Jobhunting with Less Pain, Part 3

I've already had some great feedback from the first two parts of this article, so I'm pleased to be able to share the third and final part today.

Having read this far, you should have some idea about the processes required to set yourself up with an interview with a prospective employer for a job you actually want. For most roles, this is the most crucial step, and giving yourself the best possible chance of success is key.

Interview technique: The face-to-face interview is generally the crux of an employer's assessment of you and your suitability for the role they have on offer. Interviews are sometimes supplemented with aptitude or technical tests that are in most cases just as important, but these tests are far more objective and if you know your stuff, chances are you'll do just fine without thinking too hard about them.

If you've spoken to the employer on the phone before this point, it's likely that they'll have already asked you the key questions relating to the role - the interview is then more often a chance to get to know you a bit better, observe how you come across in person and how well you're likely to fit into their working environment. They'll also get a chance to assess your presentation (with more or less significance placed on this depending on the industry and role) and see how you handle yourself under the pressure of questioning.

Regarding presentation, this is a very expansive subject as standards depend very much on the industry you're in and the nature of the job you're applying for. My key points would be something along the lines of: get a haircut, have a shave if applicable, dress smart. A suit isn't always a requirement, but even for more casual environments you should at least wear a jacket and trousers that aren't jeans.

Time your journey so you have plenty of margin to accommodate delays. Depending on distance, aim to arrive at least half an hour early to be sure you'll make it. You must not, under any circumstances, allow yourself to be late. Scope out the place from the outside and park yourself in a nearby café, have a cup of tea and relax and, if necessary, go over your notes again (more on that shortly) until the prescribed time approaches. Then return to the employer's location and time your arrival such that your contact (ringing the entry phone, or the receptionist phoning up to your interviewer) occurs at exactly the time you were told to show up. A lot of people say you should show up early - I would say do so if you feel you have to, but no earlier than five minutes before the scheduled appointment.

If you've brought notes or portfolio-type items, have them enclosed in a smart folder and not just folded up in your pocket. You can bring notes like this even if you don't intend to look at them - it shows that you've done some preparation. Be super-polite and, of course, greet your interviewer (and anyone else you're introduced to) with a sincere handshake and a smile.

The most important work is actually performed before you even show up. The three key words have already been mentioned: preparation, preparation, preparation. Before you arrive at the interview, you should know the job spec back to front. You should research the company thoroughly - what they do, who they do it for, and how they're regarded in their market.

If they publish information on recent projects, read into these and be prepared to talk about them. You should have questions of your own prepared: ask the interviewer about the company, their role within it, recent projects they've been involved in. Ask questions about the job that aren't covered in the spec (e.g. opportunities for advancement and progression within the company - this demonstrates long-term thinking and commitment). Don't talk about money at this stage, unless they bring it up. Basically, you need to demonstrate interest - in the company, the job and the work. If at any point they say, "do you have any questions?" you should always have something to say. Unless their question was rhetorical, of course - ha!

When it comes to answering questions about yourself, be open and enthusiastic. Have examples prepared of projects you've worked on and the skills that you used in doing so. Depressingly, a lot of interviews still feature formulaic questions like "describe a situation in which you had to demonstrate leadership". You should have answers prepared for these, but try to work them into other responses so it sounds like you're volunteering the information. For example, when describing a past project, you can segue from discussion of the technology to discussion of the project team structure and how you had to take a leading role - and how that worked out for you. This will give a better impression than responding to the leadership question in isolation. Additionally, bear in mind that you can use examples from outside of work when answering these questions.

If you worked under projects while under an NDA or other secrecy agreement, explain this and try to find a way to discuss the project in a useful and positive way while adhering to the terms of that arrangement. Discuss projects in terms that are relevant to the role you're applying for. Bring a portfolio if appropriate, or send some material to the interviewer ahead of time - for example links to websites you've made, or to an online portfolio that they can review before the interview.

Be positive, but don't be afraid to admit your shortcomings if they crop up in discussion. Always spin these points in the direction of your ongoing improvement and experience. Have a couple of examples prepared of situations where you've suffered setbacks and learned from them - this is another classic form question. Most importantly, don't bullshit. You can get away with a little polishing but if you make stuff up outright you'll get found out and it won't end well. In technical roles you'll likely be subjected to a technical test which will soon establish what you do and don't know.

Bear in mind that, especially in technical roles, knowledge rapidly becomes outdated. Most companies are looking for people who fit within their culture, have an interest in the subject, are easy to work with and can be taught - if they like you and they need you to have greater skill in a certain area, they will train you. You should have a good idea before you arrive at the interview which skills are "nice to have" and which are hard requirements. If they ask you if you know something and you don't, try to avoid a flat-out "no". If it's something you've come across before but not worked with, say so. Phrases like "I've a passing familiarity with X" and "I've not worked specifically with X before but I understand it's very much like Y which I have some experience with" show that you have a broad appreciation for your subject area and exude positivity.

You should also do your utmost to demonstrate your wider appreciation for and interest in the area in which you work. I've been to several interviews where after a short while the discussion became very conversational as we talked about recent events, emerging trends and humorous observations in our industry. These were always very positive, and such discussion will help show your interviewer that your passion for the subject extends beyond the boundaries of the job itself.

When you leave the interview, thank the interviewer for their time and say that they should feel free to contact you at any time if they have any further questions. When you're done, talk to your recruiter - if one was involved - about how it went and restate your enthusiasm for getting the job (if the interview hasn't changed your mind, that is). They'll communicate this back to the employer. Chase things up soon to ensure you don't get forgotten about. With any luck, they'll get back to you after a short time with good news. If they ask you to return for a second interview, repeat the process. If they decide to pass you over, thank them again for their time and cordially wish them success. If they choose you for the position, hurrah!

The hard part is now over. You'll now move through negotiation to eventual contract signing and starting work. These are subjects worthy of their own discussion, and perhaps I'll write a few words on those in the future - generally, however, it's all common sense and you should be fine.

The calm after the storm: If your experience is anything like mine, you'll remove your accounts on the various job sites and then continue to receive spam from recruitment agencies for some time afterward - here's the real value of using a separate email address. You can either dump the address or respond to the emails requesting to have your details removed - the latter is preferable as it should stop the phone calls as well.

I continued to receive spam for irrelevant opportunities from the following companies up to three months after I'd removed my details from Jobsite, and despite numerous emailed requests to have my details deleted:

  • PSR Recruitment Ltd
  • Gregory James Group

In the case of PSR, after having multiple emails completely ignored I eventually phoned them and demanded that they delete my contact information. That resulted in about a fortnight of peace before the emails started again - a further phone call revealed that my details "may have been accidentally added back into our database." These guys are clearly professionals.

The moral of the story is that most agencies keep their own databases of contact details separate from the job websites, meaning that you're better off using temporary contact details wherever possible.

Conclusion: I'm particularly fortunate to work in IT - a sector that hasn't been too badly affected by the economic climate, and one in which skills can be easily quantified and, more importantly, more easily picked up than in many other industries. So I realise my experience was a lot smoother than it could have been - that aside, however, I hope that the advice I've scribbled here is of help to someone taking the next step in their career, whatever their industry. Good luck!