsibilities

During a group exercise there are often a number of roles and responsibilities to be performed. This could be note-taking, preparing flip charts, time-keeping, presenting back etc. Try and ensure the tasks you volunteer for involve you contributing to the group. Whilst it is valid to keep time or take notes, sitting there silently is not going to deliver you a great score. It is worth volunteering to present and to answers questions are the end. It you are answering questions it is important that you stand your ground when challenged. You have had your opportunity to make your opinions known and to influence the group so stating after the event that you had a different view will just undermine your performance.

Managing time

A common failing in group exercises are extended discussions with insufficient time allocated to completing the task or preparing the presentation. It is important to keep track of time and helping the group stay on track will show your ability to work under pressure and will sit well with the assessors.

Expect the unexpected

It is not unusual in group exercises for the brief or task to change during the course of the simulation. This tactic is often used to try and put the group under pressure to see how they perform. This may take the form of a reduction in the time allocated for the task or a change in information i.e. budgets being cut etc.

Be realistic

It can be difficult sometimes to find the right balance when you are presented with individual objectives to achieve which may be at odds with the rest of the group. Whilst it is important to be seen to hold your own you also need to show some flexibility and if you are flying in the face of the rest of the group then you need to be aware of when to back down. Think about how else you can influence the group; where else could you show support. Perhaps a compromise can be achieved by allowing some concessions as part of a wider, more acceptable deal.

Be yourself

In theory, nobody should know you better than yourself. Before going into a group exercise it is worth thinking about your natural character and how you can best perform in a group situation. You need to be yourself but make sure you are demonstrating your strengths. If you are naturally forceful then being aware of this and trying to be more diplomatic will allow you to behave in a more balanced manner.

Be prepared

I do think sometimes that much is made of how to behave on Assessment Centres without full credence being given to the need to contribute well Click here to Tweet this We have discussed above how to speak and when to speak but not talked about what actually to say. The quality of your contribution is critical to your success and I genuinely feel that by building your knowledge of the company, sector and industry you are putting yourself in a situation where your knowledge will hopefully enable you to contribute more creatively to the tasks you are asked to complete.

Smile and enjoy

The group exercise can be a daunting part of the assessment centre process but actually simply draws upon the skills that you use everyday. By preparing properly, being aware of your own strengths and weakness and taking onboard some of the advice above then there is no reason why you cannot perform well.

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