Ace That Interview

Podcast Episode 07. Preparation and practice: these are the keys to interview success. 

This is the advice from Sam, an experienced HR director, who this week shares her expertise on how to not only survive the interview but how to succeed. She covers what needs to be included in a CV, and discusses questions you should expect as well as could ask. Sam explains the importance of role playing, particularly for young people with additional needs, and how to deal with the unexpected during the interview. She offers tactics to help young people facing their first interviews for work and college as well as insights into what interviewers are really looking for.
Show Notes
[.35]    – About Sam and her role as a HR director
[1.25] – What to put on your CV
[3.00] – How long should a CV be?
[4.30] – Preparation before the interview
[6.50] – What are good answers to give to questions about your strengths?
[7.30] – The importance of reading the job specification/advert
[8.15] – Role playing in preparation
[9.00] – Questions to ask the interviewer
[13.00] – Following up after the interview and getting feedback
[15.30] – Using pre-prepared scripts
[16.30] – Second interviews
[18.00] – How much to say in the interview about your additional needs

Key Takeaways
Preparation and practice
Using the job description as guide to what to expect in the interview

Show Full Transcript
Podcast Transcript
DEBRA: This week we’re talking to Sam who’s a experienced human resources director and she’s here to offer us a few tips and hints on interview techniques to help our young people with additional needs. Welcome, Sam.

SAM: Hi.

DEBRA: You give me a little bit of background on yourself?

SAM: I’m an HR manager for a company that deals with coffee and coco trading. The HR and recruitment principles stay the same. It’s just depending on what industry you land the jobs and you learn how to recruit for those. I spent a quite lot of time doing interviews that are more on the softer side of skills that we look at. So fit to a team, fit to the company, their interests, their strength and weaknesses, their general attitudes towards work and to involve itself. So I don’t always into technical ability, I actually more on terms of suitability to the company.

DEBRA: So in terms of what we try to do at Journey Skills help people sort of develop skills to get a job really or to have a purpose, what are some of the hints and tips you give say for interview preparation for a young person who hasn’t got much experience, hasn’t got a lot of confidence?

SAM: I think for any young person whether they have additional needs is the fact that I don’t have a huge amount of experience or stuff on their CV to talk about which for an interview that can be quite tough because you don’t have lots of questions you can ask. So for the person being interviewed, the most information that someone can put on a CV that could stimulate the conversation is quite important. So things like interests and work experience, hobbies, things they might have done in terms of volunteering and travel. So all those things give the interviewer a bit of an insight in terms of what the person is like, how they cope, are they able to go and do those type of things? Are they more solitary individual. One is not better than the other but it depends on what the job needs. So I think for a young person at the very start, their CV needs to be as informative as it can be with lots of clear dates and schools, where they’ve been and what subjects they’ve studied and for people with additional needs, those other subjects they do are just as important. So that they tell the interviewer something about themselves. Other things like interests, it doesn’t matter whether that’s a sort of a solo interests or a group thing like attending a youth camp or guides or something like that. But all of those things, even if it’s not going to help the person get the job, it gives them something to talk about on their CV which for some individuals with additional needs is what they need to get them going in terms of start a conversation, be able to explain something in the interview.

DEBRA: In terms of length, how long would you think of CV could be?

SAM: I would say maximum of two pages but for a young person I would probably expect it to be on page because it’s going to be quite hard to go more than one page without it being a bit too wordy and a bit just filling the gaps.

DEBRA: So when you’re talking about interests, you mean just put down they go to a youth club, they don’t need a lot of details just to sort of…?

SAM: I see interesting thing like, I attend the scout explorers and playing tennis. And when you look at that, it gives something to just talk about and it’s something that they’re familiar with or it might be just something that says “Well, okay you did this in a team, what was your part in that team?” There’s lots of skills that you can get from all those different things. If children go on outdoor type weeks than they’d often do it schools, there’s loads of skills that people learn in those that they don’t even think about hen they’re doing it.
DEBRA: And you can bring those out in the interview?

SAM: Yes.

