Tag Archives: interview preparation

Questioning your Interviewer – Guidelines + Qs.

There are two types of interviewer in this world: HR and The Business. These are two distinctly different people. They typically come from different spheres of interest.

Grasping this notion will allow you to pose appropriate questions at appropriate moments that will both provide you with as much pertinent information as is needed to make a career decision and help you further engage with your interviewers and assessors.

Why is asking questions important?

Astute questioning not only conveys a keen interest and mental curiosity but also demonstrates, however seemingly unnoticeable, an ability to understand how to interact with your interviewer. Some may clock onto this and some may not, but to elucidate, think about what you as a graduate might be tasked to do or even think about what consultants generally do.

They interact with clients and often have to gather information and requirements from various stakeholders each with their own issues, styles and agendas. It is therefore paramount that the right kind of questions are posed and in the right manner depending on who is being interviewed; you wouldn’t ask a techie person about finance stuff and you wouldn’t ask a finance person about techie stuff, at least not in the same way.

Therefore, think about what kind of impression you create by asking irrelevant or imprecise questions; a Partner will not be impressed by a question about holidays or how expenses works. Sure you won’t be rejected just because of this and some may not even bat an eyelid, but it makes sense to bear this in mind as there is an opportunity here to add to an overall great impression by asking good questions, which is simply too easy to pass up.

So what is HR interested in?

HR is usually somewhat divorced from the business. I apologise to those HR functions, resource managers etc. who are very much embedded in their businesses, but typically, questions about culture, day-to-day work activities, working styles, business strategy etc. should be saved for a consultant. HR is likely to regurgitate the info on the website.

Instead, questions around how graduates and consultants get resourced onto projects, salaries, expenses, benefits, logistics and practical matters are far more relevant. Also feel free to probe into the recruitment process: how many positions they have, how many have they filled, do they have a lot of people in process.

-An interesting curve ball is to ask also about why people leave the organisation [HR often conduct exit interviews]-

And the Business?

Funnily enough, this is your opportunity to ask anything relating to the business: working culture/ style; long-term vision; market position; recent projects and client work; why they joined the company; what keeps them there; where they see themselves in 3/5/10 years time; what they don’t like about the company etc.

-don’t be afraid to turn some of the questions posed to you, back on to the interviewer-

Any final questions?

Sometimes, before moving on to broader questioning, it is worth asking if the interviewer now has enough information to make a decision or if there were any areas or competencies they would find it helpful to revisit. Phrased differently, you can ask if they have any concerns about your performance at this stage that you might be able to address. A further spin might be, whether the interviewer has any concerns about your ability to do well at this company.

You might get prompted to provide more evidence or dispel an impression, but sometimes you may just get the ‘that’s fine, I’ve got all the info I need to process and evaluate’ stock answer.

In Summary:

  • Consider who the interviewer is and what their domain is, ie. know your audience
  • Ask relevant and interesting questions
  • The quality of the question will determine the quality of the answer and therefore the impression you create
  • Be precise and confident, not flimsy and lackadaisical in your questioning
  • A good question is an opportunity to be memorable and outshine the competition

Competency Corner – Commercial Awareness

A Little Knowledge goes a Long Way

A significant part of business rests on the notion of credibility. Credibility then leads to trust which leads to deals and ends in riches. Although you will need to exercise some social aptitude in winning over your interviewer on a personal level, the main thrust of this article concerns itself with how to establish credibility through commercial acumen and how to tackle the often onerous task of research.

In recruitment parlance, this is the Commercial Awareness competency.

1-3 hours spent researching a company and current affairs is mandatory for interview success. But although this may seem like a fruitless and maybe even futile endeavour as there is simply too much to know, there are some guidelines which can be followed to make this genuinely effective and efficient.

The Company

  • Many consultancies have quite complex organisation structures. Know the main services offered. Simplify them and don’t bother drilling down into the numerous sub-divisions (unless you’re applying specifically to one specialism). A quick sketch will suffice to order your thoughts and make it stick.
  • Jot down some client names and client examples of projects – the detail is usually unnecessary. 5mins spent memorising 5 client names and project types (outsourcing/ shared services programme/ IT implementation etc.) will be very impressive when rapidly regurgitated. Make sure you know at least one project in some detail to cover if you’re asked to elaborate.
  • Find out how the company is doing, whether they have ambitious growth plans or have made any sales or acquisitions lately. Search for the firm in one of the news sites, BBC or Times Online etc. Also have a look at consulting news.

Current Affairs

  • Consultancies tend to have a couple current business concerns/ issues highlighted on their home page. Skim through these. You now have a good overview of the current commercial landscape. Use these as an anchor for your broader reading.
  • The Times Online is a wonderful resource. The ‘need to know’ heat map is quite useful too. Skim the titles to develop a broad picture and formulate some generic phrases to summarise eg. The Financial services sector, specifically retail banking is still quite volatile [insert headline – for eg. RBS is blah blah blah].
  • Make sure you know at least one major news story in detail. A merger or acquisition is usually a good candidate for healthy discussion in interviews where you’re asked to talk about this kind of thing, as you may then be asked to suggest how xyz consultancy could help.

