The most important question to ask in an interview

Ah, the interview. The one hour or so that compacts years of experience, future years of ambition, and only your best qualities on show while hiding your quirks that the interviewers just aren’t ready for yet. 

It’s a big ask for such a short amount of time. You have one shot for a first impression, one shot to make the right impression, and one chance to articulate your suitability in a concise way that covers all the good bits of your career and personality.

You can understand why some companies opt for the multiple setting interview: half hour phone interview, two hour group activity, one hour hypothetical case study/role play (who to chuck out of a hot air balloon is a fav’), and one hour face to face interview.

Although this draws out the painful experience of an interview, it at least provides more time for you to be able to demonstrate a number of soft- and people-skills while knowing you have another chance or two to really shine.

But what if you only have the traditional format of a one hour interview?

You have a lot to cover in such a short time; how do you know you can cover everything while also begin to understand what the panel think about you?

Before I get to the one question you need to ask at an interview (y’know, just for a bit of suspense), there are the usual pointers that you need to cover throughout the interview:

“I’ve nothing to wear!” – something that fits well and is comfortable but formal. Interviews are worrying enough as they are without having to worry about how your stomach looks in a particular shirt, for example.

Arrival – arrive waaaay too early. It’ll settle your nerves knowing you’ve arrived with ample time.

Intro – just go in for the hand shake, without hesitation; no awkward ‘right hand in, right hand out’ scenario, just be the one to make that decision of shaking hands.

The job spec – learn it inside out and make sure you can answer each of their requirements, even if you don’t meet them 100%. Tell them that and what you can already do to balance this. Keep a copy of this in front of you during the interview.

Your CV – bring this with you and highlight the good bits as prompts.

Your responses (STAR) – that is: what was the Situation you want to talk about that demonstrates your answer; the Tasks you identified to address it; the Action you took; and the Results that followed. Might be worth adding the potential negative consequences had you not reacted in the way you did.

Your questions – lots of questions about the company (using the information you already found out about them online as an opener to a question), about the team you’d be working with, and my favourite, what the interviewers like the most and least about working there.

And of course, THE BIG QUESTION

Capital letters for this one, it’s that important.

Everyone I have shared this question with have fed back to me how well it served them and their interview. And for every time I have used it myself, I have slept better that night.

I thought of this question following a job rejection about 5 or 6 years ago, a devastating blow at the time. The job sounded really interesting and could’ve been the first step to a promising career.

A couple of days after the interview, the interviewer rang me up and told me the bad news – I didn’t get it. She kindly met up with me to provide more detailed feedback:

Interviewer: “You did really, really well…”

Me, to myself: Not helping

Interviewer: “…you have really good experience…”

Me, to myself: Not helping

Interviewer: “…and your CV is really well put together…”

Me: “Thanks, I followed this awesome advice!

Interviewer: “…In the end, it was down to you and one other person…”

Me, to myself: REALLY not helping

Interviewer: “…and we decided to go with the other candidate.”

On a personal note – I would like each and every one of you to go out and spread the word so that one day, all interviewers can know that telling rejected candidates that “it was between you and someone else” is the least helpful piece of feedback. Just stop. It comes across as eeny-meanie-miney-mo-esque.

Anyhoo, when I asked the interviewer what made her decide the other person over me, she said that as it was so close she had to look at what one of us could do that the other couldn’t, and as the other candidate knew how to make and use Excel macros, they picked him.

“….but I can do macros”, I said, “you never asked me, nor was it listed in the job spec”.

She apologised profusely but admitted the deed was done, the offer letter was out and that was that.

And it was at that point I promised myself that I would ask the one Big Question at the end of each interview that I want to share with you:

“At this point of the interview, are there any concerns you might have that I can address now?”

It’s as simple as that, but it’s an effective question that provides you the opportunity to iron out any niggles they might have, that could potentially be the make-or-break decision maker.

Had I have asked that question, they would have asked “Yes, as a matter of fact, you haven’t mentioned if you can do macros – can you?”

Of course retrospectively I’m glad I never got the job as I wouldn’t have got to a position I’m in now.

I used the question in an interview a year or so afterwards, and there was indeed a niggle the interviewer had that they weren’t going to bring up but decided to, seeing as I had given them some sort of permission. Their concern, left unaddressed, was potentially a deal breaker, but from asking this question, I was able to put their mind at rest with some reassurance.

I got the job – perhaps not solely from asking that question but I thought about how different it may have turned out if I didn’t ask that question, and if it would have been a close call between me and one other person.

Side note: it was that very job that introduced me to the world of HR and literally changed my working life. There you have it folks, not just The Big Question, a life changing question!

I thoroughly recommend asking this simple question at the end of the interview. Even if you feel uncomfortable asking it, make a joke out of asking such ‘a cheeky question’.

Asking this will also help you sleep better at night following the interview. It really is a dreadful time between interview and hearing the outcome so although it won’t remove 100% of the worry, it will take the edge off of it.

If you’re looking for more tips on interviews, have a look at the great advice Clear Cut Selection provide on their blog. They also offer one-to-one interview mock and coaching sessions tailored to your needs. Not an affiliate, just pointing readers to awesome content.

Good luck with your interview(s) and don’t forget to ask this question!

