Q: I was poorly prepared for the interview. I chanced my arm. I hadn’t practiced my answers, and I got thrown off by some easy questions. For example, I struggled on what I knew about the company (little or nothing); why I was leaving my current job (my time there is done, and this was a good opportunity to get into a new company, even though I’d initially be taking a step sideways); and did I think I was over-qualified for the position (the actual answer is ‘kind of’, but I wanted to get into the new company and go up the ladder there). I didn’t get the job. Any pointers? (DG, email).
A: ‘Fail to prepare, prepare to fail’ has succeeded as a cliché for a reason. There is really no shortcut – you’re playing with fire if you just hope it’ll come right on the day. However, it sounds like you’ve learned that lesson now. Here are some pointers:
Q: What do you know about our company?
Pointers: The answer should be ‘lots’ – but, really, they shouldn’t have to ask this question at all. From the word ‘go’ in the interview, drop in your knowledge of the company and the role. This shows that you have taken the time to research them and illustrates that you have thought about how you add value. A lack of company knowledge will trigger alarm bells for the panel. If you can’t bebothered finding out about us…
Q: Why are you leaving your existing job?
Pointers: Sometimes your reasons are primarily pragmatic – moving to a new city, current company closing or some new domestic or family factors. They will likely become immediately apparent to the interview panel, and you shouldn’t try to cover them up. But, even within that, try to focus on some specific things to get their heads nodding: putting your skills to good use, knowledge of the sector and so on. If you’re trying to step up in your career, albeit by stepping sideways rather than upwards now as you indicate, let them see the key elements of that – a desire for challenge, an enthusiasm to learn new things and a genuine interest in working alongside experienced people in a progressive environment. “And I hope to show my abilities to you and later progress up the ladder within your company” – there’s nothing at all wrong with that answer, companies have got to get their leaders of the future from somewhere.
Q: Are you over-qualified for this position?
Pointers: Chances are they were fearful you might be a flight risk. “Look at her qualifications, first chance she gets she’ll be gone to a higher-level role somewhere else”. A company hates the thought of investing in someone, getting them into the swing of things, only for them to be gone out the gap before they know it. If you’re not a flight risk – if you’re genuinely happy to take on this role – tell them that and why. Tell them what about the job really appeals to so that they know it’s not just a stopgap for you. If it is a stopgap, chances are they will figure that out from your body language, but from what you said in your question, it sounds you had a solid reason for pursuing this role.
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