DEBRA: So I guess, when they do their CV, they also need to then do some prep about what kind of questions I might get asked around the things they’ve mentioned?
SAM: Yes, I mean definitely, if you got to know your CV, the young person need getting some help putting their CV together, it’s absolutely fine but they need to know the CV before they go in. And it’s not always individual’s fault but sometimes recruitment agencies require someone’s CV to make it seem more attractive or more suitable. But bottom line is someone should know what’s there, know their dates, know their grades.

DEBRA: So, once they know their CV, in terms of preparation then before the interview, what kind of things can you sort of hints and tips? What would you say to people before the interview they need to prep?

SAM: I think they need to think about why’re applying for the job, what interests them in the job. For me as an interviewer from a HR that’s what I would be asking is that what makes this job interesting? Why have you applied for this job? So for the young person to think through what his interests in, what they might like about it. We have to be realistic; it might not be their dream job, it might just be a job to get some experience in but why would I like to be there? What am I going to enjoy? What am I going to learn? And look at the job descriptions that he can look up what’s expected of them. And then start thinking about what type of questions the person will want to find out about them. Try and put themselves in that person’s shoes in terms of the interview and say “Why should this person give me that job? What are they going to ask me? And someone would always tend to ask you about what you think your strongest skills are, what do you think your potentially.. (I never say the word weakest) but I always say, “What something that you would like to work on?”

I always ask “If I ask your friend or your work colleague that you’re working at the moment, how would they describe you as a person?” And that gets people thinking a little bit because it’s not about their technical skills. It’s about what they think someone else thinks of them. Some of them additional needs, that might be quite hard because it’s quite hard for them to even think about what their thoughts are and what they think of themselves and they don’t have enough experience in the world to do that. So that’s something to have a think about and I think if I asked my daughter, she usually always says “I’m kind, I’m friendly and I’m helpful” but that’s not always applicable to any job that you might do.So it’s getting the person to think a little bit wider about what they think they might be able to bring to that particular job.

DEBRA: So thinking before they get into the interview…

SAM: Yes, definitely, they got to do lots of prep and even for a college interview, so interviewing skills can be for that type of thing as well as your job and I think just the prep is writing down the type of answers you want to give and if you then do get stuck, you can look back, look down, I don’t ever frown upon someone that get’s a paper out and put it on the table in front of them and I think the people that might struggle just generating the right answers because they’re not comfortable remembering it or they’re very nervous or some questions that you might want to ask at the end of the interview, that’s absolutely fine. Don’t feel worried about putting those at the table as you start.

DEBRA: When it comes to things like strengths and weaknesses, I mean, having done a few interviews myself, you always come up with the usual thing, don’t you? You know, “I’m good at working in a team”, what kind of things would you say are good answers from a personal perspective?

SAM: I think someone that’s conscientious which means obviously they’re always keen to do well and always do the extra. It’s someone that’s going to work hard and do their best. There’s no good saying, “I’m brilliant in a team” if you’re just going to be just a solo-team worker and you don’t need to be part of a team.

DEBRA: So matching back to the job description?

SAM: Yes, exactly. That’s the two main things, if someone puts forward for a job through any type of network or through an advert or through anything, it’s trying to get either (if you can’t get the job specification, the job description) is look at the advert. There’s always some key words in there that the person is looking for. Then you can use them for your prep and say,”I’ve got experience in this” and use some of those words. It’s a manipulation of what you’re getting as an advert or the job spec and then match your experience to that as much as you can without lying. A lot of decisions in terms of I made down to personality and fit. You’ll do the first round of the interviews, you’re basically saying that any of those people can do the job, you’ll then find the right fit, so it’s how someone comes across is really important. And what they genuinely like in terms of personality and what they can offer. I think young people with additional needs, you need to probably try that a little bit harder to make your personality show because there’s difficulties that you have to overcome.

DEBRA: In terms of role playing the interview itself, would you recommend that?

SAM: Yes, I do that with my daughter. She just had a college interview. Getting someone to come in, shake your hand, make eye contacts and make them feel, as a parent if you’re the one supporting the person having their interview, it’s fine. They’re going to get through it. Sometimes those people that are actually doing the interview, they might hate doing interviews so just trying to think they’re just as human as you and just trying to find the right fit for the job. If they’re a good interviewer and a good company, what they’re trying to do is find a good match for the company to the person as well as the person for the company.

DEBRA: What kind of questions should you ask as an interviewee?

