Preparing for a job interview

You applied for a position and just found out you got an interview! No doubt you are excited and nervous at the same time. It is a big deal for you and for your future employer it may be a million-dollar decision. You definitely want to be on your game on the big day. You have an hour to make a lasting impression!

Both Riet Verheggen and Faye Johnson are Registered Professional Foresters, who have spent many hours on both sides of the interview table. One observation they make is that, although the sector and technical knowledge is important, the majority of interviews have much in common regardless of sector. These tips are to help you land that next position!

Steps to Prepare

Study the organization you are looking to become part of. From social media to websites, to annual reports, to organizational design. Many medium and large organizations, regardless if they are private or public sector, have a vision, mission and values. Knowing what is important to the organization helps you to determine if you are a good fit. Be prepared to weave your understanding of the organization’s values into your answers to show alignment. Also request and study the job specification and competencies required. Use this material to determine which stories/examples you will use to demonstrate your competencies. Write out your stories and practice your delivery out loud with a relative, friend or your friendly mirror. It is almost more difficult to face yourself in the mirror than an interview panel. These practice sessions will help to increase your confidence and create a flow to your responses.

Good references are important and should be confirmed before the interview. The people who have agreed to be a reference should be made aware of each interview and each position you apply for. It is common to be asked for a reference from a supervisor, peer and/or subordinate. If you don’t have all categories covered because of a lack of experience, ask if you can include a character reference - but don’t use your mom! You may be worried about backlash from your current employer if they find out you are job hunting. If so, it is acceptable to ask that your current employer not be contacted until the panel is fairly certain you are the candidate they want to make the offer to.

Make sure your social media accounts are clean. Review them critically, through the eyes of an employer, as they will most likely be checked.

What to Prepare

Typically, the types of questions asked fall in three categories: technical, situational (tests leadership, soft skills) and behavioral (tests values, emotional IQ, your response to difficult situations). When developing your stories include clear and quantifiable outcomes (i.e. increased productivity by 3% per year, came in 10% below budget) where ever possible.

You build up competencies through your education, experiences, skills, and attitude. Technical competencies are the easiest to prepare for as they relate directly to the position applied for. We will not discuss them here. Aside from technical competencies four other competencies are important: delivering results, inspiring others, building relationships and transforming the organization or your job to become more effective and efficient.

Delivering results are key to every organization’s success. From planting trees to fighting climate change, organizations measure their outcomes as an indication of the return on the investment. As a potential employee you need to demonstrate that you are able to get things done.

Inspiring others that work with you is also important. Have examples of how you motivate others, team members or staff you lead. If you have never supervised people, you may have led a project while in college/university or coached a sports team. The interview panel will be looking for candidates who are team players, have a positive attitude, are solutions driven.

Building relationships is a must in every position. In many jurisdictions (and Canada is no exception) natural resources are managed on behalf of the public. That means building relationships with interest groups, individuals and government officials to get consensus, support, and sometimes approval is critical to success. Develop at least one story of your ability to work with others to achieve the desired outcomes. Include your ideas on values, stakeholder perspectives and involving others in decision making.

Transformation is here to stay! Organizations must evolve to meet changing demands. That means positions and responsibilities of employees change too. Understand the outcomes required of the job and detail the efficiencies you may be able to bring to the table.

Prepare in the same way regardless if the interview is in person, via telephone or via video conference. However, if you are working from home now is the time to think about yourself and hang up the “do not disturb” sign. Kids yelling or dogs barking in the background is a distraction and not the best way to make a good first impression. Also make sure the camera view shows an uncluttered workspace and test the audio system to avoid last minute issues.

Types of Questions to think about while preparing

  • How you managed difficult situations, difficult people.

  • Times when you disagreed with supervisor. How did you deal with the situation? What was the outcome?

  • Example of when you failed, when you were wrong.

  • Example of project management. Partners, networking, communications. What would you do different?

  • Management and union relationships.

  • Why are you the best person for this position?

  • Financial literacy.

  • What would your current supervisor, peers and stakeholders say about you in support of you seeking this position?

  • What are your strengths and weaknesses?

  • What is your impact?

The Interview Panel’s Perspective

For every permanent person hired the interview panel makes a million-dollar decision. Therefore, they are very motivated to make the right decision. As well as assessing how well you answer each question, they are thinking about your preparedness, appearance, attitude, interest, presentation skills and complexity of responses, to name a few. A good panel will also be thinking about your fit with the organization and potentially your promotability. How you present these attributes are in your control! While practicing be self aware. Smile, look interested and radiate a positive attitude. Make it easy for the panel to select you.

At the interview

If possible, know the names, positions and background of the members of the panel. If you interact with employees while waiting for the interview or while preparing to complete a written test remember to always be respectful. There is a good chance these employees will be asked for their impressions.

The panel expects you to be nervous so pause when you need to. Minimize your dependency of notes and try to maintain appropriate eye contact. They will be writing and don’t let that stress you. However, if everyone has put down their pencils it may be time to move on. Manage your time. The panel may tell you the number of questions and the total time allotted so be prepared to showcase your excellent time management skills.

Prepare an elevator speech. Pretend you meet up with the organization’s CEO in the elevator and he/she wants to know a bit about you. You have two minutes before you get to your floor. What will you say? The elevator speech is a concise summary of your competencies and should outline why you are the best person for the job! It is always a good idea to wrap the interview up with your elevator speech.

Prepare Questions you could ask the panel

  • What is the main focus of the organization this year? (Your research should have highlighted some of these)

  • What are your expectations of me in the first 100 days?

  • How will my performance be measured?

  • Will I have regularly scheduled meetings with my supervisor to discuss progress, issues, training needs etc?

  • What level of autonomy will I have (if any)?

Do’s and dont's

  • Do follow up for feedback if you were not successful.

  • Do let panel know you are interested in other positions if they do not offer you this position.

  • Do practice, practice, practice before the interview.

  • Do smile and use humour.

  • Do thank the panel for their time before leaving the interview.

  • Do take a day vacation to prepare if possible.

  • Do whatever it takes to be rested, relaxed and focused when you get to the interview.

  • Don’t repeat yourself.

  • Don’t debate with the panel members.

  • Don’t name drop.

  • Don’t make things up. If you don’t know the answer or have a direct example, admit it and try to replace it with something similar.

  • Don’t bring gifts.

Don’t get discouraged if it takes a few tries before you land the next position. We don’t know of anyone whose success rate is 100%. Good luck!

Faye Johnson R.P.F.

Riet Verheggen R.P.F

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