How to succeed at interviews

job interview, recruitment, diversity

While being invited to interview is a mini victory in and of itself, cometh the hour, it can be a nerve-wracking experience.

In a recent blog post I discussed what to expect when interviewing for the technology team here at FutureLearn. We recognise that interviews  aren’t easy and so have endeavoured to make our own recruitment process as transparent as possible. Ultimately, it’s about finding the right person; and by ‘right’ we mean someone who believes in the mission and whose skills will take the team forward. Every company handles the interview process differently. In the creative industries, for example, seemingly unrelated questions can be a test of creativity itself. Some things however are applicable to all interviews and here I share my top five tips.

If you fail to prepare then prepare to fail:

The old adage certainly rings true. And by preparation, I mean a number of things: the obvious — i.e. allow plenty of time on the day itself, know where you’re going, what you’re going to wear, the interviewers name(s) etc. And research. Research, research, research! You can’t ever be 100% sure of what you’ll be asked at interview, but you can be fairly confident that ‘why do you want to work here?’ — or some variation of that classic — will come up. What do you think about the company ethos, how does it compare to its competitors, what is happening in the sector as a whole, what trends have you observed? Doing your homework won’t guarantee you get the job, but not doing it will guarantee you don’t.

Interview for the position in the context of your career:

Don’t lose sight of your own career ambitions and trajectory. And, for that matter, be prepared to answer questions on your hopes/plans. You might love a company, but if there is any doubt that the kind of work you would be doing for them is inconsistent with your mid/long-term goals, you will want to get clarity on this at interview. Of course, some companies are more flexible than others, but you don’t want to be starting a job in the false hope that it will morph into something it may never be. At FutureLearn, we pride ourselves on our flexibility, and thinking of the tech team, our application stack is mostly Haml, Sass, JavaScript (vanilla & React) and Ruby on Rails, so if you really don’t like working in any of those languages, then we probably aren’t a great fit for you. Your interview is the perfect opportunity to gain clarity on these points and make sure you and your potential employer are on the same page. It’s a two way street, you want to know if they are right for you as much as if you are right for them.

A&Q: Answers and Questions:

When your interviewer asks: “do you have any questions for us?” it can seem like a tag on, an optional extra, but it’s not. Providing your questions are considered, employers like being asked and it shows initiative and that you are engaged. What makes someone a good candidate comprises many factors. Beyond competency, questions such as  shared values, collaborative ways of working, and being aligned on the company mission are all important, to both the interviewer and you. The opportunity to ask your potential employer questions around these subjects shows that you are mindful of their importance and that you are thinking about the culture and identity of the company. Make sure you’re not asking something that has already been addressed in the interview, or something that is likely to be readily accessible on the company website, but do feel free to use either as the starting point of a conversation.

Be prepared to talk about your work:

It may sound obvious, but be prepared to talk about specific examples of your work that demonstrate your suitability for the role. Have a few examples in mind so you can tailor an example to a question, not use one example regardless of the nuances of what is being asked! If the example doesn’t fit the question, it will stink of a stock answer immediately and could suggest that you either don’t have a real example to share or that your listening skills aren’t great, neither of which will help you secure the job. This is particularly true if you have been set a pre-interview task. Be ready to explain your rationale and how you feel your work met the brief.

Make the most of the resources out there:

Finally, when trying to hone your interview technique, make use of the wealth of resources out there. FutureLearn, in partnership with The University of Sheffield, has its own (free) course on the subject: How to succeed at: Interviews. On the course, experts from the careers service at The University of Sheffield talk you through everything from making a positive first impression to mastering telephone and video interviews. There’s even some tips on what brilliant questions you can ask your interviewer!

If you ‘enjoy’ interviews you’re probably in the minority. But there are things you can do to make it easier for yourself — not to mention improve your chances of being successful. If you follow these tips you’re in with a great chance. Good luck!

About the author

Nicky Thompson is a Technical Manager at FutureLearn, providing management and support to the Technology Team.

She has spent more than two decades as a freelance and in-house developer (including an earlier four-year stint at FutureLearn) – delivering successful projects for clients ranging from global banks and major publishing houses to indie storytelling agencies. She’s worked with designers all over the world, making beautiful websites that work for everyone.

She’s passionate about increasing diversity in the technology industry by improving access to software engineering for underrepresented groups, and about improving accessibility & inclusive design and development practices.

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