Introduction: Recent experience gives us an up-to-date insight into current recruitment practice, so I was delighted when UOW PhD researcher Amy Carrad answered our call for contributors to share her experience of attending interviews.
I would like to share with you the diverse experiences of my first career-related job hunt.
My idea was to work in a public health career job full-time, if possible, and then write up my thesis outside of work hours now that I was no longer on scholarship. To date, I have had interviews for five positions related to project implementation and health promotion in public service and not-for-profit organisations.
Here are some of the things I have learned so far:
- Interview mode
I’ve had all sorts of interviews: face-to-face with the whole panel, over the telephone, in the room with one person and the other panel members on Skype in separate locations.
I found face-to-face interviews allow you to better establish rapport, to ‘sell’ your personality and to gauge the workplace culture.
In the Skype interview, my concerns arose less from being able to answer the questions and more from trivial issues such as where to look or who to speak to when answering the questions. I’ve never much enjoyed talking on the telephone and the telephone interviews brought with them challenging dynamics for me: 1) speaking at rocket speed – no doubt challenge the panel’s note-taking; 2) replacing visual cues, such as having to say something like “okay, that’s everything” at the end of each answer, which felt repetitive and silly; and 3) being unable to visually portray my passion.
- Interview style – questions asked and the panel
Interviews have ranged from friendly and conversational to very structured and clinical affairs. In one, the panel members and I were laughing a fair bit. It was not something I expected, but it was a sign of this being a friendly organisation with a positive culture. For some, I received the questions 10 minutes before my interview and had time to form some initial thoughts. For others, I was required to answer on the spot. Some people may appreciate the preparation time, but I feel it makes things too clinical. I liked being able to respond instinctively as it seemed like more of a conversation than an interrogation.
The nature of questions has been very broad too, ranging from rigidly job-oriented to general competency or behavioural questions. From designing a program approach for a specific health issue and population target group to “what attracted you to this position?” Because of this diversity, it can be hard to prepare. Keep a copy of all the questions asked so that you can use them to prepare for future interviews – practice answering them again with fresh eyes.
- Being prepared – background research and paperwork
For the most recent interview, I put more effort into preparing by gathering information on the role and researching the organisation. I called the contact person to ask questions about the role and spoke to another person who had held a similar role in the past. I researched the location in relation to geographical and community-related factors that might be relevant in helping me give better-informed answers. When my academic supervisor offered me some tips, I accepted. She told me I could be perceived as ‘overqualified’ for the position, so it was important to ‘sell’ why I was perfect for the role and why I wouldn’t cut and run after a short period of time. I felt most prepared out of all the interviews, so I recommend doing this preparation and speaking to as many relevant people as possible.
Some positions have a lot of paperwork prior to the interview – criminal record checks, proof of identity etc. This added time to the overall process – remember to factor this time in and meet the deadlines for submission
- The feedback
I think I was quite lucky that my first interview played out like it did; because of their friendly organisational culture, the feedback was very encouraging. They phoned me and said that I interviewed very strongly, however they had gone with someone who demonstrated experience specific to the social work qualifications they were seeking. They encouraged me to apply for jobs with them in the future.
This positive first experience boosted my confidence and has helped me take subsequent “unsuccessful” notifications with a spring in my step. For another interview, knowing that I made it into the top three candidates got my hopes up for being the “preferred candidate” and was harder to deal with when I was “unsuccessful”. However, I don’t feel too downhearted about any of the unsuccessful applications. Each opportunity is a learning curve that will help me one day be the “preferred candidate”.
I have now built up courage to ask for extended feedback. A nice way to word a follow-up email is, “What was the distinguishing factor that set the successful candidate aside from everyone else?” I sent this question to the employer for the most recent interview and she was obliging in providing me with more detail than in the phone call.
I don’t know exactly what to expect from any future interviews, except that the diversity means I have to be as prepared for them as possible in order to increase my chances of one day being the preferred candidate. When employers say you did well but there was someone better for the position, I see similarities to running (I’m a keen runner). You can be a good runner, but whether you come out on top depends on who else decides to get up and run on the day. One day I might be the fastest runner.
Amy Carrad is in the final year of her PhD within the School of Health and Society. Her research has explored the development and implementation of a health promotion program for gymnastics. Desiring a break from the academic world, Amy is currently seeking and applying for jobs in the public health sector.
Please share your experience of interview or questions about interviews in the comments below.