SAM: Going back to that original advert or the job description, writing down the parts that are not answered. It’s those “Okay, someone to have the company needs” and some of those you can find out and that’s another strong point you should always look up the company on the website. They always like to know what you have found out about them. And look up some key facts. So if you’re then asked, “Okay, do you know what we do as a company? And someone can say,”Actually yes, i did a bit of research. I know that you’ve got offices in London and Kent. It looks like you’ve got around this many people and I know that you deal with AB&C”. The person knows that you put a bit of effort into the interview. And they’re not expecting you to know a huge amount but in terms of questions of asking the interviewer, I would always ask a bit about “Okay, how’s the team set up? What environment is like to working? What is the team environment? What is the company culture potentially? How the office is set up?”

DEBRA: So physical environment?

SAM: Physical environment, yes. It’s important when you’re going to places but sometimes it’s all small offices and then you don’t get to see anyone or someone might feel slightly more awkward sitting in their big huge open plan office with loads of people around them. So those type of things. Size of the team, size of company Again, are you part of a huge company or are you part of like 20 people so in a very small company, I think you get to delve into a few different bits and pieces. Other people might prefer large company where they’re just doing the job they’re doing and they can see themselves as polished up to team and they know what’s expected of them. I think people with additional needs, I think that’s quite important that they know what is expected of them. I think they feel more comfortable in that knowing that I’ve got to do task 1 to 8 every day, rather than, I’m just going to see what happens and see what my boss gives me. That might be a little more unsetteling.

DEBRA: So they need to ask that question: How’s my job involve?

SAM: Yes, structured. How would the work happen and the management might say, “Okay, I will give you a list of things to do everyday” or “You’re just expected to do this, this, and this when you work everyday.” Other questions could be “What training opportunities are there within this role?” Some people ask “Okay, what are you looking for in a person?” That can be quite turning in terms of what the interviewer is really thinking and what they’re actually looking for in terms of the good fit to the job.

DEBRA: The interviewee asks the interviewer?

SAM: Yes, interviewee can ask “Is there anything you want to know more about me?” or “What are you looking for in terms of this job?”

DEBRA: Because I would imagine that young people with additional needs probably need a quite structured interview process.

SAM: Yes. I think some of it is a little bit unknown which can be a bit unnerving so I think the way to try to make yourself comfortable about that is for you to be prepared as possible. So take your CV, take your questions, have your notes written down, know where you’re going. Now I know that sounds really stupid but it’s not. You’re not just having a map on a phone, I would always print a little map, know what train I’m going to get, know where I’m going, what time I’m going, what time I’m going to be there. You better to be on time and prepared. If someone then throws a question at you and you feel that you’ve done enough prep and you don’t know the answer, you need to be honest and say “I’m not quite sure about that”.

DEBRA: So that’s okay to do as well?

SAM: Yes, that’s fine to do and that’s up for the interviewer to manage that situation. And structure wise, I would always, as an interview, I would always ask someone about themselves about I tell them about the job. So I would be telling them about the company and what I do but I would go into what the individual has done, the interviewee has done and their experience.

DEBRA: So ask them about their backgrounds?

SAM: Yes, ask them about their backgrounds and their experience and then at the end, tell them all about the company and the job. It’s a way of finding out someone’s answers without really any background other than their own research. It’s knowing honest answers that you’ll hopefully get about the person and what they feel and their feelings and their experience. And then you sort of telling me about how it all works and how that might fit in compared to what they’ve been told.

DEBRA: And then after they’ve had the interview, is it a good idea to follow up and find out if say you don’t get the job, what’s the best way to get feedback?

SAM: The best way is to ask. I did some recruitment last year for an apprentice game that we’re doing up for an IT apprenticeship and I actually got quite detailed feedback but because I think I felt for some of them and the fact that some of them are just a bit too honest.

DEBRA: Right.