You’ve spent a couple hours doing research, now try and group all the info and headings into themes or sectors or big issues. You’ll be surprised at how learned you come across when you produce the fruits of your research in an interview.

A couple news articles and some neat packaging is all you need to create a credible impression. Initially of course.

‘Know your enemy’ – Interview success the Sun Tzu way

‘It is said that if you know your enemies and know yourself, you will not be imperiled in a hundred battles; if you do not know your enemies but do know yourself, you will win one and lose one; if you do not know your enemies nor yourself, you will be imperiled in every single battle.’ – Sun Tzu

It is fairly obvious that it is imperative you know your cv intimately and that you have compiled a mental catalogue of neat structured examples to demonstrate clearly defined competencies.

However, this is only half the battle

But what of knowing your enemy? Certainly you have reviewed and researched the company’s website and done your homework, but to sustain the metaphor have you given the same level of thought to your opposite number, the individual warrior who will confront you directly in battle? I am of course talking about your interviewer.

Sure, for assessment centres, companies are likely not to know much in advance who exactly will be assessing you or perhaps will be unwilling to tell you. However, for individual interviews you are likely to know who to ask for at reception or should at least inquire as to who you will be seeing. For my interview next Friday with a technology consultancy I know exactly who will be interviewing me, and I know what practice area he sits within and what his background is.

Therefore, I have an inkling as to what he might quiz me on, what he is most knowledgeable about and therefore what he might find most interesting to discuss. I’ll certainly swot up on his specialism slightly more than the other two areas I’m being interviewed for. In this way, I should hope to control the interview a little more than if I go into it without this information.

Additionally, I have some relevant questions prepared particularly since I’ve found out my interviewer used to work for a company I recently had an assessment centre with. Possible rapport-builder?

Intelligence gathering

  1. Company’s website search of interviewer’s name
  2. Google search (people’s favourite)
  3. Linked in (I love linked in)
  4. Facebook
  5. Any relevant contacts you have

Of all the sources above, Linked in is always my first port of call as it, in my opinion, has the best quality professional profile information out there and has served me well on more than many occasions.

Now go win a hundred battles.

Relevant posts: Linkedin grad guide-get networking

How to Prepare for an Interview – 3 steps to better performance

Some like to wing it, others like to prepare rigorously and many find a nice balance. But it is often difficult to know exactly how to prepare, and moreover what to prepare, then how much to prepare. And after all of that, will it land me the job? So lets start from the ground up.

What is an Interview?

Therefore, the simplest and most effective approach is to treat your Interview like an Exam. How do you prepare for an exam? You identify the topics, you compile the notes and you revise. Now you can cram it all in the night before, or, you could set aside a week or even two prior to the interview and systematically work through your revision thoroughly to ensure you give your best performance possible. So here’s how we do it:

1. The ‘Topics’ (aka. Competencies)

Because firms tend to adopt the ‘ol competency based interview format, your ‘topics’ for this assessment will be the companies’ core competencies or values which should be clearly visible on their website or careers web page. For example, click below to see each consultancy’s competencies page:

So now you know exactly what they look for, you can formulate an idea as to what kinds of examples you will be asked for in the interview. Take a look at the competency question pages on the right for guidance and be sure to use wikijob’s forums to get a heads up on specific questions.

Then, under each competency, bullet-point as many examples that you can think of that exemplify the skills asked for, and under each bullet-point detail the main components of a strong answer (remember the S.T.A.R format?). You now have your notes.

2. Commercial Awareness

This is a competency, however, it is to an extent unique to each firm, therefore should be treated as a separate topic. Your revision notes should comprise the following:

  • Knowledge of the Consultancy/ company as a whole, including services, culture, values, clients, accolades and recent/ major events or press releases (such as acquisitions, new appointments, statements on vision etc.)
  • Trends in the market/ recent news stories (eg. new legislation, challenges, merging companies etc.)
  • Client Case Studies
  • What you think consulting is all about and what challenges the industry is facing
  • Why you want to pursue a career in consulting
  • Specific points on why do you want to work for the company
  • Insightful and engaging questions to ask interviewers

3. Revise

Right, you’ve compiled your revision notes to encompass every foreseeable question. Now all you need to do is allocate a couple hours to revise the material and practice delivering it in a clear and concise manner. However, be sure to revise in such a fashion as to allow you to use your knowledge flexibly so that examples can be chopped and changed at will and you are able to come across as confident and dynamic rather than stilted and awkward. You’re not memorising a speech.

Of course you may be faced with something outside of your preparation, and the interviewer may spend more time talking about how he’s noticed that you play acoustic guitar rather than quizzing you on competencies, but as long as you have prepared the basics, you should be able to deal with unexpected turns far more capably than if you were also worrying about the simple easy stuff.