 

 

Getting out of a dead-end job

We’ve all been there; feeling stuck in a job that offers little or no prospects, no possibility of moving up the ladder, and with each day coming into work – the same smells, the same annoying sounds, the same entrance, the same, the same, the same – it feels progressively harder and tiresome. The excitement of Christmas seems like a distant memory, and while your choice of quinoa salad ‘for the new you’ will certainly not pick your spirits up, you feel nothing will.

Being in a dead end job can really take its toll on a person, especially for those who want to progress and just smash their career. Working in an organisation that can’t offer the career or job you want will make you start asking what you should do next, or you might have already considered your next move after planning your career in 2018.

To help you focus your thoughts, you could start by assessing your situation and ascertain:

  • Your wants: what you want to do – the type of job or career you want, the industry, the working culture, the lifestyle, your work/life balance
  • Your abilities: what you can do that can get you to where you want to be – the current skills you have, the attitude you possess, the experience you have developed, the ability to relocate, the flexibility in terms of working patterns, the budget to fund learning new career skills
  • Your limitations: what you can’t do that limits what you want – the skills you don’t have but would like or need, lack of flexibility to relocate due to, for example, childcare, the funds for new qualifications

This won’t be an overnight epiphany. You might find it will take a while before a clear picture forms in your head about your wants, abilities and limitations. More so if you can’t decide what career you want in the first place. It’s important to not keep these in your head either; it’s an agreed

But once you do have an understanding of this, you will consequently be presented with four options:

  1. Move on and find another job

You might come to the point where you feel that your current organisation can’t offer anything you want any more and that you should find another job. Although this option shouldn’t be taken too lightly, it might be the best solution for you if you want to develop and progress, either in your current or new field.

Looking for a new job in your current organisation should be your first port of call so to not to interrupt your years of service (you have full employee rights after 2 years’ service with your current employer), but if your employer is the problem, then your search should exclude them so you won’t be tempted to take a new job within the company and find yourself back to square one later. And if they are the problem, and it’s come to the point that it’s affecting your health, then this option could be the best one for you. No job is worth putting your health at risk.

  1. Stay put while studying

If it’s at all bearable, you could consider staying in your current role while studying a new skill or qualification, especially if the career you want requires these and you don’t have. I’m a big believer in studying on your own steam – that is studying in your own time, with your own money, under your own initiative. Studying on your own steam not only does this mean you get to study what you want to get where you need, but it demonstrates motivation to any new employers.

This option prepares you for your next career move without haste but it also justifies you staying where you are. It’s no longer a dead end job but a job that pays the bills while you study. Having chosen this option before, I can say that this does really change your attitude of the job you want to leave and makes the wait that bit more bearable.

  1. Stay put while working on a side hustle

When thinking about what you want to do, you might have concluded that you want to start your own business, either as an eventual full-time venture, or alongside your ‘bread-and-butter’ job. If it’s a full time thing you’re after, this option is similar to option 2, where you’re making the job more justified as it pays the bills while working on setting up your own business. It provides financial security while you get the business off the ground, and acts as stabilisers until the business is ready to generate sustainable income.

If you want the side hustle alongside the ‘bread-and-butter’ job then again it justifies you being in the dead end job. Some people find that being in a dead end job means they can reserve their energy to their side hustle, whether it’s for extra income, as a creative outlet, or just for fun and not-for-profit. Having a number of roles is what’s termed as a ‘portfolio career’ and it has been predicted that this way of working will become more and more popular as people find multiple avenues to use the full spectrum of their skills. Although the entrepreneurial route isn’t one I want to take, it is something I have explored in the past and continue to be fascinated with the idea and community, so I will write posts about entrepreneurialism and portfolio careers at a later date.

  1. Stay put and reassess your situation

If you’re not in the position to find a new role or take up new skills, whichever reasons these may be, you should speak with your line manager. Even if you have spoken to them before, by talking to them again and explaining how you have assessed your wants, abilities and limitations, it takes the conversation into a new and more productive direction.

Your line manager might not be in a position to offer many opportunities to you but it is their responsibility to talk to you about the options already available to you like reshaping your role, taking on more responsibility, or giving you new tasks – anything to adjust your routine.

Reassessing how your work is given to you or the tasks you do can help you find ways of coping with your job. Reassessing how you react to your job will also help, focussing your mind on the positives rather than just the negatives. I know of the least likely of people to get into positive mantras who have gone on to use them to cope with their dead end job with great success. Finding mantras that you like and storing these on your phone make a very handy pick-me-up when the day gets trying.

Speaking about your job in a way that puts you (and others around you!) down in the dumps doesn’t improve your situation – if anything it makes it a lot worse – and if by ascertaining that the best option for you at the moment is to stay where you are, then you can only control how you respond to this, be it using mantras, developing your emotional intelligence or becoming more resilient.

Easier said than done? Yes. But there is truth in it and worth giving it a go. You owe it to your mental and physical health to find ways of coping with a job you’re unhappy with if you genuinely feel there’s no way out. Just promise yourself that you won’t become complacent with the notion that there isn’t a way out – make a point of going through these steps again after a couple of months and you might find an idea that was hiding on you the first time round.

I hope this have provided you with some clarity on the options open to you. It’s important to really figure out what you want in a career before working through the four options. If you’re unfortunate enough to not know what you want to do, there will be a post or two about this in the coming weeks (Update: I’ve now written a post on a secret to finding your perfect career here). I use the term ‘unfortunate’ not in a derogatory way, but with total empathy as I was in this boat for far too long before learning what I wanted to do in my career.