SAM: In terms of that feedback, it was just genuinely about being able to explain their experience, being able to explain some of their college courses. That was that they spent quite a bit of time, they spent sometime in work then they went to college one day a week. So talk to them about the college and the course and someone turned up and said, “Well I really like the work, I really the college” then quite negative about the college side. And it was always the reason why they didn’t get the job but it shows. You need to have that recognition. You might not love the college but don’t really be negative about it in an interview. So it’s potentially a hard concept for children especially young people with additional needs because I think honesty is quite holding them which is a great quality and lots of other things and you do need to be honest but you need to be honest in a way that’s not going to be completely negative to you in terms of a job. That’s a hard balance sometimes. I think that whole role-playing then is really important; sitting down with someone and going through some of the questions and what they would say and for someone… (my daughter has speech and language) “Yes that’s good but just say it like this” because her words might get mix up and say it in a proper sentence that might come back in much more clearer.

DEBRA: So might you throw, for example in a role play, her coach sort of something that might get say and see how she responds and then work out better ways to…?

SAM: Yes, I haven’t gone that far but it’s a good idea to learn how tough you think the interview is going to be. Might spend this Wednesday for this college interview, we’ve done quite a lot of work and she wasn’t as nervous as I thought she was going to be. I think she was comfortable with the answers. One key thing that she did wrong was that she gave the Yes-No answer which is then really hard to then take on to another level. “Do you enjoy the course?” “Yes.” For our young people, that’s quite hard sometimes, either they give too much information, really detailed information that might not be needed to nothing by just saying “Yes” and it closes that whole subject down for the interviewer.

DEBRA: So again, it’s about maybe a script, isn’t it? Because you’re talking about questions that you might get asked and knowing the answers.

SAM: And knowing the answers.

DEBRA: Before you even you go in.

SAM: Exactly. Knowing the answers or knowing what you want to say. Before you go in, read through those notes. I think someone that’s starting off recruiting or interviewing, it’s just the same as someone that’s been with a company for a long, long time. You go an interview, maybe think about all the things you’ve done and if you’re doing it for a long time, you’ve got then to think about what are those bits that I’ve done that are really important to this job that I’m going to.

So it’s not just about people that’s starting off, it’s for whenever you do recruitment or do interview in that you need to try and think about why you’re applying for the job, why you think it would be good, what you think you might have struggle with. “You don’t seem to have much experience in this” and being able to say “No but I’m quite willing to learn.” That makes me applicable for the job. Then you sit down for your second interview “Okay, do they really understand what job they’re be going to do?” I’m going to actually say, “Okay, speak to the manager and you have gone through the job in the first inteview. If you were to get the job, what do you think you’d be doing when you come in?” That way I’m checking understanding because some people through notes or through just not listening or whatever that might be which happens to everybody, they go away with the particular understanding of that job which might not be quite correct. So getting them to re-explain that to the interviewer at the second interview, it’s quite a good way of checking understanding to then clarify things. So for the person going for the role, they could also ask that question. “Ive got the job description, in the first few weeks, what I would be expected to do?” They tend to tell you there’s an induction or you’ll spend a few days doing some look arounds and see what’s going on.

I think the whole prep is the key. I think nowadays, you don’t get the opportunity go and see a company or anything like that. It’s very short and sharp and it’s fast-moving so you need to be prepared and ready to go in. Be flexible in terms of being able to go to an interview. And if someone has got additional needs, it’s a difficult one because I’m not sure if I really agree with telling someone about the person’s additional needs. I think if it affects their work from a health point of view, then yes, definitely you need to say something if it’s potentially something the company has to watch out for, have to be aware of. But if someone is appplying for a job and they don’t need to know about the additional needs and they get the job, why do they need to know?

DEBRA: Just based on your merits, are you saying?

SAM: Yes. I think if you list all your needs or your potential problems… You know, we’ve had lots of people along the way that you then find out that they are dyslexic. They didn’t tell us in the interview, it doesn’t make a difference. And now, there’s spell checks and grammar checks and things like that. There are obstacles that you can get over. Once you’re with the company, you can also find support. I don’t think necessarily you have to list all those needs. I think the world is a tough world to get a job in for any person, so to list all those I think you’re just potentially create hurdles to not to even get to that interview stage which is what you want and you want to show someone what you can do.

DEBRA: Yes, you get to the interview and your merit and perform.

SAM: Yes.

DEBRA: So thank you, Sam for those useful tips and strategies. So my key takeaway this week is really a no brainer: preparation, preparation, preparation and practice, practice, practice. Using the job description as the start point of what kind of questions you might get asked as well as a guide for what questions to ask.

Useful Resources
Find a CV template in our Job Skills section

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