Interviews And Assessments

If you get through the CV sift, the employer will then be looking to interview you and assess whether you can walk the talk. More and more employers today are moving away from the traditional interview, and are using a combination of online programming tests, on-site assessment days, and multiple interviews.

Preparing For Interview And Assessment

Before any interview or assessment, make sure that you’re fully up-to-date with the company’s products and services. Go over the company’s website, and make notes about what products and services they offer. If the employer offers any sort of free trial, make sure that you’ve signed up for it and spent some time exploring it. Find their Twitter account and their Facebook page, and see what recent announcements they have made. Use Google to see what others are saying about the employer.

Some employers will ask you interview questions to find out what you’ve learned about the firm, partly to see if you’ve made the effort, and partly to see how well you’ve understood what you have researched. Employers can take a very dim view if you can’t answer these questions, so be prepared. Telling the employer that you don’t think such questions are relevant is one of the quickest ways to bring an interview to a premature end.

Some employers will base their hands-on technical assessment around their products and services, and many will base it on the technical skills and key technologies listed in the job description. An assessment day is already stressful enough; if you’re also learning new things at the same time, that’s both added stress and time taken away from completing whatever tasks the employer sets you. Make sure that you’ve prepared in advance by brushing up on the skills listed in the job description.

There are some firms (normally the larger tech giants) who will deliberately use assessments and interview questions that are impossible to prepare for. Good luck with those!

Online Assessments

Some employers will ask you to complete an online assessment. This might be a programming test. It might be a psychological test.

To prepare for these, make sure that you’ve set aside sufficient time to complete them, and that you have somewhere quiet to work, with a reliable broadband connection! If the employer’s deadline for completing the test seems unreasonable, or if it’s one you know you cannot meet, it’s perfectly alright to discuss this with the employer first. Some employers will reschedule the test to accommodate you.

There may be a practice question that you can do first, to help you get used to being tested, and to become familiar with the online testing system that the employer is using. If the employer doesn’t explicitly tell you about this, always remember to ask about it.

The assessment may be timed; once you start the assessment, you might have to complete the entire assessment in one go. Always check for this, and make sure you’ve set aside enough time before you start. The employer may not allow you a second go if you run out of time.

Telephone Interviews

It is becoming more common for employers to conduct a telephone interview before inviting candidates on-site for a full formal interview. Telephone interviews are very convenient for all involved, allowing employers to talk to more candidates than they can reasonably invite for on-site interview, and saving candidates the time and cost involved with travelling to the employer’s office.

If you are invited to telephone interview, make sure you are happy with the date and time that the interview is scheduled for. Many employers understand that it can be difficult for candidates to fit an interview in during the day, and will happily agree to interview you on an evening if you ask them to. You can ask for a weekend telephone interview too, but not every employer will accommodate this.

Some employers (especially firms with international offices) may ask to interview you over Skype. Most will ask you for a telephone number to call. If you ask the employer to call your mobile phone, make sure that you’re going to have good reception at the time that the interview is scheduled for, and (if you use one) that your hands-free kit isn’t faulty or crackly at all.

How long should a telephone interview be? Some employers will schedule a fixed-length call, and others will leave the duration open-ended. Always ask in advance, so that you can make sure that you don’t have to leave the telephone interview early.

What will the employer ask? Some employers will have a standard set of questions that they ask every candidate, whilst other employers will focus more on things in your covering letter and CV that have caught their eye. It’s normally fine for you to ask questions too; prepare some in advance. It can look very bad if you have no questions to ask.

At the start of the telephone interview, always make sure that your interviewer is interviewing you for the right job. Mistakes do happen, so check. Experienced interviewers will normally start the interview by checking these sort of details (who you are, which role you’ve applied for, and so on), but if they don’t, there’s nothing wrong with you asking the employer to confirm the details. It’s much better than being interviewed for the wrong role.

Hopefully, you’ll be doing a lot of talking in your telephone interview. You might want to have a drink in easy reach to stop your throat drying out.

On-site Interviews And Assessments

You might be invited to the employer’s office for a formal interview. Increasingly, employers are asking candidates to come on-site for a whole day or two for a technical assessment. This may include one or more formal interviews on the same day, or the employer may ask the final shortlist of candidates back for a further formal interview.

Many employers allow candidates to bring along books and other helpful resources to an on-site assessment. It’s a good idea to confirm this with an employer in advance, and if it is allowed, take full advantage of it. Some employers do insist on “closed book”-type assessments, but most employers understand that these type of assessments may not be a fair judge of what you can do.

Unless agreed in advance with the employer, you should always dress smartly for any on-site interview. That means suit, shirt and matching tie. Make sure that your shirt is ironed, and that your shoes are clean. Shower, wash your hair, and clean your teeth. Use deodorant. Consider shaving if you don’t wear a full beard or moustache. You might benefit from a haircut too if your hair is getting untidy.

A scruffy and smelly appearance might not cost you the job, but it will probably make a negative impression. You always want to make a positive first impression, as this sets the scene for how the employer thinks during the rest of your interview and assessment.

If you have any special needs, make sure that they are discussed with the employer before you travel to interview. Tell the employer about any disability that affects travel or your interview. The employer is not allowed to discriminate on the grounds of disability, but he will struggle to make any necessary arrangements if he isn’t warned in advance.

