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Planning Retirement Online

A Guide to Job Searching in Later Life

Part 5 - Interview Preparation and behaviour


DonWilde2.jpg (9403 bytes)So, with the help of an effective CV, we find that we have been invited to attend an interview with one of our target organisations, and this is the second key marketing activity within the campaign. But why is it that, even with all the experience and maturity that comes with later life, we are still panic stricken with nerves? The reasons for this are varied, but may well include:

  • An interview is an alien situation – we may not have had one for 20 to 30 years, and techniques were very different then

  • There is much at stake at the meeting in terms of our future

  • We feel on the defensive – under the microscope

  • We have no idea what is going to happen

There are a number of steps that we can take to lessen the anxiety level (some of which is desirable anyway, in order to create adrenalin and improve performance, as with a presentation). Taking deep breaths as we go into the room, speaking slowly and clearly, thinking of the interviewer as a friend rather than an adversary are among them. But the greatest thing that will help up conquer nerves by improving our confidence and performance level is to plan thoroughly and practise repeatedly. This section starts, therefore, by looking at the planning prior to the interview, and then at behaviour on the day.

Firstly, carrying out some research will help your understanding and enable you to come across more effectively. Find out about the organisation, from their internet site, their collateral (marketing and also eg annual report) and from any networking acquaintances with knowledge. Find out about the job itself by asking for a job description and or person specification when you confirm your attendance. Find out, if you can, about the interviewer (some agencies, for example, will be able to help on this, as will your network contact if that was your route).

Secondly, there is a considerable amount of planning that can be done in the area of questions and answers.

  • There is every chance that one of the first questions that you will be asked is something like “Tell me about yourself.” You could prepare your answer to this right now – a short statement (3-5 minutes), mainly work related, tracing your career and development of key skills. Script it, practise it, and throw away the script – “hardwire it” into your brain.

  • As discussed in the previous section, you should prepare a list of actual examples from your past career where you have demonstrated the particular behavioural attributes that they will be looking for and be ready to quote these at any opportunity.

  • You can prepare your answers to what will be difficult questions for you. These will not be the same as those that are difficult for the next person, so first you need to identify what questions you will find difficult, then to plan your answers. Could be “what are your key strengths?”, “why are you leaving XYZ Co after only 6 months?”, “why have you been with ABC Corp for 35 years?” or “what salary are you looking for?” – but forewarned is forearmed!

  • You will need to have some questions to ask the interviewer when they indicate that it is “your turn”. Not having any questions does not enhance your chances, nor does “well I did have some but you seem to have answered them all”. Based perhaps on your research into the organisation have a few questions about the job, the organisation, the future (NOT about t’s and c’s, pension funds, the canteen arrangements!) to ask. You may not be the slightest bit interested in the answer, but you have essentially shown an enthusiasm to find out about them! And, of course, you need to find out enough to know whether you want the job!

  • Be very well aware before the event of what key skills and selling points you are claiming against the requirements of the role. If these are well embedded in your brain you will be able to push them forward at every opportunity during the conversation. Re-read the job description and advert as a check.

  • Be clear on what your package aspirations (and minimum) are in case you are asked

  • Take every opportunity to practise as much as you can of the above.

Finally, in terms of planning and preparation, there are some administrative details. Make sure that you DO ring and confirm that you will be attending. This is not only a courtesy but also an opportunity to ask more about the interview, the company, parking arrangements etc. Practise the journey at the same time of day as the interview to make sure that you will be in good time. Ensure that you think about what you are going to wear, and have it ready and clean on the day.

Behaviour at the Interview

As mentioned above, do make sure that you arrive at the offices with plenty of time in hand. Time to read collateral in reception, to do your final “rehearsal”, and to visit the toilets. As well as the obvious need to ensure that you are not stricken by discomfort in the interview, this may give an opportunity to wander 'round a part of the building and get the feel of the place and the staff. Also be sure to behave professionally from the time you enter the building – it is not by any means unknown for the hiring manager to ask the opinion of the Receptionist and/or Secretary to see what first impression you give.

The moment when you first meet the interviewer is key – lasting impressions are often formed on this first few seconds. Positive approach, smiling, introducing yourself with a firm handshake and good eye contact, together with confident opening words, will go a long way to get you off on the right foot. If you are offered tea or coffee, consider asking for a glass of water instead. Hot drinks are a potential minefield in terms of spillage, not knowing what to do if the drink gets cold or if it is brought to you white instead of black – a glass of water offers none of these risks.

As the interview progresses, try to ensure that you:

• Smile frequently, maintain reasonable eye contact, speak with enthusiasm (a degree of hand and voice gesture). Use the interviewer's name from time to time

• Provide real examples as often as possible to support your claims

• Speak clearly and concisely

• Use every opportunity to get across your key selling points

• Use positive action verbs, as with the CV, to describe your past duties

• Allow the interviewer to control the meeting, but step in with a question or additional information if he/she is floundering (it does happen!) – handing back control as soon as possible

• Listen and observe – modify how you are behaving if the interviewer shows signs of boredom, enthusiasm etc

• Be relaxed about silence – do not feel that you have to fill every gap in the conversation. Take time to phrase your answers and recall evidence

• Remain frank and open – it will show if you are not. Be prepared to disclose (some) weaknesses

There are also a few “don’ts” to bear in mind. Try not to be over-familiar in tone, posture, inappropriate use of christian name. Eradicate any uneasy and distracting behaviour such as fiddling with a pencil, flicking back the hair. Do not push supporting collateral at the interviewer (certificates, evidence of drawings, plans etc) – have them with you and offer to produce them by all means, but do not force the issue. Do not raise the question of salary/package – your aim is to keep this off the table until as late as possible (ideally when they are about to offer you the job) to increase your negotiating power. Avoid saying anything critical about past employers, managers etc.

Remember that there will be interviewers of all shades, from excellent to appalling. Some will be even more nervous than you are – help them along discreetly. Many will be younger than you – do not patronise them.

Finally – two essentials to remember before you leave the room. Firstly to thank them for their time – it is an important courtesy. Secondly to ask what the next step is and how long it will be before you hear – there is nothing worse than being stuck in the uncertainty of not knowing how soon you can legitimately ring up and say “what is happening?”. It also serves to confirm your interest.

For some more information, have a look at the National Careers Service website.

After the Interview

As soon as possible after you leave the room, take time out to review how it went for future reference. Were there any questions that you could not answer or found difficult? Were you too wordy, not wordy enough? Do you need any more examples in any particular area? Did you observe any behaviours on the part of the interviewer that help you judge how were coming over? Did you get across all your key points? From what you have learned from the interview, do you want the job if it is offered to you?

There! You have done your best and all you can do now is wait for the letter or phone call. If successful, and you are offered the job or going into the next stage, then a pat on the back is in order. If not successful, do not despair – there will be other opportunities. Try to get some feedback as to why you have been turned down, for next time. Above all, remember that your failure may not have been a failure at all. You may have performed superbly and to the best of your ability, may have been fine for the job, but – on the day – there happened to be someone even more qualified than you were. After all, this is often down to the luck of the draw in terms of who the opposition was rather than any lack on your part. A pat on the back may well still be in order!!!
Don Wilde, the writter of this Guide, has many years experience in outplacement and career consultancy, latterly on a self-employed basis but prior to that within the IT industry. He has experience in a variety of human resources, business and project management, and staff development roles.
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