Some employers will provide lunch if you’re going to be there the whole day. If you have any dietary requirements, you need to tell the employer about them in advance. Make sure that you take cash with you in case you have to buy your own food; don’t assume that everywhere will take credit or debit cards.

Travelling For Interview And Assessment

Make sure that you know where your interview will be, and how you will get there. Being late for an interview makes a terrible first impression, and if the employer is interviewing several candidates on the same day, he may not be able to reschedule your interview for later the same day.

If you are travelling by public transport, you need to allow time for any train and / or bus changes that you need to make. You should consider arriving on an earlier train; that way, if your train is delayed at all, there’s still a good chance of making your interview on time.

If you are driving to the employer’s office, always ask in advance about parking arrangements. Some employers will have parking at their office, but you may have to park in a public car park or on the street. Don’t forget to allow extra time for traffic jams, and for getting lost en route. If you’re relying on a sat nav or on your smartphone’s turn-by-turn navigation, always ask the employer for the best postcode to use.

If you are travelling a long way, you might need to travel the day before and stay in a hotel overnight. An interview is a stressful experience as it is. It is difficult to perform at your very best if you’re tired from an unusually early start and a long journey.

If you are travelling on the day, and you realise that you are going to be late, make sure that you contact the employer to let him know that you’re going to be late. It’s simply good manners (something the employer will appreciate). However, be prepared for awkward questions asking why you didn’t manage to arrive on time.

Some employers will assist with your travel expenses, and may be willing to help with booking hotels and train tickets in advance, so that you don’t have to find the money for these yourself. Always ask the employer in advance about this. If you turn up on the day and ask for your expenses to be reimbursed without prior agreement, you might get a nasty shock!

What To Take To Every Interview

When you go to an on-site interview, always make sure that you take the following with you:

  • two printouts of your covering letter,
  • two printouts of your latest CV,
  • a printout of the job description that you have, and
  • a list of prepared questions to ask.

One copy of the covering letter and CV is for you, the other one is for the employer. It gives you a chance to correct any mistakes on your CV, and to show the employer any new information that has been added since you applied for the job. It’s also a good way of dealing with the situation where a recruitment agency has edited your CV before sending it on to the employer without anyone losing any face.

It’s always a good idea to take your copy of the job description with you. The employer may have updated the job description since you applied. Equally, your interviewer may not have their own copy of the job description with them. Being able to hand the employer a copy of the job description is a simple but effective way to demonstrate that you’ve done some preparation for the interview.

During your interview, you will probably forget many of the questions that you need to ask the employer. Write them down in advance, and take the list in with you. It will help you remember to ask all of your questions, and many employers appreciate a candidate who is prepared in this way.

During The Interview Or Assessment

The best advice that I can give you is to remind you that you are there on merit. Have some confidence in your own skills and experience to date. It will calm you down and help you think more clearly. Your interviewer will spot your confidence and react well to it. Don’t be over-confident or belligerent; few employers value arrogance in their workforce.

Your interviewer may greet you with a handshake, but he may not. If he does, make sure that you make eye contact, and don’t try and crush his hand. If he doesn’t offer to shake your hand, don’t take it personally. Not everyone is comfortable with human contact.

If you’re wearing a suit, remember to unbutton your jacket before you sit down. It’s normally okay to remove your jacket if you prefer, but do resist any temptation to loosen your tie until you’ve left the premises and are on your way back home.

When it comes to what you will be asked, interview formats and questions vary widely from employer to employer.

Many employers will ask you to talk about the contents of your CV, and may ask specific questions about what you’ve written. Be prepared to explain and defend everything that you’ve put in your CV and covering letter. An employer will be looking for further details, and how deep your understanding is. If an employer catches you out with outright lies on your CV, don’t be surprised if he ends the interview there and then.

If you’re asked a question that you don’t know the answer to, it is perfectly alright to say that you don’t know. Trying to bluster your way through answering a question is often the worst thing that you can do. Your interviewer will pick this up, and he will see through your bull. If you say that you don’t know, he may then ask you to attempt to answer the question anyways. He’ll be looking to see how well you do solving a problem from first principles if he does, and how you might go about researching an answer using online resources such as Google and Stack Overflow.

Your behaviour is very important during an interview. Always sit up straight - never slouch. No matter how uncomfortable it is, keep eye contact with your interviewer. Don’t stare off into space or address all of your answers to the desk. Speak clearly, avoid mumbling. Mind your language, and avoid swearing. If there is any disagreement between yourself and the interviewer, be polite about it. Don’t get angry, and don’t get defensive. And if you’re struggling to think, take a moment to compose yourself, perhaps by taking a sip of water.

During the interview, you may be asked about what sort of salary you’re looking for. Be prepared for this question in case it comes up. The employer may go further and make you a job offer there and then, but this is quite unusual. The employer will probably want time afterwards to think about your interview before he makes up his mind. He may have other interviews to complete first.

Remember that you’re being assessed all the time, from the moment you arrive to the moment that you leave.

At The End Of The Interview Or Assessment

Once the interview is over, it’s always a good idea to ask the employer two things:

  • How long will it be before they can give you feedback?
  • If you’ve been successful, what will the next stage be?

If you have any deadlines of your own (perhaps you already have a job offer from another employer), it’s a good idea to let your interviewer know at the end of your interview. This can motivate an employer to move quickly to hire you. Don’t lie about a job offer that you don’t have though; you might find that your interviewer knows the other employer.

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